*spoilers for all X-Men films*
The Internet film geek community is not one to shy away from a good dose of snark. In the case of X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer, 2014), the revelation that time travel would play an integral part in the plot had many quip that this would be a great opportunity to “prevent” X-Men 3: The Last Stand (Brett Ratner, 2006) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Gavin Hood, 2009) from ever happening.
Though a large degree of this animosity was due to the quality of those films (or lack thereof), part of this anger was directed towards the damage they did to the franchise canon.
There is evidence that an attempt was made to nullify some of these criticisms by having both Jean Grey and Scott Summers reappear at the end of DoFP. See guys, they aren’t dead at all, let’s just forget that Bryan Singer left to make Superman Returns instead of preventing the third film from going off the rails.
But, that aside, the franchise appears to be riddled with giant plot holes and continuity issues. Does that mean the seven X-Men films are an incongruous mess? Surprisingly, no!
Even after seven films and five different directors over the course of 14 years, there is a way that these films can coexist in the same universe.
What follows is my grand theory: A theory which attempts to bring together the all of the X-Men films into one “consistent” timeline, and hopefully explain away some of these larger plot holes.
A couple of things need to be established in order to make this theory work:
1) Alternate timelines can exist.
In the case of the X-Men universe, there are three separate timelines that appear to exist, branching off after significant events occur.
2) We subscribe to the “stone in a stream” theory that Beast gave in DoFP.
When their attempts to stop Raven/Mystique seem to fail, Beast postulates that maybe there is no way to stop Mystique from getting captured. Or even if they do, it is inevitable that the Sentinels will be created and the world plunged into war because that is the intended flow of the universe. Of course, this does not happen, but it does suggest that even in different timelines, quantum forces draw characters together resulting in similar, though not exactly the same, events.
An example from another film is Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, 2009) where despite the fact history has been irrevocably changed due to Nero going back in time and destroying the Kelvin, the core crew of the Enterprise still somehow end up on the same ship at the same time.
There are three separate timelines in the X-Men film universe:
a) The “original” timeline:
The “original” timeline encompasses events that take place in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men (Bryan Singer, 2000), X2 (Bryan Singer, 2003), and X-Men 3: The Last Stand. This timeline terminates with the third film in the trilogy.
b) The “dystopian” timeline:
The “dystopian” timeline branch off from the original timeline and includes: X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011), The Wolverine (James Mangold, 2013), X-Men: Days of Future Past.
c) The “corrected” timeline
After Raven chooses not to kill Bolivar Trask, a new timeline is formed which nullifies the dystopian timeline. This includes anything after the point Raven walks away from the White House lawn, when she rescues Logan/Wolverine, and when Logan wakes up to find everyone alive in the school.
The first divergence
The original timeline starts in 1845 when a young Logan and Victor Creed flee after the accidental death of their paternal father. We are then treated to a montage of their involvement of several wars: the American Civil War, World War 1, World War 2 and the Vietnam War. Presumably during this period a young Erik Lensherr is imprisoned in a German camp in 1944, and a young Charles Xavier lives in Westchester County, New York.
The divergence occurs when Raven Darkholme breaks into Xavier’s home and tries to steal some food. My theory is that in the original timeline, Raven breaks into the home but does not get caught, or, does not break into the house at all. Either way, she never meets Xavier. This is supported by the fact at no point during the original trilogy of films did Xavier or Mystique (as she would later rename herself) ever hint that they were essentially adopted sibling.
It is important to establish the impact of the relationship between Xavier and Raven. This is the first original scene we are treated to in First Class (aside from Lensherr’s metal bending in the camp which is shot for shot taken from the original X-Men film). This is the story categorically stating that it would be taking a completely different trajectory to the other films.
Raven’s importance only grows. Xavier admits that he is unable to read her mind and has never been able to even when she was a child. Xavier’s neglect of her is what pushes her toward Lensherr, where she becomes radicalised and wants to take out Trask.
DoFP concretely establishes that Raven’s killing of Trask and her capture are what lead to the creation of the evolved Sentinels. And, after she disables Lensherr, it is established that it is her choice to not kill Trask that prevents the dystopian timeline from being created. Raven is, in fact, the central character of this arc.
So by meeting Xavier the divergent, dystopian timeline was created.
Further proving that this is an alternate timeline are the events of First Class which provides us with a completely different set of events leading up to, during, and after the Cuban Missile Crisis. In ‘real’ history the blockade holds, while in First Class the mutants have commandeered the ship, ran the blockade, Xavier destroys the ship, Magneto raises the submarine… you get the picture.
This highlights to the humans the extent of the mutant threat much earlier in history, creating a ripple effect that pushes human and mutant history down a far darker path. In X-Men, the mutant threat only seems to be an issue much later, after the turn of the century.
The second divergence
Trask is assassinated, the Sentinel program continues with Raven’s body providing them with the means to make far more terrifying weapons.
Much further into the future the events of The Wolverine take place: Logan visits Japan to meet Yashida and defeats the Silver Samurai.
In the intervening time, during this dystopian universe, a few things happen which are similar to the original timeline, but a few things do not happen.
a) Jean Grey dies.
Likely in events similar to The Last Stand, Jean Grey becomes Dark Phoenix and Logan is forced to kill her. We know this because he has flashbacks to those events and her death. I mention this to indicate that The Wolverine, according to my theory, does not follow The Last Stand.
b) Professor Xavier does not die.
This is a tricky one, but this does explain why Xavier appears as Patrick Stewart at the end of The Wolverine, and NOT the coma patient he moved his consciousness into at the end of The Last Stand. It may be the wrong assumption to think that The Wolverine comes after the Last Stand, rather, it comes after events similar to The Last Stand. Why is Logan surprised to see Xavier at the end? Not really sure, maybe he was just surprised to see Xavier with Magneto, or he had faked his death to go into hiding after he realised the war with the Sentinels is coming.
What we can definitively say is that Xavier and Magneto have recognised the threat Trask Industries pose and are recruiting Logan for the inevitable war. We even see a Trask Industries advertisement in the airport.
The Sentinels rise up and nearly wipe out the mutant race and their human compatriots. During this period Kitty Pryde discovers that she has the ability to send someone’s consciousness back in time to change the course of history.
The X-Men use this to send Wolverine’s consciousness back to 1973, to prevent what they believe was the point this dystopian timeline was created: Raven killing Trask and getting captured.
They do so, and Raven chooses not to kill Trask, thus creating a third timeline.
The “corrected” timeline
We see little of the corrected timeline but we can imply certain events. First we see Raven walking away from the White House choosing not to kill Trask. She then disguises herself as Stryker and rescues Logan. The newspaper indicates that the Sentinel program is dismissed and Trask has been arrested.
Wolverine wakes up in the corrected future, in Xavier’s school. The war never took place and as a bonus, we can infer that a considerable chunk of what happened in the original trilogy also didn’t happen, such as the deaths of Jean Grey and Scott Summers. Characters that were presumed dead in the dystopian timeline are alive, such as McCoy/Beast (who Logan said did not make it) and Ororo Munroe/Storm (who we see get killed by a Sentinel).
Between Logan getting rescued and when he wakes up, we are to assume that Xavier fulfilled Logan’s plea to establish the school and unite the X-Men.
We can also postulate some alternate events took place, the biggest of which is that Wolverine in the corrected timeline never got an adamantium skeleton or lost his memory.
William Stryker was responsible for creating Wolverines metal claws and skeleton. As DoFP shows, Raven is the one who rescues Logan from the lake, in his most vulnerable state. We are to think that had Stryker been the actual person rescuing the unconscious Logan, he would have then conducted Weapon X experiments with adamantium and given him the metal claws he is famous for.
Given Raven’s change of heart, it seems improbable that she would have let Logan undergo the same fate as her compatriots who were experimented on by Trask. Also, given that Xavier knows that Logan exists and promised to unite them; it seems doubly improbable that he would not come looking for him after escaping from the White House (I mean, he does have Cerebro).
So what does that mean? It means that Logan never lost his memory as he never underwent the procedure or was shot in the head with an adamantium bullet. When he wakes up, we do not see his metal claws so we could infer that he never went through the procedure. But the best piece of evidence seems to be that when Logan wakes up, Xavier says that he is a history teacher at the school.
This seems like a strange career choice for Wolverine given that he is traditionally thought to have lost his memory sometime in the 70s. But if he never lost his memory, he would be a GREAT history teacher because he was actually there. I mean, he went through all those wars, he has firsthand accounts of the battles; he would be an awesome teacher of modern American history.
How this alleviates some massive plot holes
Much has been made of the large plot holes that have developed over the seven films, and some of them seem unable to be rectified. But if you have three timelines, we might actually be able to.
a) How does Xavier (as Patrick Stewart) appear to be walking at the end of Origins when he was paralysed in 1962, 17 years before the events of Origins.
There is an inevitability to Xavier getting paralysed as part of the stream theory, meaning he would be paralysed in any timeline just in different ways. So in the original timeline he was paralysed sometime after 1979, but before meeting Jean Grey for the first time (as we see him in a wheel chair in The Last Stand flashback).
Clearly in the dystopian timeline this happens much earlier, when Magneto accidently deflects a bullet into Xavier’s back during the Cuban Missile crisis. And this plays towards the idea of a “darker” timeline as it leads to Raven leaving him, failing to establish the school, the disbanding of the X-Men, and his spiral into depression and a drug habit. In particular, unable to guide Raven she eventually assassinates Trask.
b) How does Emma Frost appear in Origins as Silver Fox’s sister, but then appear as a standalone character in First Class.
Although there are some retroactive attempts to explain that the Emma with diamond skin in Origins wasn’t THE Emma Frost, for the sake of argument let’s say she was. This follows close to the idea of characters will exist in different timelines but are shaped differently due to different histories. In this case, Frost could very well have been Silver Fox’s sister in the original timeline, though in the dystopian timeline she was a stand alone character.
c) Moira McTaggert was a CIA operative in First Class, but a doctor in The Last Stand. Toad appears as different people at different times between X-Men and DoFP, or Bolivar Trask is different between The Last Stand and DoFP
Again, as with Emma Frost, the same characters shaped differently by the different events in the alternate timelines.
d) Who built Cerebro? In First Class McCoy had built it independent of Xavier while in the original trilogy Xavier explained he built it with Magneto.
Easily explained by the separate timelines; maybe McCoy never got around to developing a device that became Cerebro in the original timeline, or maybe independent of McCoy, Magneto and Xavier made their own.
e) Wolverine seemingly remembers events from his past (World War 2 Japanese prisoner of war camp) even though he should have lost his memory.
The dystopian timeline skips the events after the 1940’s, so how Wolverine became coated in adamantium and his claws is up in the air. I would postulate that the procedure may still have taken place, but maybe he was never shot with adamantium bullets causing his amnesia.
Some problems with this theory
This is not a theory without holes. The first major problem is that within DoFP, they seem to undercut their own story. When Xavier explains what happened to Raven they indicate that Trask was her first kill. They also explain she was immediately captured and experimented on. However, strangely, Logan mutters that that was not the last time she killed. This appears to be an attempt to bridge the character of Raven of First Class with the Mystique of the original trilogy where she is a ruthless killer. But in DoFP we are clearly told that she is immediately captured, experimented on, killed and dissected. This seems like an unfortunate piece of dialogue that doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t make sense within the film let alone the theory I have just outlined.
There are other plot holes in the story that aren’t entirely resolved:
a) Hank McCoy turns blue in First Class, in X2 he had a cameo and was not blue, then he was back to being blue in The Last Stand.
This is a difficult one to answer given that in the dystopian timeline McCoy had invented a cure, while in the original timeline it was not invented until The Last Stand. So we can’t really explain why McCoy was not blue in X2, though a weak argument could be made that he invented a temporary cure while Warren Worthington III had created a permanent cure. But that’s a bit of a stretch.
b) Sabertooth is Wolverine’s half brother in Origins but does not indicate he even recognises Logan in X-Men,
Yes, this is one of the big ones. Not really any way to get around this if I include Origins as part of the original timeline. Though just because Sabertooth doesn’t recognise him doesn’t mean he isn’t his brother, maybe he’s not much of a talker. Or maybe Victor also lost his memory…
c) Strange disparities in character ages
Bleah, I am just assuming that no one on the set of most of these films had a calculator or abacus, because there is no way some of these actors can be playing the same character. I mean, Raven is the same age as Xavier and Magneto but Rebecca Romajin is much younger than either of them, though they try to explain it away that her powers mean she ages slower. So there, mutant X gene, or something.
I am not suggesting that this is the definitive and official explanation of the X-Men franchise, or an Easter Egg of some sort. But there is enough meat to recontextualise the series to even out some of the more glaring issues. It is clear that a lot of what I have described is implied, such as Wolverine not gaining adamantium or Xavier not dying in the alternate timelines. However, as an exercise we may now be able to rest a little easier with the franchise, comfortable that it sort of makes sense in a ugly patchwork quilt kind of way.
At least until X-Men: Apocalypse comes out and ruins everything.
Special thanks to J. Loi for helping me neaten my timeline image, visit his YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/whiterazor.
For more of my film related work visit http://www.teaandamovie.tumblr.com.
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