See if this sounds at all familiar: A lone soldier from a dystopian future where sentient, anthropomorphic robots have hunted the last defenders of freedom to the verge of extinction is sent back in time on a mission that could make it so that the future never happens.
Whether you identified this as the premise of the new X-Men movie, “Days of Future Past,” or Arnold Schwarzenegger's “The Terminator,” you’d be right.
To put it mildly, the two share some striking similarities. In fact, that rough (and, admittedly, intentionally vague) synopsis isn’t even the extent of it.
In both futures, people are being rounded up and forced into internment camps.
Prisoners are forcibly tattooed for identification.
Both “The Terminator” and the comic version of “Days of Future Past” involve nuclear holocausts.
Also in the comics, one of the robots, called Sentinels, follows a different X-Man (Rachel Summers, the daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey) back through time a la Schwarzenegger’s cyborg, where it’s mistaken for a human in a costume and actually becomes, for a little while, a hero. Close enough for you?
Even the visual style used to portray the two dystopian futures is eerily similar.
It’s no wonder, then, that “Days of Future Past” is garnering so many comparisons to “The Terminator."
As Adam Lowes of Cine-Vue.com mentions in his review of Fox’s comic book adaptation, director Bryan Singer “can't help but plant some visual and thematic nods to the first two ‘Terminator’ entries.”
The thing is, though, the two-issue story by the creative team of Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin that constitutes “Days of Future Past” (“The Uncanny X-Men” Nos. 141-142) was actually published a full three years before “The Terminator” came out — three years before lines like “I’ll be back” cemented Ah-nolt’s place in movie history.
So in all fairness, instead of saying the new X-Men movie is like “Terminator,” people ought to have been saying James Cameron’s sci-fi franchise was like the X-Men comics all along.
But even though “Days of Future Past” is only now getting its moment in the spotlight thanks to the new movie, which unites pretty much every cast member who’s ever appeared in an X-Men film plus a few new ones for good measure, the two-part comic is widely regarded as one of the seminal story arcs in X-Men history.
In 2001, it was voted to the 25th spot on a list of Marvel’s 100 greatest stories. And since its publication in 1981, other creative teams have revisited its dystopian future over and over and over again.
Of course, the new movie diverges from the comic in some pretty significant ways — chief among them being that it’s Wolverine’s consciousness that goes back in time, not fan-favorite character Kitty Pryde, aka Shadowcat (portrayed in “Days of Future Past” and “X-Men: The Last Stand” by Ellen Page).
The movie is also said to function as a “passing of the torch,” more fully establishing a new generation of X-Men, including “First Class” alumni James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, who appear alongside the older incarnations of their characters (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, respectively).
While “Days of Future Past” may not have always gotten the credit it deserved outside of the comic fan community, co-writer/artist John Byrne takes it all in stride, since, as he has volunteered on his official website, ByrneRobotics.com, he, too, may have ripped the story off — albeit unintentionally — from a “Doctor Who” episode he’d seen years before titled “Day of the Daleks.”
Commenting on the similarities between his story and the 1972 episode of the long-running British sci-fi series, which Byrne noticed only years after “Days of Future Past” was published when he happened to see the episode a second time, the legendary comic creator said, “From this, I learned the ever-so-important lesson to be wary of storylines that seem to spring from nowhere, almost fully formed.”
On a side note, “The Terminator” did end up getting sued for plagiarism, but not by Marvel or any of the creative team behind “Days of Future Past.” Rather, sci-fi author Harlan Ellison sued based on similarities to two time travel-centric episodes of “The Outer Limits” he had penned, “The Soldier” and “Demon with a Glass Hand” (both from 1964).
Ellison’s name now appears with an acknowledgment in the end credits to “The Terminator.”
Finally, as if there weren’t already enough points of similarity between “Days of Future Past” and Cameron’s Terminator movies, in an effort to give the new X-Men movie some “time-travel integrity,” according to Singer, he and screenwriter Simon Kinberg contacted Cameron (a famous science nerd) to pick his brain on the subject.
“(Cameron) was really into it,” Singer said in an interview with the New York Post. “He hadn’t talked time travel since ‘The Terminator.’ He seemed to approve and then gave me all the physics behind it.”
So, just like in any good time travel movie, everything has now come full circle.
Jeff Peterson contributes to the film discussion website TheMovieScrutineer.com.