X-Men: Days of Future Past was engineered to combine two familiar casts into one movie: the key cast from the first trilogy (Wolverine, the older Professor X and Magneto), and the 1960s crew of First Class (Jennifer Lawrence’s young Mystique, and the more youthful X and Magneto). Ironically, the character that people are buzzing loudest about upon leaving the theater is a new X-face: the superspeedy Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters. In a standout, two-minute scene that has audiences giddily erupting in applause, the young mutant recruit impishly foils some soldiers’ attempts to capture Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto by flicking away their bullets and making them punch each other — all to the smooth vocal stylings of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.”
The crowd-pleasing scene was actually a late addition to the film. Early versions of the script (when First Class director Matthew Vaughn was attached) didn’t even include Quicksilver; it was the mutant Juggernaut who helped break Magneto out of Pentagon lockdown, mostly by busting through walls. The Quicksilver-for-Juggernaut swap was one of the first notes Vaughn’s replacement, X-Men vet Bryan Singer, delivered to screenwriter Simon Kinberg. “He felt like we had sort of exhausted, visually, Juggernaut’s powers in [X-Men: The Last Stand], and so he wanted a new character, a new kind of visual power, that we could explore,” Kinberg explains.
But even once Quicksilver was integrated, the kitchen scene was designed “way, way late in the game,” says editor John Ottman, who’s cut every one of director Bryan Singer’s features save for the first X-Men. It was slowly laid out through the previsualization process (or “previs” for short, which means creating animated storyboards), and all of the slow-motion scenes were filmed on the last two days of the entire shoot.
The scene was essentially created by committee: Singer conceived the initial idea for it, Kinberg painted broad strokes of how it would play out in revised versions of the script, and then the larger group (including the visual effects supervisor, special effects coordinator, second unit director, stunt coordinator, and director of photography) melded minds while working with the previs artist. “That sequence is such a complex sequence from both a cinematographic and just a physical stunt perspective, that everybody had to be super coordinated in the way that we planned it and put it together,” Kinberg explains, adding that while it wasn’t always certain that Quicksilver’s mischief would play out in the kitchen, Singer had a clear vision early on how he wanted to execute the speed demon’s powers by high-speed photography.
The sequence may have been complex, but it was still surprisingly practical, with very little actual visual effects. Kinberg points to the moment Quicksilver touches the security guard’s cheek, and we see his skin move in ripple effect. “That’s just super, super high speed photography where the actual motion is just slowed down.” (Though Kinberg does admit that the soup that Quicksilver dips his finger in for a taste was CGI food.)
When Quicksilver ran up the side of a wall, Ottman said Peters’ stunt double had to “run sideways for as long as he can, and then drop,” and the runner could usually only go a couple of seconds. His speed was then decelerated in the editing process, giving the impression that he was actually sideways for a good ten-second stretch. “These are just pieced together very quick moments extended to be much longer,” Ottman explained.
As for the Jim Croce tune that seems so perfectly suited — that was also an unplanned choice. “That Croce song was thrown in by the previs artist [as a placeholder],” Ottman said. “And we immediately thought it was brilliant and we always completely associated it with the slo-mo section.”
The raved-about scene is a boon for the X-Men franchise and all of Marvel. Because not only have they added a new fan favorite to the X-Men franchise, but Quicksilver will also turn up in Disney’s 2015 summer tentpole Avengers: Age of Ultron. Since the Disney Marvel movies take place in a different mythological universe (and have different Hollywood contracts), the Mutant will be played in Ultron by Kick-Ass alum Aaron Taylor-Johnson. (The different universe also means that they don’t have to explain why Quicksilver is roughly the same age even though Ultron takes place about 40 years after DOFP, and why he has a twin sister in the Disney world.) “There was definitely pressure to knock it out of the park with the character,” Ottman said. “Because we knew that this character was going to be introduced in another Marvel movie and we had to sort of preemptively outdo whatever they were planning on doing.”
The current fan frenzy surrounding Quicksilver marks an 180-degree turn is also vindication, considering the fan upheaval that followed the first glimpses of the character: Twitter was overrun by complaints that he looked like a corny, ’90s rave kid. “I was with them,” Ottman admitted. “I don’t think we were certain in our minds that he would fly with people once they got to see him.” Kinberg thought it was unfair that he was being prejudged from a picture, given that “So much of the character is in Evan’s personality and attitude and the way we construct the character, and also the visual effects, none of which can be rendered in a still image snapped on set.” Ottman however, conceded that his reaction when the first dallies came back featuring Quicksilver in costume was, “‘Dude, this wig looks awful.’ But it just grew on everybody and the character sort of makes your forget about it and makes it actually kind of funny.”
The slo-mo kitchen scene is so visually and aesthetically cool that a gaping plot hole has been (mostly) ignored by fans: How, in 1973, did Quicksilver possess that Croce-playing Walkman in the first place, given that technology didn’t emerge until the ’80s (and how does the music keep speed with him)? “Technically it’s not a Walkman,” Ottman explained. “There’s a whole backstory that’s never shown in the movie nor did we shoot it but he supposedly had stolen this thing that was a prototype of Walkman technology from some lab somewhere… So it was supposed to be some original prototype that he happens to have.”
Ottman laughs. “But how would anyone know that?”