This is the first in my ongoing series of essay-length posts about the craft, content, and themes present in different pieces of geek media. This first essay is about the XMCU, airing my grievances about its chronology problem.
The X-Men Cinematic Universe has not been a shining example of consistency in superhero movie franchises. There have been three characters called Angel, only two of which are versions of Warren Worthington III, two Jubilees, two different Bolivar Trasks, and no solid grasp on when Scott Summers was born.
That said, most of these problems don’t become apparent until X-Men: Days of Future Past, and I want to argue that Bryan Singer is the man who ruined the XMCU’s internal coherence, mainly through negligence and an inability to recognize how time travel works. Singer’s return to the franchise lead to several temporal impossibilities, and while telling a story involving time travel can be complicated, the mistakes made here are really basic.
Let’s start with the narrative reason for Logan to go back in time: everything sucks in the future and almost everybody is dead. This, though, is basically a meta excuse to erase X-Men: the Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine from the timeline, because those movies were bad and are reviled by fans and critics alike.
So, Logan goes back in time. Specifically, he goes back to the year 1973.
Which means, obviously, there is only one timeline until Logan changes things in January/February 1973. Everything that happened before that moment still happened.
Shouldn’t be too hard to manage, right? Just write events that gel with the established future up to that point, and you’re golden.
Neither the film nor the established movie apocrypha (the now defunct bentbullet.com and 25moments.com) gel with the original timeline, nor even work within the context of DOFP itself.
Days of Future Past establishes that Charles was nine when his powers came in, and twelve when he realized he wasn’t having auditory hallucinations. Presumably, this means he’s at least 12 in 1941 when he meets Raven for the first time. This is a solid fleshing out of stuff that was already canon, and establishes Charles’s age for the rest of the universe. If he’s born in 1929, this makes him 94 in the Dark Future. This feels like it’s pushing it, just a little, but you could argue he’s just very well preserved, or projecting an illusory appearance that is younger than he actually is.
Things only really start to fall apart when you consider the fact that the movie establishes that the Xavier Institute ran for one semester only, right before America got involved in Vietnam. Historically, President Johnson announced that America would be sending troops to Vietnam in August of 1964 — implying, therefore, that the only semester that the school ran would have been the Spring 1964 semester.
The 25 Moments website lists the Xavier Institute as opening in 1965.
Another major problem with the way DOFP breaks established continuity is by completely ignoring the existence of everything that is established by the films it’s trying to retcon out of the timeline.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine establishes that Logan served in Vietnam, and while I’m uncertain as to the specific dates associated with Logan’s service, but since the climax of the film takes place in 1981, that means he left the team where he served under Stryker in 1975, so it would not make sense for him to be alone and sleeping with some mafioso’s daughter in 1973.
Another minor continuity issue comes from the Bent Bullet site. This website claimed that Azazel and Angel Salvadore were both killed in 1963, and Raven killed Kennedy while posing as Lee Harvey Oswald in November of that year. Considering the fact that Azazel is Kurt Wagner’s father, this implies that Kurt was, at the latest, conceived in 1963 and born either late that year or early in 1964. This would make him at his youngest 39 in 2003, when X2: X-Men United takes place, according to 25 Moments. While this is technically possible, given established facts about Raven’s genetics, it still doesn’t gel super well with the way they decide to reintroduce Kurt in X-Men: Apocalypse.
That said, I’m not going to go into the way the films basically stopped caring about how old their actors looked after XMFC. Charles is 54 in X-Men: Apocalypse; Hank and Alex are both implicitly in their 40s, and no age makeup is used on any of these actors, all of whom were between the ages of 24 and 36 when the film was shot. I’m going to presume that all mutants just age incredibly gracefully and leave it at that.
What I do take issue with is the fact that the new timeline completely ignores any events from the old timeline that have roots earlier than 1973 in the timeline, in favor of doing…whatever they want.
The problem with that is, when you do that, the temporal continuity of the franchise falls apart. The Bolivar Trask in X3 is still there, for example; he’d have to be younger than thirty not to be, and he’s clearly middle aged.
You can’t just delete things you don’t like from the timeline and then introduce new content that doesn’t make sense, either.
In X-Men: Apocalypse, for example, they introduce a Scott Summers who is anywhere between 16 and 18 — since the movie is set in 1983, he was born between 1965 and 1967.
Meaning, before the split in time.
However, XMO:W established that Scott was at least two years older than that, given it’s set 1981, where Scott’s birthdate could only be in 1965 at the absolute latest. Additionally, the backstory for Scott is incongruous between the two films — especially given the addition of the Summers Parents in XMA.
I find it deeply frustrating that apparently nobody involved with this franchise was given the task of making sure it all made sense and hung together as a tapestry; for all their collective flaws, at least the MCU and DCEU have a solid grasp on their own continuity.
If one good thing comes out of an MCU-associated reboot due to the Disney/Fox acquisition, I think it will be that at least that reboot will make temporal sense.