Eric Bay-Andersen on making sense of the X-Men movie timeline(s)…
To say that the X-Men movies are convoluted and confusing would be an understatement – over the past 17 years the franchise has seen multiple spin-offs, re-boots and re-castings, making any hope of coherence impossible. But there is a way to make (partial) sense out of the whole thing…
(CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR LOGAN)
Before I begin I would like to stress that this solution is not perfect, and it doesn’t explain everything (the fact that the prequel trilogy cast only seem to age five years over a period of almost twenty years defies any sort of explanation), and the rule I went by when judging whether it worked was: in the absence of a clear explanation for a situation, the lack of contradicting evidence was good enough. So here it is… basically, the easiest way to make sense of the X-Men movie franchise is to completely discount the events of/forget the existence of The Last Stand, the first two Wolverine solo movies, and Deadpool (which didn’t pretend to be an X-Men movie, but it featured X-Men characters and locations, so I’m mentioning it here for the sake of being thorough). Let’s take the events of the remaining films in chronological order, shall we?
In First Class, we see the origins of Magneto, Xavier and Mystique – they meet, become friends, find mutants and develop Cerebro together. The film ends with Xavier setting up his School for the Gifted and erasing Moira McTaggert’s mind of the film’s events, and with Magneto and Mystique joining forces as villains. The next film, chronologically speaking, would be Days of Future Past before future Logan shows up to alter the timeline. At this point, Magneto is imprisoned under the Pentagon, Xavier and his school are in a bad state, Mystique is off on her own crusade, Boliver Trask is attempting to get his mutant-hunting Sentinels funded, and a young William Stryker is experimenting on mutants. The characters somehow get themselves from this point to where they are at the beginning of X-Men (the first film from 2000). True, we are not told exactly how they get there, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and the blanks can be filled in with a bit of logic – somehow Magneto escapes (maybe Mystique breaks him out and they re-form their alliance), Charles pulls himself together, rebuilds his school and recruits mutants like Jean, Cyclops and Storm (who knows, maybe it’s the stress of doing this that causes him to lose his hair!), the Sentinel’s never get built because of the lack of technology/research, and Logan becomes Wolverine at Alkali Lake…
X-Men opens with a flashback to the birth of Magneto’s powers in WWII (consistent with First Class) and then introduces us to Logan and Sabretooth. Now, ignoring the specific events of Wolverine: Origins not only means we can forget how bad the film-makers screwed up Deadpool the first time around, it also means we don’t have to wonder: why Sabretooth never mentions having grown up with Wolverine, why Charles was bald yet able to walk, and that Cyclops was one of the young mutants Stryker intended to experiment on. Treating the events of First Class as preceding those in X-Men creates two slight inconsistencies – Xavier and Mystique never talk about having grown up together, and Xavier mentions to Logan that he first met Magneto when he was 17. However, while Xavier and Mystique’s connection is never mentioned, it’s never contradicted either, and we don’t know that Xavier didn’t cross paths with Magneto when he was 17 (even if their proper introduction was when he was in his 20s in First Class). If there was a brief meeting when he was younger, Xavier’s incredible mind/memory would certainly be capable of recalling it. (Remember, I’m not going for a perfect, water-tight explanation here, just a possible explanation).
The events of X-Men lead neatly into X2 without complication (the re-casting of Kitty Pryde aside). Logan learns that he was given his Adamantium claws and skeleton by William Stryker’s experiments at Alkali Lake (and that he volunteered for them), Stryker’s plan to kill all mutants in the world is foiled, Magneto is still the villain, and although Jean sacrifices her life to save her friends her Dark Phoenix power is hinted at in the final shot. Now, the benefits of ignoring the existence of The Last Stand at this point are: there are no alternate incarnations of Angel, Beast, Boliver Trask and Moira McTaggert to deal with, the opening scene of Xavier and Magneto visiting young Jean doesn’t have to fit in to the timeline anymore, Xavier’s death (and unexplained reappearance in The Wolverine) didn’t happen, and neither did the loss (and unexplained return) of Magneto’s powers. The Wolverine would then be the next film chronologically, but as it’s arguably the most self-contained film, it neatly lifts out (the samurai sword he has displayed on his wall at the beginning of Logan is now just a random samurai sword).
The beginning of Days of Future Past shows a dark world where the technology to create the Sentinels finally exists, and since they aren’t featured or mentioned we can assume Cyclops and Mystique are dead. Kitty Pryde sends Logan’s consciousness back in time to the 70s, which instantly creates a new time-line from that point onward. In this new time-line Logan helps Xavier get back on his feet (or back in his chair, rather) and sets in motion the events that enable Trask to build his Sentinels quicker (i.e. getting Mystique’s blood). Even though we see flashes of clips from The Last Stand when Xavier reads Logan’s mind, these can be classed as images from dreams/nightmares rather than memories. The film ends with Logan waking up in a happy Sentinel-free future where all the good guys are alive again, which means that the events that take place after Logan’s consciousness leaves the 70s (i.e. everything that happens before, during and after Apocalypse) eventually lead to that happy future. Although several people don’t appear in the happy future (like Magneto, Mystique and Quicksilver), since we’re not told otherwise let’s just assume they’re alive and happy!
Apocalypse is set in the 80s, and in it we find out how Xavier lost his hair, he and Moira reconnect, Magneto finally stops being a villain, Jean goes full-Phoenix, and she, Storm and Cyclops all become X-Men. Wolverine also escapes from Alkali Lake (after Jean helps him remember his name), although it’s not explained how he ended up there since the William Stryker that pulled him out from the river at the end of DOFP was actually Mystique – once again, in the absence of contradictory evidence, we just have to assume that somehow and at some point the real Stryker got a hold of him and forced him/convinced him to go through with the experiments. Likewise, we don’t know how Logan ended up at Xavier’s school because, like him, we have no memory/information about how that happened – all we know are the events from the first timeline.
Which brings us to Logan. In it, Logan is slowly dying from Adamantium poisoning, and Xavier is in his 90s (and since this film is set in 2029 it means he was 20-something during the events of First Class, which sounds about right). At one point Xavier recalls the ‘Statue of Liberty’ incident from X-Men, despite him not having memories from that timeline, but this can be explained – he remembers it because Logan does, and Xavier was able to read his mind and therefore ‘experience’ it too. We were shown in the end credits sting of Apocalypse that the X-23 formula was stolen when Logan escaped Alkali Lake in the 80s, so apparently it’s taken that long for them to be able to use it to create Logan’s clone and Laura, his sort-of daughter. It’s briefly mentioned that Xavier’s deteriorating mind led to an event at his school where he accidentally killed several mutants and injured many more – this means the happy future Logan ended up in unfortunately didn’t last long. The only inconsistency this film creates is with the character of Caliban – he’s played by Tómas Lemarquis in Apocalypse and Stephen Merchant in Logan, and they appear to be of similar age but with different accents and temperaments. Three possible, if unlikely, explanations: maybe Caliban is one of those mutants who doesn’t age much (like Mystique or Logan himself) and he adopted a new accent after spending many years in England (he can’t take much sun, so it’s certainly a possibility!), maybe he’s Caliban Jr, or he’s another mutant entirely who just happens to look like the first Caliban and has the same name. Take your pick.
Anyway, that’s my solution for making sense of the X-Men franchise. I can imagine that reading all that may have put your brain under more strain than Xavier’s on a bad day, so to sum up: the order I suggest watching the movies in for them to make the most sense is…
Days of Future Past
… and ignore the others (although watch Deadpool anyway – it’s hilarious!)