I went to see X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) with one smoldering purpose — to find out what happened to Cyclops. I don’t mean ‘what happened to his characterization.’ Granted, it’s nothing like the comics, and neither are most of the mutants in the series, but I can tolerate movies that misunderstand source material as long as the story is well-done and pseudo-faithful.
No, I wanted to find out what happened to Cyclops after his awkward off-screen death in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) because I would not (and cannot) accept that pointless exercise as serendipity. Luckily, the event left potential for the character to be revived in later films. Unfortunately, later films were produced, and they explored the previous generation of mutants instead of continuing the original trilogy’s storyline. For the past eight years, I’ve been afraid that Cyclops’ return would be postponed indefinitely, or worse, accepted and forgotten. Finally, with Days of Future Past, the opportunity presented itself. It would be now or never.
Sometime in the character’s history, Cyclops became a controversial figure with a polemic fanbase. Perhaps it began when readers picked Wolverine’s side in his romantic triangle with Jean Grey and Cyclops in Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men. It might have begun with Cyclops’ lousy decisions with women, with his killing of Professor X, with his occasionally narrow-minded guidance, with his habit of wearing sunglasses indoors (because those people are awful), with his terrorism and fanaticism and massive egotism and aneurism-inducing angst. Some of the hatred might be split between Wolverine and Cyclops for hogging all of the attention of the comics to the detriment of other interesting characters. It might have developed after the revelation that Cyclops’ father is a space pirate.
Potentially, the hatedom could date all the way back to Stan Lee’s The X-Men #1 (July 1963) in which the optically-impaired boy scout is clearly the least fun of the original team members. While Angel, Beast and Iceman try to sneak kisses with Jean Grey or goof off during training, Cyclops stands aloof, arms folded, his posture disdainful, rebuking teammates in an irritable manner.
In a slew of unfavorable reviews, the character has been compared to Jack Shepherd, Tom Brady, Walter White, Magneto, King Joffrey, William T. Ryker, Joseph Kony, George W. Bush, and Percy Weasley. I would say he’s more like Jake Berenson, leader of the Animorphs, a character who suffers from tactical mistakes and the deaths of friends but is unable to relinquish his duties out of greater moral obligation. He’s also like Captain America, if Cap had to make tougher calls and was occasionally possessed by psychic demons.
But I like Cyclops. Sometimes. He can be immensely compelling when he’s clashing with Wolverine’s loose cannonry, or making hard choices, or compensating for his out-of-control powers, or outthinking opponents, or making actual tactical decisions, or unifying the egotistic dissonance of his team, or when depowered. I’m not alone in this regard, as endless articles and reviews have announced their support of the character (often with justification of his actions or some self-proclaimed courage for speaking out). My attention to Cyclops doesn’t negate my feelings for other mutants, nor is he my favorite. Actually, when pressed, I much prefer Kitty Pryde or Wolverine’s scrappy little pal Jubilee. Nor do I blindly support many of his decisions. I find that a great writer can make Cyclops worthy of his status as the semi-protagonist of the X-Men titles, and another great writer can make him the lowest scum that ever lurked in Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. And the writer does matter. Just look at what Geoff Johns did for Aquaman.
But the Marvel cinematic universe does little with Cyclops’ legacy. Even the hatred of the character, culled through decades of comic canon, are not legitimized by his on-screen persona. Instead, the films condense Cyclops to one primal form — that of a minor peevish rival to Wolverine. As one film critic put it, Cyclops becomes an “arrogant foil whose initial animosity toward the hero gives way to grudging, battle-tested respect” after which Cyclops becomes expendable (Pappademas). Otherwise, Cyclops is a background figure with little relevance to the films’ plots or emotional catharsis.
In regards to his romantic endeavors, quite infamous in the comics, Cyclops’ love triangle is adapted from the halcyon days of Chris Claremont. Unfortunately, the triangle is annihilated in the first twenty minutes of The Last Stand with Cyclops’ untimely disappearance. He’s so completely unimportant (and impotent) that nobody really cares when he’s gone. In fact, Professor X had wrote him off already in an earlier scene in which he made Storm his successor. So no big deal.
The most frustrating feature in The Last Stand is how it’s set-up perfectly as a vehicle for Cyclops to finally have character intrigue, only for him to die in the first act of the film. For those who might not recall, Cyclops is shown suffering from the loss of Jean Grey. He’s grown a beard of sorrow (well, stubble). Surprisingly, he doesn’t have a nude clone of Jean Grey sleeping soundly in his bed, nor is he making out with Emma Frost over Jean’s grave, so we’ve already departed from the comics.
In his final moments, but still within the first half hour of the film, Cyclops drives his motorcycle to the lake in which Jean Grey died, roars in rage, and blasts the lake waters with his optic beams. It’s a powerful moment of longstanding misfortune, clearly meant to pre-empt the character’s emotional journey in Last Stand. But then Cyclops is vaporized. And his three-film story arc ends abruptly without resolution.
That awkward plot settlement has been explained by behind-the-scenes actions within the industry. Apparently, James Marsden decided to jump ship with Brian Singer to create the forgettable Superman Returns (2006). That meant his character had to depart the film with some kind of easily wrapped-up excuse — in this case, his death. And it must have seemed sort of poetic at the time. Who better to off Cyclops than his recently deceased girlfriend? Back in 2006, I could understand that erroneous plot development (but not that erroneous Superman movie). I figured all they needed to do was revive Cyclops in the next film with some quasi-explanation, maybe even make it a plot point, and continue from there. Because, I argued to myself, if there was to be a continuation, Cyclops was as essential as Storm, Iceman, and dare I say it? Wolverine. At least visually.
And there could be many ways to return the character. Perhaps Jean Grey didn’t vaporize him? Maybe they just broke up and Cyclops drove away in a hissy fit, possibly headed to Alaska as he was prone to do in the comics. Perhaps Jean Grey trapped him in a different dimension, or a time bubble, or in her consciousness, or some other conventional excuse that would allow him to return to his rightful place as the X-Men’s jerkaholic. In any case, I diligently awaited for the next X-Men movie to correct the mistake. And I waited. And waited.
As you know, the films did not continue after the original trilogy. Instead, they went the Star Wars route and began to generate prequels. For eight years, I waded through cameos of youthful Scott Summers, wondering if we’d ever see his older variant. For eight years, I hoped a director, possibly black spandex-lovin’ Brian Singer, would retcon the moronic death and return the character to the big screen. For eight years, any time I remembered The Last Stand, I would feel this little twinge in my heart and start making a loud whining noise like a tea kettle and clench my fists until sweat dripped out from between my knuckles and I’d need to be alone for awhile, perhaps to reread Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men where, astonishingly, Cyclops isn’t a total loser.
And then Twentieth Century Fox announced that their next project would be X-Men: Days of Future Past, a cinematic adaptation of the famous time-traveling storyline. The film would combine the original trilogy’s X-Men with the youthful (but simultaneously older) generation from X-Men: First Class (2011). Just as he replaced Cyclops’ role in Last Stand’s loose adaptation of the ‘Dark Phoenix Saga,’ Wolverine would be taking over Kitty Pryde’s role in Days of Future Past. And the arc would end with a revised timeline.
Suddenly, there was room for Cyclops’ (and James Marsden’s) triumphant return! It was unlikely he’d show up in the ‘future arc,’ as explaining his appearance might be awkward, but he could definitely return after the in-story timeline changes. Soon I discovered he’d be making an uncredited appearance, although that might be in a trippy mind sequence in which he berates Wolverine, or more likely, a flashback involving Jean Grey. I was a little scared, but I kept getting this little tingle in my brain meat that whispered, “Trust in Singer.”
Spoilers ahead. The night of the premiere, my little brother and I headed to our local AMC theater, which I might add has a fully-stocked bar for emergency purposes. Anyway, we watched the film, which has been reviewed already by Julian Darius. We enjoyed sexy James McAvoy, sexy Jennifer Lawrence, sexy Michael Fassbender, and the ages-like-fine-wine Hugh Jackman. Finally, the dark timeline was averted, Wolverine awoke to a better continuity, and then the big reveal: James Marsden — once again donning the trademark surliness, visor, and scowl — popped out of Professor X’s office!
There was something terribly satisfying about the appearance. I felt like a tension that I’d been carrying over the past eight years was suddenly alleviated. It was like I’d been living in the darkest timeline, where Cyclops was dead and nobody cared, when suddenly it was all erased. Which, I guess, is the plot of Days of Future Past anyway. In a better analogy, seeing Cyclops again was like if we found out tomorrow that all the media sensation about Ben Affleck in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had been a huge hoax, and Christian Bale would be reprising the role, and Christopher Nolan is set to direct.
While Cyclops did nothing but repeat his past offenses — that of being an arrogant romantic rival of Wolverine — for me, it was the greatest moment of the film. I can only hope X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) won’t ruin the poor guy. Or include any of his weird stuff.
Pappademas, Alex. “Difficult X-Men: A Defense of Cyclops.” Grantland, 30 April 2014. Web. 22 May 2014.