Say this for X-Men: Days of Future Past: the marketing team has risen to the challenge of presenting what may well be the most challenging and complicated superhero film ever made. While the formula–perhaps seen most effectively executed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier–has been perfected in recent years, it’s ambitious for a studio to throw out the “good guys assemble, show off product placement, beat up bad guys” routine in favor of something more like, “morally ambiguous heroes and equally ambiguous villains come together to time travel from a dystopian future to the 1970’s in order to prevent an act of suspected terrorism that is itself responsible for said dystopian future, in a film with 19 costumed heroes, some of whom are played by two different actors depending on whether we’re watching the future dystopian timeline or the swingin’ ’70s.”
One of the ways that Fox has endeavored to make the complexity of the historically minded film feel like a feature to audiences, rather than a bug, is the new alternate-reality website 25moments.com. The site chronicles 25 key moments in mutant/human relations, drawing on both the unseen fictional history of the X-Men franchise, as well as a handful of events that were pivotal in the previous films. The list starts with the role of Magneto and Professor X in the Cuban Missile Crisis–the climax to 2011’s X-Men: First Class–then continues through the decades. We see Magneto photographed on the Grassy Knoll in Dallas in 1963; we meet Colossus as a newborn baby after Chernobyl; new mutant Sunspot marches with Subcomadante Marcos and the Zapatistas in Chiapas in the 90’s; the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge by mutants from 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand makes the list; as do mutants marching alongside Occupy Wall Street to protest the beginnings of the dystopia that the film’s future-timeline depicts.
It’s a clever way to present a ton of information that’s sure to enhance the experience of watching the film–it makes very clear how the dystopian “Days of Future Past” timeline came to be in the cinematic X-Men universe, drawing a relatively straight line for a franchise that’s had two films (X-Men: First Class and 2009’s Wolverine: Origins) take place in the past, and four others take place mostly in the present day. It’s no mean feat to take a convoluted timeline that was created by multiple directors at a studio for whom continuity between films didn’t seem to be a top priority, and make it coherent, but the 25moments website does an impressive job of that. If X-Men: Days of Future Past is as effective at drawing together those elements–and delivering a story worthy of the build-up–then all of the ambition behind the project will more than pay itself off.