ANAHEIM – Simon Kinberg had an unexpected trip to WonderCon on Saturday. The “X-Men: Days of Future Past” screenwriter and producer stepped in for director Bryan Singer who finds himself in the middle of a publicity nightmare surrounding abuse allegations that took place almost 14 years ago. It's a rare moment in the spotlight for Kinberg who, in many ways, has become the key man on 20th Century Fox's superhero movies.
Kinberg wrote the dreadful “X-Men: The Last Stand,” but redeemed himself five years later as a producer on “X-Men: First Class” and is both the writer and producer of Fox's buzzworthy “Fantastic Four” reboot. Today, however, he's sitting down to talk about “Days of Future Past” and, happily, he hasn't succumbed to answering questions with just studio talking points (oh, there's time).
The latest “X-Men” extravaganza is one of the most anticipated movies of the year and for a variety of reasons. Yes, moviegoers are excited about seeing the original “X-Men” movies casts interact with their younger “First Class” counterparts. Yes, the movie now boasts three Oscar winners (Anna Paquin, Halle Berry, Jennifer Lawrence), four other nominees (Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender, Ellen Page), a Lord Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), a former captain of the Enterprise (Patrick Stewart) and a most “Wanted” man (James McAvoy), among others (that's arguably more star power than “The Avengers”).
What has many longtime X-Men fans excited, however, are the possible consequences of the film's time traveling storyline. In order to change an apocalyptic present, Wolverine returns to 1973 to try and convince the younger versions of Magneto and Prof. Xavier to stop Bolivar Trask's Sentinel program before it sets of a chain of events that will spin the world into ruin. If Wolverine succeeds it goes without saying the “future” would change. That means a number of things in the movie franchise's cannon including the unfortunate events of “The Last Stand” (which didn't sit well with many) could be undone. With Fox having already announced “X-Men: Apocalypse” as a follow up, many have speculated the studio may figure out a way to combine the best of both casts. Well, Kinberg's remarks suggest fans may want to lower their expectations on a reboot quite a bit.
“Certainly things that take place in 'Days of Future Past' in the past have an impact on the future,” Kinberg says. “That's the whole point of the plot and, I can say, in at least the vaguest of terms there care repercussions from what happens in 1973 that ripple all the way forward in time. Which means they would ripple through the time periods of the original 'X-Men' movies. That's a vague answer to your question.”
As for when 'Apocalypse' takes place, Kinberg states, “It really follows the 'First Class' cast. Meaning it is a sequel that will feature McAvoy, Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nic Hoult and that cast. It is not a sequel that would necessarily feature Ian, Patrick, Halle and the original cast. It would take place roughly between the past of 'Days of Future Past' and when 'X-Men' first started.”
Notably, Kinberg left out Jackman's name there, but the gist of his response is that the rising box office notoriety of the “12 Years A Slave” star and J-La is expected to carry the franchise into the future. Even if that means “Apocalypse” story occurs in the late '70s or '80s. Then again, it took quite awhile for the classic X-Men comic book storyline to become the basis of what was always seen as a “First Class” sequel.
“When we started talking about a sequel to 'First Class' it was Matthew Vaughn and I because Matthew was going to direct it,” Kinberg says. “We spent months and months and months [on it.] It wasn't 'Days of Future Past.' We were trying to figure out what story to tell. We really floundered for awhile because we wanted to tell a bigger story, but emotionally a bigger story than 'First Class' which is it's own challenge. And then somewhere in that process someone came up with the idea of bring in Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as bookends to tie it emotionally to the original films, but not integrate them into the story. And then very quickly it became, 'Well, we should just tell 'Days of Future Past.' The sec on we did that it was 'That's a great idea. That's a story we should tell.”
The problem, unfortunately, was that most of the original cast weren't obligated to appear. Kinberg noes, “We've now set up these two casts perfectly suited for sort of a collision movie, but the studio doesn't have deals with Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ellen Page, Anna Paquin — all these people. So, it could be prohibitively expensive. But I think the promise of the movie because of the success of 'Avengers' into the sort of mainstream of superheroes and comic books in general allowed us to tell a really big story.”
And, more importantly, allowed the studio to figure out how to work the budget so all those names could return. Kinberg reveals that giving all those stars a moment in the spotlight was actually the toughest part of the project.
“People think writing the time travel was the most complicated part of the movie, but way more complicated is having actors who are used to and deserve being number one on a call sheet,” Kinberg says. “We have Oscar winners who are [now] 7, 8, 9 on the call sheet and used to having the entire plot revolve around them. All the big dramatic moments and the story just don't afford that opportunity as a two hour movie.”
Somewhat surprisingly, the key character for “Days of Future Past” isn't Wolverine or Mystique or Magneto. Instead, Kinberg and the other producers decided to make Young Charles Xavier the film's emotional centerpiece.
“This guy, at the end of 'X-Men: First Class,' who lost one of his closest friends or confidants with Erik, lost his legs and lost hope,” Kinberg says.” [We wanted] to explore the story of that guy – the guy who is the most broken, the darkest you are ever going to see Charles Xavier become the Prof. Xavier of Patrick Stewart's incarnation at the end of this film. Then you start to make other decisions based on that. Who is the foil for him? Who is the MacGuffin? Who is the person who is going to give him hope? Who is the person who is going to test his hope? And other characters may have their own arcs and own resolutions, but they need to serve that through arc and that story.”
“X-Men Days of Future Past” opens nationwide on May 23.