Ever since the release of Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012, audiences have become increasingly accustomed to seeing film studios develop, or attempt to develop, shared cinematic universes in which multiple characters across different films are shown to exist within the same world as one another. The trend has been adopted particularly by companies that own comic book superhero properties, namely Disney/Marvel, Warner Bros./DC and Sony, but it could very well be argued that we would not have the high volume of these movies as we do without a film called X-Men (1999), courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox (who had bought the on-screen rights to Marvel’s mutant characters years earlier) and director Bryan Singer.
While more mainstream heroes such as Batman and Superman had both received their own films prior to the year 2000, comic book heroes were not considered to be bankable characters to adapt to the big screen, and remained largely untouched. That is until Fox greenlit a project unlike anything that had come before. The first X-Men movie had a realism to it, with Singer opting to go with a more grounded approach. The mutant team wore plain dark leather style clothing, as opposed to the bright blue and yellow spandex oufits in the comics, and each character was developed well and made to feel relatable in one way or another. Not to mention, talented big-name actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were cast in the roles of Charles Xavier/Professor X and Eric Lensherr/Magneto respectively. Then stage actor Hugh Jackman delivered an iconic and memorable performance as Logan/Wolverine.
From that point on, the genre slowly began to expand throughout the 2000s decade leading right the way up to the start of Marvel’s hollywood-dominating run of shared-universe films, launched from the success of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man performance in 2008. Once Marvel and Disney had achieved this, the concept became even more plausible for other studios, including Fox.
After the third X-Men film titled X-Men: The Last Stand, the studio decided to invest in the idea of producing a prequel story centred around the franchise’s most popular hero Wolverine. As most will be aware, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was not quite up to scratch (pardon the pun), and it followed The Last Stand which many had already considered to be a dip in quality from the first two films. Still wanting to cash in on the prequel idea, as it provided a good way to introduce new characters into the X-Men world and establish connections between each of the characters, the studio brought in Matthew Vaughn (Kingsman: The Secret Service) to helm X-Men: First Class, an origins story for Professor X and Magneto that also placed Jennifer Lawrence out front and centre in the role of a young Mystique/Raven – who was used very differently here than her role seen in the first three X-Men films. First Class was appreciated by critics and fans, and new stars James McAvoy (Xavier/Professor X) and Michael Fassbender (Eric/Magneto), along with Lawrence, would be kept for future appearances. Following on from this (and after The Wolverine), came X-Men: Days of Future Past, which allowed for there to be somewhat of a reset for the series, in order to consolidate the events of films that had worked, and scrap events from those that hadn’t.
For the sake of simplicity, lets do a quick break down of the main events in each X-Men movie:
Picking up with a difficult day in the life of a young Rogue (Anna Paquin), X-Men introduced wider audiences to a whole host of Marvel’s mutant characters, including Wolverine/Logan, Professor X/Xavier, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops/Scott Summers (James Marsden), Storm/Ororo Munroe (Halle Berry), Iceman/Bobby Drake (Shawn Ashmore), Magneto/Eric, Mystique/Raven (Rebecca Romijn), Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), Toad (Ray Park) and a few others. The film essentially served to show us who the characters are, but also to demonstrate the two different sides of the mutant vs. human struggle. On the one hand, Professor X thinks man and mutant can live together side-by-side, but Magneto believes that the rise of mutants means the end of man, and that coexistence will never be possible.
Ultimately, Magneto’s plan to turn the world’s politicians into mutants is thwarted by the X-Men, and he is imprisoned (inside a plastic cell of course).
X2 saw the introduction of Logan’s Frankensteinesque mad military scientist Colonel William Stryker (played by Brian Cox). Stryker saught to destroy all mutants by gaining access to Professor X’s power amplifying machine Cerebro and using it to kill them all where they stood. The film showed glimpses of the procedure that gave Logan his adamantium (the strongest known material) metal skeleton – the moment where he became Wolverine.
We also saw Magneto’s grand escape from prison, and subsequent temporary team-up with the X-Men in order to stop Colonel Stryker. The movie further clarifies that while Professor X and Magneto have differing views of the world, they both seek the same thing; Peace. Additionally, that they still care immensely for one another and would not want to see them in harms way. Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner (Alan Cumming) and a number of other mutant characters were introduced.
The end of the movie sees Jean’s death which occurs when she sacrifices herself for the others and is swept away by the current after a dam breaks.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Arguably the real bug bear when it comes to X-Men movie canon, X-Men: The Last Stand marketed itself as the final hoorah for the then roster of heroes, with the film seeing the deaths of major characters Professor X, Cyclops and Jean Grey (yes, she dies again). Partly down to a different director in Brett Ratner, with Bryan Singer off directing Superman Returns (2006), it’s unclear what the intended purpose was by killing off central characters – was there going to be a reboot, or a reshuffle? I’m not sure we’ll ever know. But, as we’ll find out later, this clearly did not sit well with Singer himself.
The Last Stand saw the reemergence of Jean, but not as we knew her before. Professor X explains that he had to place a “series of psychic blocks” on her as a child in order to prevent her being taken over by a force that dwelt inside her; a force that called itself the Phoenix. Comic readers were so excited to see the Phoenix’s first appearance on screen, with the character being one of the most powerful in all Marvel Comics. Ultimately, though, the Phoenix Force was really used to kill off Professor X, Cyclops, and numerous others, and to push the film into disaster movie territory, presumably to attract a larger audience. Again, new characters, such as The Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), were introduced.
The plot revolved around the development of a ‘cure’ for the mutant “X” gene, created using the unique powers of Leech whose own mutation caused the mutation of others within a certain proximity to him to disappear (mutants lost their powers/abilities around him). Magneto led a full-scale attack to seize hold of the child in order to stop the spread of the cure, while once again the X-Men, or what was left of them, tried to stop him. The movie ends with Jean/The Phoenix causing mass destruction and Wolverine having no choice but to kill her; the pair’s ongoing attraction ending with him taking her life not to save everyone else, rather to save Jean from herself.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
A film that most cite as being the lowest point of the franchise thus far, X-Men Origins: Wolverine felt like more of a project that allowed Fox to retain their rights to Marvel’s mutant characters rather than anything else.
As the title suggests, the movie told the origins story of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, delving way back to the 19th century to when he was just a boy. Following his journey through wars, conflicts, struggles and all with a younger version of his brother Sabretooth (this time played by Liev Schreiber) by his side, although not always on the best terms, the main event of the film was seeing how Logan became Wolverine, the moment that Colonel Stryker (portrayed by Danny Huston this time) had him injected with liquid adamantium that set to his bones, making him the “indestructable” Weapon X.
The origins movie also gave us our first ever on screen incarnation of Deadpool played by Ryan Reynolds, who was later to go on to appear in and produce a more faithful adaption of the character in 2016.
X-Men: First Class
Director Matthew Vaughan took us back in time once again with X-Men: First Class which served as an origins story for Professor X (McAvoy) and Magneto (Fassbender).
Set in 1962, First Class introduced us to young Charles Xavier (now played by McAvoy), young Eric Lensherr (now played by Fassbender) and young Mystique/Raven (now played by Lawrence), who, along with a number of other mutants, teamed up in order to stop Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) from starting the Cuban Missile Crisis.
By the end of the film, we see Charles being shot – which ends in paralysis, Eric falling a little power drunk and storming off, and an angsty mystique running after Eric.
Moving back to the present day, the second Wolverine movie had us join back with Logan after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, with the berserker finding himself alone and without purpose. The story proceeds as Wolverine heads over to Japan to meet an old friend, who seeks Logan’s healing factor for himself
For the sake of avoiding further complication, I won’t say too much about The Wolverine as the events of the film do not really have any implications on the wider timeline.
A post-credits scene showed Logan being greeted by the present day Professor X (Stewart) and Magneto (McKellen), who required his help.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Days of Future Past saw the triumphant return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair, and it really did seem like he had come just in time to rescue the franchise that in many ways is his baby. In the film, Singer looked to establish a new timeline in which the damage that had been done (namely by The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine) was gone, and previously deceased characters were alive and well again in the new timeline.
Now, the most pressing continuity problem here was really the situation of Professor X who, as mentioned previously, was killed at the hands of a Phoenix-possessed Jean Grey in The Last Stand. It’s clear that’s why Logan was shocked to see him alive next to Magneto in the aforementioned post-credits scene in The Wolverine. In Days of Future Past, however, we’re introduced to an as-of-that-time new power of Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), who was now able to send people back to the past. Although not explicitly stated in the film, the assumption is that the Professor was alive because Kitty Pride had sent someone back in time to save him before his death in The Last Stand, as he would be the first on the list of mutants necessary to stop the growing threat of the Sentinels.
What we actually then see in the film is that Kitty Pride sends Logan back to the 1970s to prevent Boliver Trask’s (Peter Dinklage) Sentinel programme from coming to be in the first place, which would have changed the future predicament that Logan was being sent back in time from to stop.
You still with us?…good.
What we see at the very end of Days of Future past is Wolverine waking up in the future of the newly established timeline (caused by the early prevention of the sentinel programme) which the events of X-Men, X2 and The Last Stand are not are not a part of.
It’s clear that Deadpool is set in the present day (of the newly established timeline), mainly going by the film’s sets and scenery etc.
As with The Wolverine, we’ll avoid going into Deadpool as not much happens here to affect the overall timeline.
Moving ahead roughly 10 years from the events in the scenes set in the past sections of Days of Future Past (the newly established timeline), the X-Men faced their largest foe yet: Apocalypse.
The film mainly introduced us to younger versions of Jean Grey, Cyclops and Nightcrawler who joined ranks with Professor X, Mystique, Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and other characters established in First Class and the past sections of Days of Future Past. It also served to simply carry on the new (current) timeline and develop the younger depictions of the characters into the mutants we’re familiar with.
So, is there a way to make sense of all this?
In the briefest possible way, when it comes to understanding the current continuity we need to forget X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand and The Wolverine. The reason being that since Logan went back to the 1970s in Days of Future Past and changed history (by preventing the launch of the sentinel programme), a new timeline was establish of which we don’t know what happens in the present day (other than with the Deadpool movie), only what has happened in First Class (1960s), the past sections of Days of Future Past (1970s) and Apocalypse (1980s). We do, however, also know that in the not-too-distant future of this new (current) timeline, Logan, Scott, Jean and Professor X are all alive and well from what’s shown at the end scene of Days of Future Past.
If we’re getting really precise, we could also say that all the events of X-Men Origins: Wolverine that happen after 1973 (the year Logan travels back to in Days of Future Past), i.e. his love story with Kayla and him becoming weapon X and everything thereafter, are not a part of continuity either (thank God), which is made clear in X-Men: Apocalypse when we see Wolverine being freed by young Jean Grey, Cyclops and Nightcrawler, and escaping from, Colonel Stryker’s facility (this is different from the way Wolverine escaped the facility in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, not to mention Stryker being played by a different actor).
To make matters of continuity ever so slightly more tricky (if that’s possible), the newly-released title Logan takes place in a dystopian future setting, and is very much its own isolated story. However, that does not mean it is 100% completely disconnected from the current timeline, but as it’s so far into the future the events of the movie shouldn’t affect the upcoming X-Men films much at all – so no need to panic this time!
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Logan claws its way into cinemas March 1st.