Making sense is difficult, especially when you’re trying to make movies in a long-running franchise with multiple directors tackling multiple storylines from a 50-year comic book history. In that case, you should do what the X-Men movie franchise does and just not really make any sense with continuity and cross your fingers to hope nobody is paying close attention.
This kind of approach is in direct conflict with the uber-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has established a strict cohesion meant to seamlessly bridge the gap between each movie. Sure, there’s a little retconning here and there, but nothing to completely upend the overall understanding of the cinematic universe as a whole like the other self contained Marvel cinematic X-Men universe.
All that confusion basically makes the X-Men movies the most comic book-y comic book movie series out there. They’re a cohesive whole because the filmmakers say they are, even when they really aren’t. So with X-Men: Apocalypse hitting theaters, let’s take a look at how all this came to be.
Released in 2000 but whose events should chronologically take place in or around 2005 because of the later timeline, X-Men is a very straightforward superhero movie that only really has continuity errors because of the later films. Like, if Magneto was a teenager trying to escape the Nazis in World War II, that means he’d be somewhere around 100 years old by the time X-Men: Days of Future Past happens, but who cares.
X2: X-Men United
We’ll say this movie chronologically takes place a year later in 2006, though it was released in 2003. X2 is probably the most continuity-friendly X-Men movie, with no bearing on the crazy timelines created by the later ones.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Director Bryan Singer left the franchise for this 2006 entry directed by Brett Ratner, and things started falling apart. Chronologically in the movie, a younger Magneto and Professor X meet Jean Grey to recruit her. Flash forward back to 2006 or 2007, and the group teams up to fight Magneto again, this time allied with Grey’s evil Phoenix persona, to also combat a lab developing the “cure” for their mutations. Thankfully, the X-Men prevail, with Wolverine’s healing factor helping to destroy Phoenix, while Beast injects Magneto with the “cure,” rendering him literally powerless until later on when he can somehow still move metal with his mind.
The real problem stems from Phoenix disintegrating both Cyclops and Xavier, killing them both. Later, in a post credits scene, Dr. Moira MacTaggert checks on a comatose patient who ends up being a telepathically melded Professor X, who Ratner reveals in the DVD commentary is Xavier’s identical twin brother — something never explained in any other films or mentioned ever again. Voila, Professor X was gone, and now he’s back.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Wolverine is born in 1832, and hopefully no one remembers anything that ever happened in this 2009 movie ever again — that is until Deadpool eventually lampoons it in the best way possible.
X-Men: First Class
The 1962-set First Class is chronologically the first movie to happen in the series. This soft reboot features a spiffy new cast of names like James McAvoy as Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, and Nicholas Hoult as Beast.
The main action of the movie re-positions young Mystique as the woman that linked Xavier and Magneto, and subsequently their opposing mutant points of view. Weirdly enough the pseudo love story doesn’t connect to the original X-Men trilogy whatsoever. Given their personal history from First Class, the way Professor X and Mystique interact in the chronologically later original X-Men movie makes no sense. Also, Magneto and Xavier mention they met as teens in X-Men, but clearly met as adult dudes here. Hugh Jackman also reprises his role as Wolverine in a quick uncredited cameo in a bar, dismissing an invitation from Xavier and Magneto to join them, though that isn’t explained in the chronological movies that follow either.
Set years after The Last Stand, maybe in, say, 2013, Wolverine books it to Japan and defeats the Silver Samurai — no big whoop. Another credits sequence screws with the timeline as Magneto (who miraculously has his powers again) and Xavier (who is miraculously alive and well) confront Wolverine about the next movie, which also seriously messes up the timeline beyond repair.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Ready? Brace yourself. Director Bryan Singer returns to the franchise only to introduce time travel into the whole thing, creating two timeline tangents based on Mystique’s actions.
If young Mystique kills Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask (who was bizarrely introduced in The Last Stand as an African American dude played by actor Bill Duke) at the 1973 Paris Peace Accords then the events of X-Men, X2, The Last Stand, and The Wolverine (let’s not mention X-Men Origins) all stand. Mystique assassinating Trask essentially leads to the dark future of Days of Future Past seen in the beginning of the movie where Trask’s’ Sentinels have taken over the Earth and murdered all the mutants, which is bad.
In that case, before the X-team is completely eliminated in the future, Ellen Page’s Kitty Pryde sends Wolverine back in time to 1973, which starts a new time tangent so he can stop Mystique from killing Trask. She eventually decides against killing Trask (this time at the White House), which effectively wipes away the events of X-Men, X2, The Last Stand, and The Wolverine since Wolverine returns to the future-present to find Iceman, Rogue, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Beast, Storm, Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Xavier happy and healthy again. Sorry other four (technically five) movies in the franchise, you dont exist anymore.
Because Days of Future Past ends with Deadpool never being killed in X-Men Origins: Come for the R-rated comic book movie carnage, stay for the hilarious meta action figure dig on the terrible X-Men Origins version of Deadpool.
The X-Men team is alive in the future-present of Days of Future Past, but then wouldn’t they already be alive after fighting the big bad guy in the 1980s-set X-Men: Apocalypse? Maybe they fought Apocalypse in the ‘80s and just forgot to talk about it in the other movies. Who cares, it won’t matter when you’re watching X-Men: Apocalypse anyway.