Turning Back the Clock: A Deep Dive Into the ‘X-Men’ Movie Timeline

     May 31, 2016

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The X-Men movies were in need of a Hail Mary. The first two installments of the core trilogy helped kick off the modern wave of comic book movies, but then there was The Last Stand. Director Bryan Singer took some time away from his mutants to helm Superman Returns, leaving one of the most beloved stories from the comics, The Dark Phoenix Saga, in the hands of Brett Ratner with a script by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn. To this day, Singer is still trying to make amends.

Then there was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Hugh Jackman, once the face of the franchise, starred in this standalone film that, for better or worse, gave Logan a backstory in this cinematic context. There was even talk of doing the same for Ian McKellen’s Magneto, but those hopes were squashed after the poor reception to the Gavin Hood film.

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Image via 20th Century Fox


It took Singer and the longtime producers of the franchise a few more films to discover the answer to their prayers: time travel. Singer, who wasn’t initially a comic book fan but became engrossed with the material overtime, found precedent in the source material.

On the page, the Days of Future Past story arc saw Kitty Pryde going back to stop an incident that would lead to a future in which most of mutantkind will be wiped out by Sentinel robots. On screen, Sumela Kay (A History of Violence) played the mutant in the background of the first X-Men, while equally unknown at the time Katie Stuart (Zoe on The 100) was seen phasing through solid objects in the mansion attack of X2. Even though Singer liked Ellen Page’s rendition in The Last Stand that he brought her back for Days of Future Past, she still wasn’t a big enough name. Jackman was.

Producer Lauren Shuler Donner was pleased by this concept that she told press during the U.K. premiere of Days of Future Past, “Just forget about X3 and the first Wolverine — forget about that, too!” She later added, “[Days of Future Past] will be putting all of that right.” But did it, really? Time travel isn’t a magical delete key that reverses all wrongs, including the death of Scott Summers, the apparent death of Professor X, and the whole Deadpool fiasco of Origins. While that’s how it was treated on screen, the writers seemingly ignored bits of continuity that were already in place.

Setting aside the fact that Kitty somehow developed the ability to send the minds of mutants back in time to mold with their past selves, she sent Wolverine back to 1973, meaning he could only change the X-Men timeline from that point forward. It’s hard to pin down exact dates in the original X-Men films, but Logan and Victor, a.k.a. Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber), find themselves in the Vietnam War after the opening credits montage of Origins. The Vietnam War waged from November 1, 1955 to April 30, 1975, and it’s difficult to say specifically when the pair served. So, let’s look at what clues the films offer.


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Image via 20th Century Fox

Based on Origins, we know that Logan and Victor first meet William Stryker when he recruits them in Vietnam after an execution team tries shooting them to death. After Wolverine leaves his mutant strike force, there’s a six-year time gap, after which we pick him back up in Canada living a normal life with Kayla (Lynn Collins). It’s unclear when they met exactly, but we know she was blackmailed by Stryker to keep an eye on him, so it seems likely that their first meeting wasn’t too long after that.

In First Class, Logan tells Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) to go fuck themselves when they approach him at a bar in 1962. Because of his later appearance in Days of Future Past, we know he has bone claws at this point, so either this bar scene cameo occurs during his six-year time span or he hasn’t yet enlisted in the Vietnam War. We can already rule out the first scenario, because DOFP places him waking up in a New York apartment with bone claws 11 years later (way more than that six-year interim) in 1973.

Confirming this is the shocked reaction past Stryker (Josh Helman) exhibits upon seeing Logan’s abilities during the Mystique scuffle, a reaction he wouldn’t have made if he already met him in the Vietnam War. With the War ending two years later, it’s highly unlikely Logan would’ve enlisted as the conflict winded down. Then there’s the whole absence of Victor to consider; Origins made it seem like these two were joined at the hip since childhood with Logan acting as Victor’s protector and wrangler. Already there are holes in the continuity before Logan even changes a single event in history.

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20th Century Fox

Another moment that causes some problems is Charles and Erik’s visit with a young Jean Grey at the very beginning of The Last Stand. Again, it’s unclear when this specific moment occurred in time, but Jean’s teenage presence in Apocalypse, which takes place 10 years after DOFP in 1983, confirms she was born before 1973. First Class tells us that Charles and Erik first met in 1962, after which they parted ways never to speak to each other as allies until 1973. While all of this was happening, they never encountered a young Jean, never recruited her for Xavier’s Institute.


Even if we set that discrepancy aside, there’s still the matter of Jean’s powers. The Last Stand depicted Jean wielding immense power as a preteen, able to manipulate numerous items — including cars, water, and lawnmowers — at the same time and from a distance. This isn’t the case in Apocalypse. Sophie Turner’s rendition of the character described her abilities as “a dark power” growing inside her like fire, implying they’re growing more powerful and uncontrollable by the day. One could argue it’s just because Jean has been working with the Professor to get a better handle on them, but what of the mental barriers he was supposed to have placed in Jean’s mind as a precaution for her untamable power? Yes, this could’ve also occurred later on, but The Last Stand made it seem as though this happened when Jean was a child.

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Image via Fox

Scott was another mutant already born before 1973, which means Logan’s trip to the past couldn’t have altered his destiny all that much. Tim Pocock (Dance Academy) played the young Cyclops in Origins, at which time he already had his ruby quartz glasses. Apocalypse revamps this by having Beast design them, which begs the question, how did a young, high school teen with a tough-guy streak manage to find these specific shades?

Is all of this nit picky? You bet. But no more nit picky than fans have been with other comic book properties. I love X-Men. I’ll always love X-Men — the comics, the animated cartoons (yes, even X-Men: Evolution), and the live-action movies. But with films like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC’s still budding film slate, and now even something so farfetched as the Men in Black/Jump Street crossover, the ideas of continuity and a shared cinematic space have been done before — and been done with more care.


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