As many of our readers have noted, there were a lot of changes made between the classic '80s X-Men story "Days of Future Past" and the Bryan Singer film X-Men: Days of Future Past, released last week. First of all, there's the issue of the apparent agendas of the respective works. In the case of the comic book story (which took place in Uncanny X-Men #141 and 142, with fallout on either end of that, and has been reprinted a number of times under the Days of Future Past label), the story primarily was an end in itself. Self-contained stories were more common back then and if there was a particular editorial "reason" for the tale, it was likely to throw a spotlight on the then-new character Kitty Pryde, who served as the main character in the story. That's the biggest change between the movie and the comic, of course; Kitty Pryde has been seen in a number of the X-Men movies, but is a very minor character onscreen. In the case of the movie, her role -- to be slingshotted psychically back through time, her consciousness possessing her younger body -- was fulfilled by Wolverine.
There were a few reasons for this, ignoring the obvious one, which is to make more money because Hugh Jackman's Wolverine has a proven track record of success with audiences. We'll look past that, though, and search for a narrative or creative reason because those are more complex and interesting. First of all, the comic book story saw the "present day" action taking place at the time of its current comics, meaning that major characters in the title who survived until the far-flung future of 2013 could travel back and inhabit their younger bodies in-story. Days of Future Past gives us a much wider range of time; rather than thirty years, the movie is set in 2023...which is only ten years into our future, or twenty years after the last time we saw the Patrick Stewart/Ian McKellen generation of X-Men in action...but it's sixty years after the events of X-Men: First Class, to which this film is nominally a sequel. (All of those ranges are estimates for the sake of conversation.) Days of Future Past's "present" doesn't take place after X-Men: The Last Stand, either (if it did, Kitty could presumably have hopped back into her body from that movie). Rather, it takes place in 1973, when the X-Men were disbanded and Professor Xavier was despondent. With most of the First Class cast dead, all that remains is Beast, Xavier, Magneto, Mystique and a few characters like Havok who get little or no screen time. Beast, as established in dialogue, is dead; as is Mystique, whose genetic code was responsible for creating the next generation of Sentinels (who don't appear in the comics, with the story opting to depict the Sentinels in their more traditional iteration). That leaves, essentially, Magneto, Professor X or Wolverine to be the one to travel back, since there aren't that many mutants over fifty still alive at the start of the dystopian future part of our story.
The official reason that it's not Kitty who travels back, but Wolverine, is that Kitty hasn't been a major player in the films and by sending Wolverine back, you can play with the existing relationship between Logan and Charles Xavier. That's a fair point, especially since here we have the despondent, powerless Xavier in the past -- which is obviously something that the comics didn't have to contend with since 'the past" in that instance was actually the then-current comics. The changes made to Xavier's character necessitated someone be sent back who could help him through his issues. And then, of course, there's the absence of Rachel Summers. In the original comics, she isn't even named in this story. She's just Franklin Richards's girlfriend Rachel with the red hair. She's the one who psychically sends Kitty Pryde back in the original comics -- in a scene that's surprisingly like what we see in the movie, actually, with Kitty laying on a mat while Rachel sits there channeling psychic power through her hands and into Kitty's head. Without going into Rachel's complex backstory, or at least having to cast an entirely new actor in an already-crowded movie to play a role that would go largely unexplained and lead to some head-scratching moments for non-readers, the solution they picked was actually fairly elegant, even if it did give Kitty the short end of the stick, and give us yet another Wolverine-centric story...and even if they never really explain why Kitty's powers can work that way. It's probably safe to just say "Hey, it's a secondary mutation, it's been twenty years," but if that was said on-screen it would be a cop-out so the lack of a concrete explanation is probably no worse than that. And since she had little more than cameos in previous movies, casual fans probably mostly just rolled with it and it's only us comics people getting worked up. Another difference between the comics and the film is in the purpose behind it, which goes all the way back to the top. As we said, the original story in the comics served to play up Kitty, introduce some new characters and concepts that paid off later, and was just generally a kick-ass X-Men story. In the film, though, there was a bit more than that.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is probably the closest thing we'll get anytime soon to a film version of DC Comics's Crisis on Infinite Earths. Fifteen years into this franchise, there had been as many bad movies as good -- and even the good ones were sometimes a continuity black hole. That's nothing new for the X-Men, of course, but it's not something you want in your mainstream blockbuster franchise. In this movie, they were able to clean it up a lot (although, like Crisis, doing so seemingly just created a whole new crop of issues) and, arguably most important, to jettison some of the bad movies and establish that the future is wide open for the characters. That's important, since the decision to reboot as a period piece/prequel is a clever one but for the first two movies they allowed it to limit their lineup since we "know" the first mission that most of the main X-Men went on took place at the turn of the century. If the studio wants, as has been suggested, to cast younger versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey and Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse, it undercuts the drama of that movie and those characters to know where they end up in 15 years. Using time travel to make the timeline more unstable and unpredictable allows the filmmakers to do more or less whatever they want with the next few films, providing they don't want to utilize any of the also-rans who got killed offscreen between First Class and Days of Future Past. When Kitty travels back, she gets into her body while it's conscious (and hanging out with the rest of the team), and her younger self passes out as a result. Since this happens in front of everyone, there's an immediate, jarring effect because she has to immediately explain her mission to the team who are wondering what happened to her upon waking up. Since the original story took place over the course of two standard-sized comic book issues, it was useful to have a "rip the Band-Aid" off device because for her to have to "sell" people on her story over and over again as Wolverine did (or, to a lesser extent, Bishop in the animated series adaptation of the same story), it would have felt like wasted pages that the creators didn't really have. That it didn't happen and then just expand the story out to six issues probably says a lot about the differences between comics in the last thirty-five years. As in the movie, the dystopian future of the comics is a pretty scary place; Magneto is in a wheelchair and dressed normally, evoking Charles Xavier. It isn't the last time he would take over the X-Men when Xavier was "dead" and do his best to honor his old friend, in spite of their philosophical differences, but little is made of it here, in part because there's just not that much space. Franklin Richards is grown and dating Rachel Summers. Storm and Colossus are there.
Almost everyone is dead but, unlike the film, we don't start out by seeing htem butchered, just by seeing a number of graves. Whose? Johnny Storm, Ben Grimm, Susan Richards, Scott Summers, Reed Richards, Lorna Dane, Warren Worthington, Hank McCoy, Bobby Drake, Peter Parker. Despite being an X-Men story, they very much addressed the fact that, yes, we're in the Marvel Universe. Later established as dead were Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Hulk, Black Panther, Vision, Iron Man, Daredevil and Ghost Rider. One exclusion from the film that's arguably a huge missed opportunity is Franklin Richards. An adult version of the character who's a child in the current day, Franklin was a background and cannon fodder character in "Days of Future Past," most notable as the boyfriend to Rachel Summers and for dying at the hands of a Sentinel attack a little more than halfway through the story that left Rachel reeling for the rest of the story, risking the whole mission not entirely unlike the unexpected gut-slash Kitty got from Wolverine during his PTSD episode in the movie (side note: the animated version was much less concerned about what was going on in the future, and didn't cut back to see any attack on the facility. That's partially because Bishop traveled physically, not psychically, and his body was in not unconscious and vulnerable to danger during the story).
Why's this a missed opportunity? Well, fans want a shared universe with the Fantastic Four, but Fox have consistently said that it would be hard to do. Putting a fully-grown Franklin in a far-flung future would more or less cement the two properties as existing in the same universe for the hardcore fans, but would do so in an Arrow/Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. -style Easter egg that the filmmakers wouldn't have to follow up on if it didn't sync up with future stories. The comic also features "rogues," racist humans who dress like The Warriors and apparently blame mutants for the state of the world, because they lay traps for them and attack for no reason. At first it might seem like they're hunting mutants a la what Bishop was doing at the start of his appearance in the animated adaptation of this story...but that doesn't make sense, because when Kitty gets the best of them and escapes back to the concentration camp (oh, yeah -- this whole story takes place in a mutant housing project guarded by Sentinels, rather than on the run like in the movie), she tells the Sentinels as much and that answer is acceptable to them. Back to the larger plot: in the comics, the victims of the assassination plot aren't just Senator Kelly, but Kelly, Charles Xavier and Moira MacTaggart all buy it at the same time. This arguably makes more narrative sense than what they did in the movie, because the implication is that even with Xavier alive and the X-Men doing their thing, they can never truly win over the public and are doomed to failure. This more or less makes Magneto right, which is a notion briefly touched on in the film but not dwelt upon, presumably for time. Leaving him alive, though, gave the filmmakers a chance to keep Patrick Stewart around, which just about everyone can agree is a win. As an aside -- Every reality where Professor X dies, seems to go to hell not long after. What's that say for Marvel NOW!, which launched on the heels of Avengers vs. X-Men? The actual assassination plot, though, isn't just Mystique in the comics like it is in the movie (although she's the leader/mastermind of the whole thing). In fact, it's the then-current iteration of the Brotherhood of Mutants, including Destiny, Avalanche, Pyro and the Blob. Mystique as the leader is a nice look on her considering how she spent most of the First Class and Days of Future Past movies oscillating between letting Xavier and Magneto make important decisions for her and then resenting them for it.
There's also a big, destructive battle at the site of the assassination attempt, making it impossible to hide, not unlike the movie (although it's ultimately more controllable in the comics than in the movie, and there's no Magneto there to rant and pontificate and drop buildings during the fight. We do get Mystique impersonating Nightcrawler, not unlike she did to Gambit in the cartoon, and a play on the "I'm your mother" getaway gambit she used on Rogue in that story, too. But unlike cartoon-Rogue, Nightcrawler regrouped and was ready to apprehend her except that she shapeshifted into hiding, like in the movie. Lots of people wanted Alan Cumming to come back, but of course it would have been difficult to do since he was not a First Class X-Man but a Singer-generation X-Man. Using him in the past might have confused the whole narrative of the two groups operating more or less independently. Kitty actually plays a direct, key role in stopping Destiny from assassinating Kelly which -- even when you ignore the fact that Destiny has never existed in the films -- remains a significant change since leaving the decision to pull the trigger or not up to Mystique's own judgment was a major thematic beat in the film. In the end, one major thing -- because it was being left open for later, we assume, since it was returned to a few times -- there were no definitive answers about whether they managed to save the future in the comics. The touching, satisfying PS in the film didn't happen at all, which is probably just as well since the kind of massive overhaul of the timeline done in the film wouldn't really have worked in the way that Marvel's time-travel operates.