For reasons that are impossible to explain logically, Quicksilver has appeared in two of the biggest movies of the decade. Evan Peters was Quicksilver in last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson is Quicksilver in this year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. (Pause to imagine the dark future where every attractive young actor has to play Quicksilver. Jai Courtney is Quicksilver in Fantastic Four: Wolverine Rising. Liam Hemsworth is Quicksilver in Avengers: Infinity War Anthology—Warlock’s Revenge. The Broad City ladies star in a female-centric Quicksilver spinoff.)
Precisely how two opposing superhero franchises came to feature two very different versions of the same boring character—that’s a tale for the historians. What’s more interesting is seeing how the films treated him — although the X-Men series and the Avengers saga share Marvel DNA, the two franchises have radically disparate visual aesthetics and storytelling styles. The X-Men films are more lively in their depiction of superpowers and tend to play fast and loose with narrative foundations. The Avengers films spend considerable real estate on the characters—their background, their motivations, their Origin Stories—but have a flatter visual sense. Quicksilver helpfully microcosms those different styles. He’s a well-known character in comic book lore—but at his core, Quicksilver only REALLY needs to be The Guy Who Moves Fast. So he’s a nice control group for exploring the superhero-movie tactics underpinning Future Past and Ultron.
In Future Past, the character is introduced as “Peter,” a rascal kid living in the suburbs. This has no basis whatsoever in the comic books, which doesn’t especially matter, since Quicksilver’s role in the movie doesn’t really have a basis in anything. There’s no real motivation for him to get involved with the X-Men; he decides to break into the Pentagon mainly because it sounds like fun. Compare that to Quicksilver in Avengers, who’s given a surplus of motivation.
In a long soliloquy, the siblings Maximoff reveal that their house was destroyed by Stark missiles, which makes their role in the movie—at least initially—a mission of vengeance against Iron Man. And whereas Future Past Quicksilver is a mutant who just happened to be born with powers, Ultron Quicksilver volunteered to be transformed by HYDRA—a demonstration of how Marvel Studios always likes to bake pre-existing continuity into new characters’ origin stories. Ultron Quicksilver’s background has slightly more in common with his comic book namesake: The vague Eastern European origins, the package-deal simultaneous arrival of twin sister Wanda. Of course, Ultron Quicksilver is never even referred to as Quicksilver; he’s “Pietro.” (The Avengers movies generally downplay superhero names, not to mention the whole idea of secret identities. The X-Men movies made a sport out of picking codenames.)
But if Avengers spends more time actually building Quicksilver as a character—his backstory, his relationship with his sister, his bad-to-good arc—it spends considerably less time exploring all the visual opportunities of his superpower. The superheroes at the center of the Marvel Studios movies have become incredibly popular, so it’s easy to forget that they have the most straightforward, even banal superpowers. Captain America and Thor both have cool weapons, but at heart they’re just brawlers. Black Widow and Hawkeye don’t even have cool weapons—Ultron throws out Hawkeye’s trick arrows—and the Hulk just punches people with a bigger fist than anyone else.
So there’s nothing in Age of Ultron that comes even close to Future Past‘s big Quicksilver scene. It’s almost unfair to compare the two, since the “Time in a Bottle” super slo-mo action scene is one of the great setpieces of the superhero era. You could argue that “Time in a Bottle” only barely fits in with Future Past: It’s a showcase scene for a character who basically disappears for the rest of the movie. Quicksilver gets more to do in maybe ten minutes of Future Past then Storm got to do in an entire X-Men trilogy.
Bryan Singer hasn’t directed every X-Men movie, but he’s the defining creative voice of the series. And the way he uses Quicksilver is typical of the X-franchise. In the X-Men-verse, characters are completely defined by their superpowers, to the extent that plenty of characters seem to only exist because their superpowers are interesting. (See also: Nightcrawler in X2, who has another great showcase scene before disappearing for half the movie.) In the Avengers movies, characters have superpowers, but those powers are kind of beside the point. (Thor hardly ever uses his hammer to control the weather; the hammer’s for hitting people.)
So the Future Past Quicksilver feels like a goof on a narrative level—complete with a throwaway gag about how maybe Magneto is his father—but completely works as a visual creation. Conversely, the Ultron Quicksilver cleanly fits into the movie on a narrative level—and ultimately becomes just another face in the rapidly expanding Avengers crowd, hitting Ultron robots in a slightly more specialized manner than how other Avengers hit Ultron robots.
Of course, only one Quicksilver has a silver jacket. Which Quicksilver was your favorite Quicksilver? Respond in the comments, or email me at email@example.com, and I’ll respond in the next edition of the Geekly mailbag.