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How [Spoiler] Survived & 17 Other Insights From X-Men: Days of Future Past’s Writer Simon Kinberg

At least as far as film promotion is concerned, X-Men: Days of Future Past is in an odd position in that its director, Bryan Singer, can’t talk about it as he’s retired from the public eye due to his still unfolding sex abuse scandal.  Plus, its screenwriter, Simon Kinberg, previously wrote X-Men: The Last Stand, i.e., the movie Days of Future Past most directly aims to erase from history.  However, it’s a film which creates lots of questions about the entire history of the X-Men films as well as questions about what (and who) to expect in the sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse, due May 2016.

Luckily, Empire Magazine got Simon Kinberg to sit down for a 35 minute podcast interview to answer any and all questions.  Want to know why they picked Wolverine as the time traveler instead of Kitty Pryde, what Rogue’s big cut scene entailed, and what we can expect from the sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse?  There are answers to those and many more questions from Simon Kinberg below, who also served as producer for Days of Future Past and started working on the script back when it was just going to be a direct sequel to First Class directed by Matthew Vaughn.

SPOILERS AHEAD…DUH

1. The script only ever referred to McAvoy and Fassbender as Charles and Eric and Stewart and McKellan as Professor Xavier and Magneto

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Kinberg managed to keep the time travel straight in his own mind with the help of a lot of color-coded note cards.  To help the actors and producers follow the story, he clearly labeled those scenes which took place in the 1973 as “past” and 2023 as “future.”  He also used different characters names depending on the time period.

“So, the older versions in the script are Magneto and Professor Xavier, the younger versions are Eric and Charles.  The same goes for Wolverine, Wolverine in the future, Logan in the past.”

That distinction from his script carried over to the actual closing credits where you can see that Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart are credited as Magneto and Professor Xavier respectively while Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are simply credited as Eric and Charles.

2. It was a practical decision not to use Kitty Pryde as the time-traveler, but Wolverine wasn’t their first alternative

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Director Bryan Singer instructs Ellen Page on the set of Days of Future Past, which gave her character’s story from the comics to Wolverine in the movie

In Chris Claremont/John Byrne’s “Days of Future Past” comic book story from the mid-1970s, telepathic mutant Rachel Summers uses her telepathy to send an older Kitty Pryde’s consciousness back in time to her young body from when she first joined the X-Men.  For the film, they eliminated Rachel by essentially giving her powers to Kitty (Ellen Page), but made Wolverine the time traveler.  Given the dearth of significant leading female roles in most big budget comic book movies there are those who still haven’t forgiven Days of Future Past for taking what was Kitty’s story and giving it to Wolverine.

It was mostly a practical decision, though.  Ellen Page was born in 1986, and when we first met her version of Kitty in 2006’s The Last Stand the character was still a teenager.  By choosing to maintain the component of sending someone’s consciousness back in time instead of their body there was simply no way to use Kitty because she wouldn’t have had a body to leap into in 1973.  However, the X-Men comics do not lack for time travelers, and a couple of them were discussed before they ever settled on Wolverine:

“Matthew Vaughn and I discussed the notion of Bishop being sent back, Cable being sent back, a new character being sent back who we could then cast old and then a new young actor for the more prominent part of his life in 1973.  Somewhere along the line we looked at each other, and I don’t remember when it was to be honest, and said, ‘Well, we have a character that doesn’t age, and happens to be the most popular character in the movie franchise.  Plus, as Hugh Jackman almost literally hasn’t aged it then became Wolverine we sent back in time.”

3. It was Bryan Singer who decided Mystique needed to be emotionally and philosophically stopped instead of physically  

Lawrence Mystique Xmen Future Past

From the get-go, the basic plot was always going to involve having to stop Mystique from doing something in the past, but through the various drafts they struggled with providing a satisfying resolution since it didn’t seem particularly dynamic to have the heroes basically fail a couple of times to stop her before finally physically subduing her.  Ultimately, the future is changed because Charles gets through to her emotionally but refuses to use his powers to stop or control her, instead trusting her to choose for herself.  That idea came from Bryan Singer:

“Bryan came up with the idea that they had to emotionally or philosophically stop her, and make it feel at the end of the movie that she was making the decision to stop, that she had changed in a way as such that she would not go on to kill again.  Once you have that as a destination for the character then you can backtrack and start to fill in the arc that gets her there.”

4. There was an action scene with First Class’ Havok and Angel that was scripted but cut before filming 

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Beast, Havok, Angel, Mystique, and Xavier in First Class.

While the resolution of Mystique’s story arc is rightfully touching, her actual motivation for why she is so compelled to assassinate Bolivar Trask is a bit less compelling since she’s mostly doing it to avenge First Class characters who all died off-screen in-between movies.  So, other than Havok why did they decide to so quickly just wave away all of First Class‘ side characters?

“There was a draft at one point where you saw Havok and Angel running through the woods in what was an experimental attack by a Trask Sentinel […] We cut it before we shot it for budgetary reasons, to be honest, but also because there’s so much story to tell in this movie.  Anything that wasn’t pushing the main story and the main characters forward got cut.”

That’s not so say that they didn’t think through exactly happened to every First Class character:

“We talked in some detail about what happened to the First Class characters, and for us each of them was found, rounded up, and experimented upon and killed in the process by Trask.  We even had these detailed back stories for them where a couple of them had been drafted and were fighting in Vietnam, and that Trask was going around finding soldiers who had an almost unnatural number of kills.  He’d test to see if they were a mutant, and he’d put them on a ship for experimentation.”

5. After Days of Future Past, are any of the prior X-Men movies still canon?

Mystique X-Men 1
Does Mystique still grow up to do this to Senator Kelly in X-Men in 2000?

For as much as Days of Future Past manages to hang together and make sense as a movie, the second you start thinking about its ramifications on the events of all prior X-Men films, even last year’s The Wolverine, you get a headache.  For example, if Days of Future Past ends with Charles having saved Mystique’s soul does that mean she never ended up working with Magneto like we see in X-Men and X2?  There’s no good answer, but Kinberg and company did at least think about that kind of stuff:

“At the end of Days of Future Past there are events that happen in 1973 that did not happen in our real accepted 1973, and as such ripple into the 80s, 90s, and 2000s when the original X-Men takes place […] We talk in the movie about this notion of time travel or time continuity that the river of time continues going in the same direction.  So, you can only shift it just a little bit, throw a pebble in and see at least a splash of the ripple.  By the end of our movie we want to feel like the current is going in the same direction, that Charles went off and started the school and the X-Men, but the way he did and maybe some of the people who are part of the X-Men are not the same.”

Like I said, no real good answer, though in a general sense his response sounds nice.

6. So, how exactly did Jean Grey survive?  Well, remember when Charles looked through Wolverine’s memories?  

Jeans Death The Last Stand

When Charles gets a flash of Wolverine’s life while searching through his mind he sees a very condensed version of Wolverine’s arc with Jean across the first X-Men films, responding, “You poor, sad man,” before defiantly declaring, “I don’t want your future!”  However, that scene wasn’t there just to re-establish who Jean was so we’d remember her at the ending.  It’s also meant to explain exactly why she never died:

“I was very conscious as I was writing, knowing that I wanted Jean to come back at the end of the movie, I wanted young Charles to see essentially X3.  So, there’s that moment where he’s looking into Wolverine’s mind when Wolverine is helping him meet his older self.  We could have done anything.  We could have had him immediately see what Wolverine wanted him to see, but I thought it was an opportunity to warn, without intentionally warning since he’s just going through Wolverine’s mind and his prominent memories would be those of Jean, it would be a way of warning Charles of this thing that’s coming that he could do something to avoid.”

7. The intent of that 45 second scene with Wolverine, Cyclops, and Jean was to best encapsulate the nature of their love triangle from X1-X2

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There’s something so perfect and familiar yet frustrating about Days of Future Past ending with the reveal that while Jean and Cyclops have now been spared their Last Stand deaths Jean is still caught in a perpetual love triangle between the guy she should marry (Cyclops) and the guy she can’t stop looking at (Wolverine).  That was entirely intentional: 

“One of the ways I wrote the scene was that some of the dynamics from X1, 2, and 3, but especially X1 and 2, are still in place, which is Logan is in love with Jean, Jean has this attraction toward him which you can watch in this movie as Famke slides away from Hugh there’s a little bit of a body brush.  It’s not exactly like passing your brother.  Scott is territorial about Jean.  Some of that conflict between Scott and Logan that was so great in the original movies, and the kind of attraction/fear dynamic for Jean was all supposed to be present in what was around a 45-second scene.”

8. That WAS Kelsey Grammar in the make-up at the end as Beast

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Whether or not you were really clamoring to see him as Beast again after The Last Stand, Kesley Grammar does indeed make a cameo appearance in full costume and make-up during the super happy fun ending at the mansion.  So, no, Grammar’s cameo wasn’t limited to providing the dialogue while some other poor schmo donned the costume.  However, unlike Jean and Cyclops this cameo from the adult Beast was not actually planned from the very beginning:

“Hank was a natural thing that evolved.  It didn’t come until production because we have Logan say that young Hang, Nic, doesn’t survive in the future, and he’s such a fun, sweet character that we wanted to feel like part of what they salvaged in the future was his life.”

9. Originally, James McAvoy’s Xavier was meant to be in his wheelchair from the start

beach-scene-james-mcavoy-and-michael-fassbender-25566630-720-288-x-men-first-class-movie-review

James McAvoy’s Xavier is on his feet and walking for most of this movie even though First Class left him paralyzed.  Sure, it makes for more visually dynamic scenes and interactions, such as him punching Eric the first time he sees him during the prison break-out, but why go there via a scientific formula from Hank rather than stick with First Class‘ conclusion?

“One of the things Matthew and I talked about a lot before we even had a story or what comic book it would be based on was that, ‘Who is Charles 10 years later?’  Matthew really wanted to jump ahead 10 years, which I thought was smart and bold because most sequels take places 2 or 3 years after.  He wanted to see the effect of 10 years on their lives, and the most interesting of all those was the guy who lost his legs, lost the girl who was a sister to him, and lost who he thought was his best friend and, in turn, lost hope.  When we started talking about who that character was initially he was going to be in a chair, sort of Born on the Fourth of July, angry guy, has to lift himself out of bed everyday to get in the chair, rolls around in the chair, never leaves the house.”

So why didn’t they do that?

“Matthew didn’t want to be beholden to him being in the chair in every scene.  Another thing was that we started to map out his arc, metaphorically, as him accepting the chair.  At a certain point, what if we actually give him that arc literally such as that he is not even in the chair.  We figure out some sort of machination, which we did with the Beast cure thing which is contrived but if you believe it it works, and in turn have that being connected to his wanting to retreat from being a mutant.  So, it’s literally like he doesn’t want anything to do with the mutant cause.  He just wants his legs, be a man, and be left alone.”

10. There was an early draft in which James McAvoy’s Charles was starting to lose his hair

PROF X REELZ

Professor Xavier is a bald dude in a wheelchair, right?  Well, we already know why he’s not in his wheelchair for most of First Class and Days of Future Past, but other than “McAvoy will look stupid in a bald cap” why haven’t they made him bald yet?

“In early drafts of Days of Future Past, I had Charles’ hair falling out.  He was noticing more and more of it starting to fall out, but it almost felt like we were getting into The Fly body-horror movie territory.  So, we pulled it out, but it’s something we’ve all talked about since First Class.

11. How did Magneto shave?

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-Quicksilver-Magneto-Proffesor-Xavier-and-Wolverine

Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Willow asking Angel how exactly he shaves even though he’s a vampire with no reflection the following is an innocent but obvious question: if the Pentagon has to keep all metal away from Magneto in his prison cell then why is he clean shaven when we first see him?  According to Kinberg, Michael Fassbender asked the same question on set, and while they contemplated some kind of fake beard for him they aired on the side of plastic:

“We were told that he could have a plastic razor, and that they would come once a week with a plastic razor and plastic scissors to clean him up.”

12. Bolivar Trask is meant to have been somehow involved in JFK’s assasination

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-Magneto-at-Kennedy-assassination

Maybe it courts bad taste, particularly for those old enough to remember 1963, but the implication that Magneto assassinated JFK since who else could curve a bullet like that is fairly funny.  Still, it’s a bit of a relief when we learn that Magneto didn’t assassinate JFK because that means they aren’t really saying our beloved fictional character (Magneto) killed a beloved US President (JFK).  But who actually killed JFK?  If he was a mutant what were his abilities?

“That notion was that Trask was involved with the people who killed JFK.  Trask identified JFK was a mutant, and the people who wanted him killed for political reasons were doubly motivated since he was a mutant.  Eric got wind of that and went there to stop them.”

As for his powers, run-of-the-mill telepathy/power of persuasion, although Kinberg acknowledges they definitely shared some jokes about a mutant power more directly dealing with JFK’s notorious womanizing ways.

13. Rogue’s cut scene involved her being rescued to take over for Kitty after she’d been cut by Wolverine’s claws

X-Men Rogue 2

It’s been known for months that there was a big action scene involving Rogue which was ultimately cut from the movie meaning Anna Paquin’s work in the finished film is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo at the end.  However, until now we didn’t actually know what her scene was to entail.

According to Kinberg, it originally had nothing to do with her, as he simply wrote a scene involving the older Xavier and Magneto teaming up to leave the Chinese temple in the future and procure something which could give Kitty’s powers a boost as they were being drained.  By Kinberg’s own admission, the initial conception was terrible, and never made it past the outline stage into any script.  However, he still really wanted to to make the idea work because giving the older Xavier and Magneto a final mission together seemed important since we may never see them again:

“Then I thought Kitty’s power is winding down, and what they need is either something that can make her power go stronger or someone who can take over her power.  Literally it came with a conversation with Matthew Vaughn where he asked, ‘No one has the same power as her, right?’ and I said, ‘No, no one has the same power, but there is someone who can take her powers.  Then I got chills and realized it can be Rogue, the MacGuffin of Xavier and Magneto’s mission is saving Rogue from some kind of dark, scary place.  That’s what happens – they go and get Rogue, and try to bring her back in time to take over for Kitty before her power drains out.”

X-Men Rogue
If Wolverine stabbed Rogue as well at least we know she could just steal his power to heal herself

We’ll eventually get to see this 10-minute scene, likely on the Blu-Ray, but why was it cut?

“What I thought it would do would be to increase the stakes of the plot in the future, but it does the opposite because you feel there is an answer out there.  You feel like once Rogue gets here we have an unlimited amount of time.  So, the ticking clock we had established with Kitty getting wounded and starting to lose her powers worked, but then Rogue shows up and stops the clock.”

14. Using Quicksilver was Bryan Singer’s idea; the original script had Juggernaut in that role

Quicksilver-X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-Costume

After performance as Juggernaut in The Last Stand, maybe the character remains forever ruined.  However, Kinberg originally gave him a second chance, telling THR:

“In my first draft of the script, that character was actually young Juggernaut. One of the first things Bryan Singer said about the script was we needed a different character, because he felt like Juggernaut’s powers had visually been fully explored in X3. Quicksilver was really Bryan’s idea, and he had this very clear sense of the tone of the character, who he wanted to play the character and how we would shoot that kitchen scene.”

15. So, wait, does that ending mean that Mystique is saving Wolverine from ever being a part of the Weapon X program?

Days of Future Past Mystique

Similar to needing to end with Cyclops and Jean resurrected, Kinberg always wanted Days of Future Past to end with the 1973 version of Wolverine set to segue right into the Weapon X program.  That’s initially what appears to happen, Stryker fishing out his body onto a military boat, but then Stryker turns to the camera and gives the discolored eye look which signals it’s actually Mystique in disguise.  What. The Hell. Does That Mean?  Kinberg’s not telling, but he has let us in on how they came to that particular ending:

“I wanted Wolverine to end up with Stryker at the end of the film, but once we got down the line it felt like such a downer ending.  There wasn’t any ripple in time there – it was exactly the same, only the location of where Stryker grabbed Logan had changed [from X-Men Origins: Wolverine]. I felt like we hadn’t made as much of a ripple.  So, from there we thought of who else could it be, and we had a version where it was Charles and Hank who fished him out on that boat.  We set this thing up at the beginning of the film where Mystique is parading as a military figure, and saving mutants from going into some sort of experimental program in Saigon.  So, I just thought there was a really nice symmetry to end with Mystique doing something the same but with much bigger stakes given what we know about the Weapon X program.”

16. Which cast will X-Men: Apocalypse focus on – original recipe or First Class?

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-banner
So, efteryone on the left side can stick around while everyone on the right has probably taken their final bow

Kinberg has told different sources differing accounts as to how much of the original cast we can expect to see in Apocalypse, but the most consistent line has been what he told Empire:

“The plan right now at least with the next movie, Apocalypse, is to focus on the First Class characters.  Obviously, there’s plenty of room for the older characters to go forward, but there’s still so much growth between where the First Class characters end at Days of Future Past and where we know they end up and how the twists and turns potentially take them into being villains and leaders.  That’s sort of interesting, at least creatively, for me going forward.  So, definitely the intention going forward is to focus on the First Class cast with maybe some visitation from the original characters.”

17. What are they going to do with Apocalypse, aka, the weird dude in Egypt in the post-credits scene?

Apocalypse_head

For obvious reasons, Kinberg will only speak in general terms about X-Men: Apocalypse, simply promising that they’re not committed to the young actor who played Apocalypse in the post-credits scene, and that Apocalypse will be the biggest X-Men movie yet in terms of scope and scale. However, those who know Apocalypse from the comics have been a little surprised that he would be the villain in the next movie since his stories in the comics usually involve lots of alternate realities which if translated to film would seemingly be similar to Days of Future Past.  Kingberg knows that, claiming that their goal is to keep the franchise fresh by making a different genre movie each time:

“Days of Future Past is a time travel movie, Apocalypse is a disaster movie.  Those are viable genres without superpowers, and when you add comic book characters with superpowers to it then it feels a little bit different then the comic book movies that have come before it.  In terms of the alternate realities, there may be a little of that in the film, but we are really still in the early stages.  I’ll just say that as the writer I don’t know if I can handle having to figure out more than one linear story anytime soon, and that one linear story still involving 8 characters, 4 or 5 of which you have to give well-constructed story arcs.”

18. Apocalypse is going to be about both Charles and Eric

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First Class is Magneto’s origin story, Days of Future Past is Charles’ story.  So, who will Apocalypse focus on? Both.

“They are both at their peak powers at the start of Apocalypse.  So, Apocalypse to me is the culmination of this love story told in three acts.”

So, the great bromance shall continue, and the McAvoy-Fassbender loving internet shall likely be very pleased, although Kinberg likely wasn’t referring to any kind of physical love unlike some of the more ardent Charles-Eric shippers out there.

Sources: Empire (spoiler special podcast), THR

5 comments

  1. This is fabulous, interesting, and super informative reading. Thanks for sharing this. I loved the movie very much, and I had started to sour on the series. Seems like the filmmakers understood that about their core audience, and adapted accordingly.

    1. Thanks. I had started to sour on the series a bit as well even though I generally liked First Class. Last year’s The Wolverine caught me totally off-guard. Even though it gets real goofy at the end I admired a lot of what they did. It would have been so much more effective if this had come out directly after The Last Stand (and Origins: Wolverine had never happened) so that we’d be that much closer to Jean’s death and understand Logan’s grief which admirably runs throughout the entire film.

      In another interview, Simon Kinberg explained that the idea to do Days of Future Past first came up because someone at the studio, inspired by a recent viewing of Godfather 2, asked why they didn’t just bring back the original cast mutants to bookend the movie somehow. That was when he realized, “Holy crap! Of course, we’ll just do Days of Future Past!” In a way, it’s more interesting to have Kinberg out there telling us the back story of how this movie came to be because he produced First Class (as did Singer), and broke the story for Days of Future Story with Matthew Vaughn before Vaughn bolted for a different project. So, he was in on it from the start, and is willing to acknowledge which ideas came from Vaughn (such as using Rogue) and from Singer (such as the way of defeating Mystique). As luck would have it, he’s fairly well-spoken, intelligent, and with a fairly good recollection of events providing for some often fascinating insight into the creative process behind this movie.

      He’s also very, very available. Just in the two days since I wrote this article a whole batch of new interviews have come out, though mostly covering everything he told Empire. The major new insight was that the Apocalypse end-credits scene was filmed during their re-shoots in Montreal, and that internet rumors that the post-credits scene was originally supposed to feature Apocalypse appearing to a distraught Magneto and then somehow possessing or converting him may have been accurate but since it leaked before they’d filmed they came up with something else.

      1. oh, that is too bad about them having to change the post-credits scene. I think that would have sent everyone out of the theatre with a charge. love what you wrote here: “He’s also very, very available. Just in the two days since I wrote this article a whole batch of new interviews have come out, though mostly covering everything he told Empire.” I think in this super-accessible age, that is key to sustainable franchises. I find myself excited again about this series, and I didn’t think I ever would be again. sorry to shamelessly plug my blog, but you may enjoy what I wrote about the film: http://reelroyreviews.com/2014/05/24/shiny-pop-metaphor-for-how-much-harm-we-do-ourselves-through-inaction-and-anxiety-x-men-days-of-future-past/

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