X-Men: The Film Timelines

Posted: October 11, 2017 in Uncategorized
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Since hitting theatres in the early 2000’s, the X-Men film franchise has become the longest running comic-based series to keep the same continuity. Unlike Spider-Man or Fantastic Four, this series has continued to maintain the same singular universe for over 15 years. Much like the Homo Superior of the comic series that said films are based upon, the films have undergone their fair share of evolution in those years. With shifting creative teams covering ten films (and a couple of television series that recently premiered) it’s no surprise that there have been vast changes in the tone and story of the films as they’ve progressed. However, those changes also brought an equally vast number of issues regarding the continuity and consistency of the story.

merged
Because of the shifts in characters, settings, backstory and general history I have come to the conclusion that there are four unique and different timelines within the X-Men film franchise. The following will attempt to explain the reasoning for these differing timelines and the differences that separate them. It should also be pointed out that this isn’t merely wild conjecture on my part. While the series does feature time travel as well as changes to history, the director for a lions-share of the series (and arguably the person who has most guided it’s creation), Bryan Singer, has mentioned that he feels it takes place in multiple, alternate timelines but hasn’t elaborated any further. Therefore, I see four unique and different worlds tied together by specific characters and events. They are: Prime, Beginnings, Merged, and Revised.

X2 ONE SHEET ¥ Art Machine job # 5263 ¥ Comp 19 ¥ 01/27/03PRIME (X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine).
This is the original, primary timeline started in 2000 with X-Men. In this universe, Xavier and Magneto met when they were boys and continued to be friends well into the 1980’s when they built Cerebro together and first began recruiting mutants for their School for Gifted Youngsters. Xavier retained the use of his legs well into his later years and was able to walk while collecting his first class of students. The founding team of X-Men included Storm, Jean Grey, Cyclops, and (revealed later) Beast. In this world, the existence of mutants was kept quiet from the general population until sometime shortly before the fist film, where their discovery has caused a great deal of political hand-wringing. However, the Government has known of their existence for at least 15 years prior to the events of the first film. Major (Colonel in X2) William Stryker has been covertly using mutants as test subjects and black ops soldiers. One such mutant that Stryker worked with is none other than James “Logan” Howlett also called The Wolverine. After his time with the Government, Logan became a drifter and fighter who eventually met the X-Men during the first film. With his memory wiped, he has no knowledge of his past with Stryker or Sabretooth (his brother/another of Stryker’s soldiers). Emboldened by the Government’s overreach, Magneto founded the Brotherhood of Mutants and took a proactive stance against persecution. Upon Magneto’s public reveal, Xavier discovered that he had created a helmet which would block his thoughts from any psychic powers. Many of the elements of the team’s history are provided in brief bits of exposition but a great many concepts that are hallmarks of the series are presented as newly discovered information. This will become a point of contention for later films.

X-Men Origins: WolverineThis timeline isn’t without its own issues, however. And nearly all of those issues stem from 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The prequel film sought to flesh out the origin of the titular mutant that, so far, had only been hinted. Instead, the film provided an odd amount of anachronisms and contradictory material. One of the most obvious is an issue of timing. As mentioned above, in X2 Stryker specifically cites 15 years as being the time elapsed between their chance encounter and Logan’s inclusion in Weapon X. However, the climax of Origins links those events to the 3 Mile Island disaster of 1979. Thus, the “Not Too Distant Future” of 2000’s X-Men is somewhere around 1994. The film has plenty of other issues, but most are fairly self-contained in their crappiness. However, due to its lukewarm reception, the studio decided to go back to the drawing board and create another origin story. With that, an alternate timeline was born.

fcBEGINNINGS (X-Men: First Class, past segments of X-Men: Days of Future Past).
Initially X-Men: First Class appears to be a direct prequel to the previous films. In fact, it opens with a near identical scene to the first film from 11 years prior. It depicts young Magneto being torn from his family as his powers reveal themselves. However, the focus quickly shifts to a new path for the young man. As he begins exacting revenge on the Nazis that destroyed his life, a young Xavier befriends a blue shape-shifter and spends his early life with her. While there’s nothing in the original trilogy to suggest that Mystique and Xavier share a nearly familial bond, there’s also nothing to contradict it. However, it seems odd that it wouldn’t have come up seeing as how important they are to each other. Despite that, there are some rather large contradictions in this film. Xavier and Magneto are already adult men when they meet and they really spend very little time together before they split. In The Last Stand, they are well into their late middle-age and still working together to recruit students while in First Class they have known each other for months (at the longest) when their friendship is severed. On top of that, Cerebro (which was said to have been built by the two in X-Men) is a Government owned device constructed by Hank McCoy/Beast. Magneto’s telepathy-dampening helmet is also taken from the film’s villain, Sebastian Shaw, and was designed by the Russian Government for protection against mutants. Xavier is aware of it in the 60’s, while it was shown as a surprise in the first film.

Another minor issue is that of Emma Frost. In the Prime timeline, Emma is briefly shown as being held captive by Stryker in his Weapon X facility. She is said to be the sister of Kayla Silverfox and is in her 20’s/30’s in the (seeming) year of 1979. However, in First Class she is also in her 20’s/30’s but in the year 1962. Her characterization is also wildly inconsistent. She’s a menacing lackey to the Hellfire Club here while she’s sympathetic and becomes an early student of Xavier’s in Origins.

dofp.jpgMERGED (End of The Wolverine maybe, future of X-Men: Days of Future Past).
The Wolverine finds Logan living on his own in the wilderness for some time after killing Jean Grey in The Last Stand. Interestingly, this lines up with an alternate ending from that earlier film where Logan leaves the school and returns to the bar that Rogue had found him in during the events of the first film. All of this happens in the Prime timeline, however it could be argued (and Brian Baer does) that the ending of this film happens in a timeline that merges the events of Prime and Beginnings timelines. There is no doubt that the future scenes of Days of Future Past occur in this timeline (those scenes refer to both the events and team configuration of the original trilogy as well as First Class. The only film not directly referenced is Origins, for obvious reasons) but the mid-credit scene in The Wolverine is still up for debate.

The scene in question features a resurrected Professor X and Magneto recruiting Logan to their war against the Sentinels. It also features a reference to Trask, who is a main villain in DoFP. However, Trask is also in the Prime timeline. He’s played by Bill Duke in The Last Stand but Peter Dinklage in Days of Future Past (during the past segments). To say they don’t look alike is putting it mildly. That said, since there is a Trask in the Prime timeline, this scene may be referring to him. There were references to Sentinels in X2 (a file for Project Wideawake is seen on Stryker’s desktop) so it stands to reason that Trask was involved. Thus, while the events may have played out differently, there is enough there to suggest that Sentinels hunted mutant-kind in both timelines.

apocREVISED (End of X-Men: Days of Future Past, Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, Logan).
The conclusion of DoFP creates a wholly new continuity through the use of time travel. In this newly changed continuity, mutants are revealed to the human race at an earlier time in history thus providing a more normalized place in society. This has lead to a more peaceful coexistence in the future of said film. Instead of the bleak future of the beginning, the school is open and many fallen comrades have been restored to life. Apocalypse also shows the school as thriving in the 1980’s with a much larger student body than previously seen in any movie before. Believe it or not, these implications are even felt in Deadpool where the X-Men don’t have any qualms about landing the Blackbird (which was shrouded in secrecy during the first film) on a busy overpass. Deadpool also has an alternate take on Colossus. Though his backstory isn’t discussed, he has a thick Russian accent in this film (what few lines he had in the original timeline were spoken with a fan-derided North American accent) implying that his past and indeed his ability to control his powers (he never reverts back to flesh form) had changed in the time-shift.
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We then come to Logan which is, in so many ways, the conclusion of this X-timeline experiment. Despite time-meddling, death eventually caught up with the team and we find that only Xavier and Wolverine are left. In fact, Homo Superior are an endangered species with no new mutants being born in this decaying world. It’s set about a decade after DoFP which means that it jives plausibly with what we’ve been given, despite wiping away the optimism of that ending. This film does lead to what I refer to as “The Caliban Conundrum”. Caliban is a character who shows up in both Apocalypse and Logan. While he is in two very different circumstances in both films (and played by different actors) his appearance and power-set are similar enough that it could logically be the same person (however implausibly that would be).

Fox is still pumping out X-Men movies for the time being. Where each new film fits into these timelines remains to be seen. X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a sequel to Apocalypse and will seemingly fit neatly into the revised world. But less certain is where The New Mutants or Deadpool 2 (the latter of which featuring the time-displaced hero Cable) will be placed. I have also not taken into consideration Legion (the FX series focusing on Xavier’s unhinged son) or The Gifted (about a mutant underground similar to The Morlocks). Legion features a retro-futuristic aesthetic that means it doesn’t easily fit into or contradict any single continuity. But, due to it’s unreliable lead and general feeling of “nothing can be taken at face value”, placing it shouldn’t be the primary focus of watching the series. Afterall, it could all be a figment of David or Shadow King’s twisted psyche. On the other hand, The Gifted directly references the X-Men and Brotherhood but handwaves them as no longer existing. Between that, the fact that Sentinels feature (albeit on a scaled-down level) in the narrative and that one of the leads is Magento’s daughter, Polaris, it would seem to likely take place in the revised timeline sometime shortly before the mutant-birth dry-spell. And since Blink (who featured into the future segments of DoFP) is a member of the core group, it seems likely that it’s not set in the original timeline. We shall see if either show does anything to further provide distance from or adherence to the film series.

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And so, we’ve come to the end of this journey through alternate timelines and parallel universes. Writing this has become increasingly difficult due to the ever-growing movie slate (and now TV series to boot) but it seemed like now was as good a time as any to dive into this conclusively inconclusive timeline of the X-Men series. I hope you’ve been as meticulously obsessed with reading it as I was writing it.

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