I must confess that after last summer’s Superman debacle I was a little burnt out on superhero movies. They’re made with such frequency now, and many are so formulaic. Yet no matter what they keep making money. Naturally many studio executives are loath to deviate from this formula of prophecies, will-they-or-won’t-they romances, and of course, massive amounts of CGI destruction.
I’m happy to report that X-Men: Days of Future Past breaks the mold. In fact, it proved to be one of the most creative superhero movies I’ve seen in a very long time. By incorporating time travel, it functions as a prequel and a sequel at the same time. Some say that’s just a ploy to get Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender (stars of the prequel X-Men: First Class) in the same movie as Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, and Hugh Jackman (stars of the original X-Men trilogy). While they may be on to something it nonetheless makes for a fun, original, and thought-provoking story.
The movie opens with the heroes living in a dystopian universe where robots called “sentinels” find and kill all mutants and humans who carry the genes to foster mutant offspring. Wolverine, Professor X, and Magneto join up with a small band of vagabond mutants who have survived, one of whom has the power to project people back in time. They come up with a plan to send Wolverine forty years back in time to prevent the sentinels from ever being created.
To do this, they must change the heart of Raven, also known as Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Forty years in the past Raven killed the creator of the sentinels, Dr. Trask (played by the always great Peter Dinklage), a scientist who possessed a deep hatred for mutants and had been experimenting on them. His designs were only prototypes without proper funding, but his death turned him into a martyr and convinced the public of the need to implement his work. The survival of the mutants in the future depends upon Raven having the change of heart to not kill the man who has viciously attacked her mutant brothers and sisters.
This means that the movie ultimately deals with the oft-debated question of “how do you change someone’s heart?” Raven killed Trask out of revenge for her friends that he experimented on. The thirst for revenge is a powerful human instinct, and it is not one that is easily quenched, so to stop her proves to be quite a task. Magneto takes a coercive, or law-based, approach, as he usually does. Anyone familiar with the series knows that he consistently tries to solve problems with brute force, trapped in a cycle of retribution beginning with what had been done to him in his childhood (X-Men First Class). So he reacts here with power: after hearing from the future Wolverine that Raven must be stopped, he attempts to kill her. On the flip side, Professor X takes a more gracious approach. He loves Raven. He has loved her since they met as children, even though she has spurned and turned her back on him. He implores her to see that forgiveness, not bullets, will save mutants in the future. Professor X sees many mutants, not just Raven, as hurt and exhausted beings who are foreigners wherever they go. He provides shelter and a home to many mutants in the form of his school and tries to offer Raven this same love and being-known to satisfy her desire for revenge.
In some respects, Professor X’s love is like the love of God. Even though we consistently turn our backs on him, he doesn’t turn his back on us. If the Gospel tells us anything, it’s that ‘prior’ love and perpetual forgiveness, as opposed to being smacked across the face with the law (or bullets), has the power to soften a hardened heart–and maybe even allow us to love and forgive others in return (1 John 4:19). It’s not every day you walk out of a superhero movie reminded of that.