Although it ultimately serves as a slate-clearing quasi-reboot for the X-Men franchise, X-Men: Days of Future Past has to wade through a whole lot of backstory to get there. In the film, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to 1973 to try to head off an act of violence that would, through the butterfly effect, eventually spell doom for all mutants; the time jump serves as a bridge between the modern-day timeline of the first three X-Men movies and the prequel, X-Men: First Class, which was set in 1962. The film assumes the viewer has strong recall of the franchise’s earlier entries, and so a quick refresher will serve you well to catch all the historical X-references and in-jokes that pop up. Here’s all you need to remember about the various characters (past and present) to get the most out of the film, which opens today.
LOGAN / WOLVERINE: The fast-healing, cigar-chomping fan favorite who’s become the X-Men franchise’s signal character. (He was given the main role in Days of Future Past even though in the original comic book, the action is driven by Kitty Pryde.) He has always had his near-immortality, strength, claws and healing abilities, but it wasn’t until X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which takes place in 1979) that he got his adamantium skeleton, grafted onto his bones (and claws) by the maniacal Major Stryker (previously played by Brian Cox and Danny Huston). He is still haunted by having killed his unrequited love, Jean Grey (who was married to Scott “Cyclops” Summers), in order to prevent her all-powerful alter ego, Phoenix, from destroying the world in X-Men: The Last Stand (this after she had already slain Cyclops). Wolverine is also the only character to appear in all of the extended X-Men films — though his part in First Class was a cameo, dismissing Professor X’s attempts to recruit him to the new team with a brisk, “F--- off.”
CHARLES XAVIER / PROFESSOR X: Paralyzed by a stray bullet at the end of First Class, the X-Men leader — a telepath who can mentally locate anyone, and speak to them inside their own head — is a principled defender of the idea that humans and mutants can coexist peacefully. Xavier was allied with Magneto in their younger days (when played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender), and then they split along MLK/Malcolm X diplomatic/violent lines in First Class and were enemies throughout the three modern-day films. Using a cavernous psychic amplifier called Cerebro, Xavier is able to expand his powers to seek out undiscovered mutants around the globe and take them under his wing at his School for Gifted Youngsters.
ERIK LENSHERR / MAGNETO: Lensherr was the youthful survivor of a Nazi concentration camp: those experiences have made him bitterly aware of the dark side of human nature. As Magneto — a master of all things metal who wears a helmet to prevent Xavier from invading his brain — he has come to see “mutantkind” as a distinct race, one that he is willing to defend by subjugating or even exterminating humanity. He recruits his own band of mutants to help with his cause, including…
RAVEN DARKHOLME / MYSTIQUE: A blue-skinned shapeshifter (played by Rebecca Romijn in the first three X-Men films and Jennifer Lawrence in First Class), her formidable gift is being able to completely assume the form of others. She’s known Charles Xavier since both were kids, and, like Wolverine, it would seem her unique abilities retard the aging process (handy, considering she’s near naked much of the time). In the first three modern-day films, she’s aligned with Magneto, but in First Class we see how she was originally united with Professor X, but switched allegiances to the more militant side after she became convinced that the U.S. and Russian navies were attacking the mutants.
KITTY PRYDE / SHADOWCAT: Played by Ellen Page, Pryde (a modern-day X-Man) has the ability to walk through walls, which she can pass on to anyone she’s touching. In DoFP, we learn of another, greater power: projecting the identities of others as they travel back through time into the previous versions of their own bodies, which she uses to help her fellow X-Men avoid what would otherwise have been fatal skirmishes with the mutant-hunting Sentinels. The process, however, takes a physical toll that increases with the time traveled, which means only Wolverine is strong enough to make the journey 50 years into the past.
HANK McCOY / BEAST: A highly intelligent scientist who, when provoked, transforms into a savage, blue-furred beast. (You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.) Played by Kelsey Grammer, he was first introduced in Last Stand, having learned to co-exist with his animal side. But in First Class, played by Nicholas Hoult, the young nerd is still coming to terms with his animal alter-ego, doing his best to repress the beast inside him but letting it out when book learning won’t get things done.
ORORO / STORM: Best known for having been saddled with perhaps the worst line in the history of the franchise in the first X-Men film: “Do you know what happens to a toad when it’s struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else.” She controls the weather, and has had diminishing amounts of dialogue as the first trilogy went on; Halle Berry was pregnant during the filming of DoFP, and so did minimal shooting and has what could be a record-low number of lines.
Photo credits: © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation