Two movies in a week: be still my beating heart! And both to do with time travel.
My friend and I emerged from X-Men: Days of Future Past, in which Wolverine is sent back, fairly convincingly, to prevent the birth of the Sentinels and the apocalyptic mutant/humankind vs machine war that eventually follows, wondering, what is it about this time travel thing?
I loved the Sentinels when I was reading X-Men back in the day; they were a lot less sophisticated than the movie ones. And just for once, there was no real time paradox, which is what usually does my head in when it comes to time travel narratives: the whole chicken and egg, cause and effect thing. I didn’t see the previous X-Men movie, First Class, but enjoyed the first couple for their ability to explore some themes of prejudice and put interesting, sympathetic characters on the screen. That’s kind of stopped now, it appears: in fact, this movie seems to have reduced all those that came before to being nothing more than a dream. Any fiction writer knows: you don’t do that. You don’t invalidate the investment of your reader, or viewer. It reminds me of the first season of what had been an enjoyable Witchblade (based on the comics): no overt spoiler, but I still haven’t watched the second series.
But even if I’ve got the bull by the horns in my understanding of why all is shiny in the X-Men world, I didn’t much get much to care about in this flick. Not even James McAvoy’s tortured Xavier and Jennifer Lawrence playing Raven/Mystique on the knife edge of good/bad (or law/chaos, if you prefer) could make me give a damn. A popcorn movie, with no lasting crunch.
And then there was Edge of Tomorrow, with Tom Cruise dying over and over again in a computer game fashion as his reluctant soldier learns to be all GI Joe in a quest to defeat the lead alien, with a little help from Emily Blunt’s scarred veteran. Had me going there, Tom, on your fun ride, and I could really sense the frustration and weariness, as any gamer could, I suspect, of having to start all over again after every wrong turn. (My kingdom for a save point RIGHT NOW!) But what was with the whitewashed ending? Once again, hit the reset, all is well: victory without cost. He even gets to keep his good name and rank. And the girl, of course.
Is this something in the Hollywood psyche at the moment? That we can keep making the same mistakes over and over again until we get it right, and all the wrong alternate worlds just go away? Peace in our time, mission accomplished: look mum, no bodybags? It reminds me a little of the sour taste left over by Source Code, in which a hell of a lot of people die in a whole bunch of universes, but that’s okay because the hero finally gets his happily ever after. Icky.
So, to return to the original question: why we are so fascinated with time travel? Marty McFly and Quantum Leap, Star Trek, The Time Tunnel! And on, and on. Yes, yes, all right: Dr bloody Who. (For the record, I can’t choose between Pertwee and Tom Baker. But ‘Blink': that had a cool time travel premise, didn’t it?)
It offers a chance to compare and contrast different cultures, different times; to make predictions, HG Wells style, of what current philosophies or technologies might wreak in the future; and to challenge perceptions of historic events.
But perhaps most often, it seems to be the allure of the second chance, whether it’s another shot at love, or to save one life, or a whole planet, or universe, or right a wrong. To withdraw that statement, to pick the box, to walk instead of drive.
At the end of the day, though, I reckon the old adage holds true: wherever (whenever) you go, there you are. Now pass the popcorn — it’s time I was somewhere else.