THIS MUTANT LIFE #14: Sentinels? Yes Please!

Now that Bryan Singer is locked in as “X-Men: Days of Future Past” director, let’s focus on one of the other biggest news items surrounding the upcoming sequel: it’s likely to feature Sentinels, as teased by Mark Millar.

“You’ve got robots, you’ve got time travel, you’ve got superheroes – it’s got everything in one film,” Millar said when discussing the movie recently. As the Sentinels were a big component of the original “Days of Future Past” storyline, this would seem to be a hint regarding their inclusion — if not, then the appearance of some other robotic-type villain for the X-Men to deal with. But I really hope it’s not that, because the Sentinels have been a sorely missing presence from the X-movies ever since the series’ inception, and because CGI technology should be good enough to do them cinematic justice.

First, a brief history lesson: The Sentinels are a multi-purpose line of mutant-hunting robots, created by military scientist Bolivar Trask with the intention of keeping the mutant population in check. Over time, they’ve been modified and refined into sleeker, more modern forms that’ve been able to keep up with audiences’ increasing expectations for what robots should act and look like, but their purpose is the same: as a loaded gun pointed at mutantkind, ready to fire and do indiscriminate damage. In “Days of Future Past,” they’re in charge of patrolling the internment camps where all mutants are kept, and fulfill their task with deadly sincerity: in one clash with the X-Men, one of them blasts Wolverine with a force beam so powerful that it turns him into a metal skeleton. (An image to steal, if there ever was one.)

We’ve seen the Sentinels once before, technically. In “X-Men: The Last Stand,” there’s a scene in the beginning where Wolverine is training in the Danger Room. We see him confront a shadowy foe, of which we can only see a pair of glowing eyes, then watch as a robotic head comes crashing to the ground, apparently decapitated. It was as much of a reference to seeing the actual Sentinels as we’d get, but hopefully, “Days of Future Past” will go even farther and give us the entire mutant-vs-robot battle as it was meant to be had.

Comic book movies take their source material and birth it into visual reality, creating a fantasy that would’ve only been possible on paper even 15 years ago. But the best ones do more than simple CGI or leather costume: they spin that source material into something unexpected and genuinely jaw-dropping, whether through action (the montage of the Avengers fighting together in “The Avengers”) or psychology (the opening scene of “The Dark Knight Rises”). They go beyond dazzling the surprise-ready casual audience, and seek to deliver something even comic book fans can’t say they’ve seen before. And, in its purest awing form, that feeling can best be delivered by giant killing robots.

Because the Sentinels can’t be reasoned with, because they’ve no individual agency apart from their programmed commands, because killing them is a guilt-free act that benefits scrap metal sellers across the globe, and because they’re made of steel, murder and lasers beams: This is why they’re the best generic villain for the X-Men to fight, and why “Days of Future Past” is probably going to be a few more levels of eye-popping than its predecessor. And what more could we hope for?

This Mutant Life explores all corners of the cinematic X-verse, from the kids of “First Class” to the berserker rage of “The Wolverine.” Suggest topics for future columns in the comments or on Twitter!

Previously on This Mutant Life:
» “Wolverine” Gets Modern
» Mark Millar Rights the Ship
» Can Mutants and Marvel Heroes Coexist?
» Is Phoenix Rising?
» Wolverine’s Film History In Photos
» Should Patrick Stewart Return as Charles Xavier?
» How Much Does Continuity Matter?
» The Value of Bryan Singer
» Talking “Wolverine” With Chris Claremont
» Claremont Looks Back on “Days of Future Past”
» Why “Wolverine” Should Stick To His Own World
» Hopes For A “First Class” Sequel
» The Status Of “X-Men” On Film