When Fox launched the X-Men franchise in 2000, they had no idea just how successful and long-lived the movie series would become. Now, the X-Men universe is 18 years old and has launched a range of spinoffs, including the Wolverine solo movies and, of course, Deadpool.
Unfortunately, along the way the X-Men movies have justifiably earned a reputation for having some of the most awkward, convoluted continuity in cinematic history. 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past was intended as a fix, but sadly didn't really fulfil that goal. Ironically though, Fox's ongoing spinoffs may resolve the issue. The solution to the X-Men franchise's continuity may actually lie with Deadpool 2. With such a convoluted and repeatedly retconned timeline, maybe the best solution is simply to hand-wave continuity away in the same way that Deadpool joked about there not being room in the budget to include more than two X-Men.
This Page: Why X-Men Continuity is a Mess
The Continuity Is Still A Mess
X-Men Days of Future Past was a unique film. Inspired by one of the most beloved stories in X-Men history, it was essentially a full reboot of the X-Men timeline. The film's narrative was split into two eras. The first was a near-future dystopia, one that apparently continued on from the first X-Men trilogy. In this world, mutant-hunting Sentinels had turned the Earth into a wasteland. The X-Men of this time-period hatched a desperate plan to save the world, by traveling back in time to prevent a trigger incident from ever happening.
That trigger incident was a prominent assassination in 1973. Averting the assassination of Bolivar Trask reset the timeline, essentially wiping previous X-Men films out of continuity. The first X-Men trilogy, and the critically panned X-Men Origins: Wolverine, were effectively erased. Fox could essentially ignore any continuity errors between the newer X-Men films and these older ones, simply noting that they were no longer canon.
Unfortunately, it didn't work. Dive into the details of the X-Men timeline, and it's still a mess. Key events set before 1973 still happened in both timelines, so why didn't Xavier recognize Mystique in the first X-Men trilogy? More to the point, where were the Sentinels during those first three films? According to Days of Future Past, the first generation of Sentinels were created as far back as 1973.
Days of Future Past was a smart idea, but the continuity errors were too deeply ingrained in the franchise's history. There was no way it could resolve all these issues.
Fox Just Isn't Invested In Continuity
Where Marvel Studios try to build a cohesive shared universe, Fox are interested in a rather more flexible approach. They try to give their directors as much freedom as possible, and don't shackle them with continuity. The best example of this approach is with Logan, a film that contained nods to both main X-Men timelines. Meanwhile, the X-Men live-action TV shows seem to be part of their own timelines too.
So why has Fox taken this approach? The answer becomes obvious when you compare the X-Men films to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the early days of Marvel Studios, continuity was overseen by the Marvel Creative Committee, who plotted out an overarching narrative. Conflict between directors and the MCC was a regular occurrence, with Joss Whedon publicly admitting he was "broken" by the production of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The rift between visionary Kevin Feige and the MCC ultimately grew so wide that Disney had to force a corporate restructure in 2015.
Fox's approach, in contrast, avoids these specific behind-the-scenes issues. It gives the directors and showrunners much more creative freedom. Garth Nix can use the character of Blink in The Gifted, for example, without needing to worry about setting up the Days of Future Past timeline. James Mangold can create a haunting dystopian future in Logan, without worrying too much about how it will shape the next three films.
Still, for all Fox isn't overly concerned about continuity, the fact remains that the fans are. That means the X-Men franchise has a very awkward reputation indeed.
- New Mutants (2019) release date: Aug 02, 2019
- Deadpool 2 (2018) release date: May 18, 2018
- X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) release date: Jun 07, 2019
- Gambit (2020) release date: Mar 13, 2020