WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Logan
It really is hard to believe that just a decade ago, the idea of several movie characters not only officially existing in the same universe, but sharing the screen on special occasions seemed hard to believe. But the X-Men universe wasted no time in giving its Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) a spotlight of his own, now ending his trilogy of solo films with Logan. Unfortunately, pinning down just where or when in the series timeline the movie is set isn't easy. We know the year, but... in which future?
That's a question we're happy to answer, but the inconsistencies, continuity errors, and plot holes of the X-Men universe were noticeable even before Days of Future Past re-wrote history itself. Logan makes mention of some events that only compound the problems, but we can say for certain what events have or haven't taken place prior to its bleak future. But in seeing how the questions and answers have gone so far, it appears we'll need to explain just what Days of Future Past actually changed first.
Fans already in the know about the entire timeline can speed through to Logan's place, but for those confused or simply unclear on whether or not the X-Men films tell a single story, we've laid it out in one long line - well, two.
The Original Movie Timeline
1962 - The events of X-Men: First Class
Fans noticed inconsistencies in how the past of the X-Men series was described by present day characters as soon as the story shifted to that past - likely an innocent mistake, with writers nor directors predicting such prequels would be made. For instance, Charles Xavier seen not-yet-paralyzed in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, then paralyzed twenty years earlier in X-Men: First Class. Mistakes are going to be made, but generally speaking, the history of the original X-Men timeline proceeded as it always had up to the point at which Logan changed it.
That means that the events of First Class have not ever been affected that we know of - meaning Wolverine's attempted recruitment by Erik and Charles was always fated to take place, and remains untouched. It is still, canonically, the story of Erik and Charles meeting, becoming friends, and starting the school and community that would one day become the X-Men. That includes their falling out after choosing sides on non-violence and revenge... and Erik unintentionally paralyzing Charles.
1973 - Mystique assassinates Bolivar Trask, is captured, Sentinel project begins
The next major event in the timeline of the original series is only explained in the future, but here are the facts as we know them: After being paralyzed, Charles has grown isolated, and addicted to a drug that allows him to walk at the cost of his powers. In 1973, Mystique travels to France to assassinate a scientist by the name of Bolivar Trask, who is preparing to launch a program to create mutant-seeking Sentinels. She succeeds, stalling the project somewhat, but urging the government to take mutants seriously as a threat to be controlled.
Mystique is also captured in the immediate aftermath, and the research done into her mutation and shapeshifting eventually becomes the foundation of the most deadly version of the Sentinels. Elsewhere, the efforts to control and adapt to a mutant-filled world take on a more... military solution.
1981 - Logan joins Weapon X, receives Adamantium skeleton, kills Wade Wilson
Finally, we arrive at the member of the movie catalogue best left forgotten: X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Still, it acts as a good explanation of how Logan received his adamantium skeleton, and why he fails to remember any of his past (thanks to an adamantium bullet). And as strange as his time with Team X of Weapon X is, it's a lift from the comics. The twisted Weapon XI version of Wade Wilson isn't, but let's leave that one alone for now.
2000-2007 - The events of the X-Men trilogy take place
No need to go into too many details here: this Logan - the one who politely refused a young Charles and Erik, and joined Weapon X in the 1980s - stumbles upon Rogue, and is eventually recruited into the X-Men. Ultimately, he is the one who must kill Jean Grey when she is overcome by the Phoenix Force.
2013 - Logan travels to Japan, is met by Charles and Erik upon return
We're still in the standalone Wolverine timeline here, as Logan travels to Japan to honor the dying wish of a young man he saved during World War II. The events of The Wolverine see his healing factor stolen, then returned, but all is well in the end. Logan makes peace with the death of Jean, and ends his mission accepting that he is a soldier who has been gone too long. He's headed back to the friends he left behind... but they're already waiting when he arrives at the airport.
The mid-credits scene of The Wolverine presented a prologue to the next film as Charles and Erik - suddenly reunited, having last opposed eachother over the controversial mutant 'cure' - approach Logan for help. They believe a great threat is coming (the development of advanced Sentinels by Trask's brain trust), and one in which mutantkind will only survive if they stick together. And Logan is too powerful a mutant to leave out of the fight.
2023 - Sentinels have destroyed the Earth, Logan is sent back to 1973
It's at this point that the dark future that X-Men films were always building towards is made real. Sentinels have hunted down mutants and humans alike, leaving the world a grey, charred husk. But with Kitty Pryde's ability to send a consciousness backwards through time into their younger body, a solution presents itself. Charles and Erik deduce that preventing Mystique assassinating Trask would be the one event needed to avoid this future, but only Logan's mind can take that large a stretch. He succeeds, changing every event that took place after it.
Remember: This Timeline is ERASED
Many fans seem to find the source of their confusion here, with the idea of two different timelines or sequences of events being created. But in the film itself, Kitty and her fellow mutants don't send a mind backwards by days or weeks so that a different version of themselves can survive. When the past is changed, they cease to exist in that place, along with their enemies, and any impacts or damage that had been done. It never happened, because there is one single chain of events in this universe.
That means the moment Logan succeeds in his mission to change the future from 1973 onward, reality is re-written into a new timeline - a new, singular timeline. And from 1973 forward, it's a completely different ball game - one that fans have only seen glimpses of since.
The New, Re-Written Timeline
1962 - The events of X-Men: First Class
Since the events of First Class preceded any changes by Logan, this origin story remains intact, as it was presented.
1973 - Mystique saves President Nixon, Logan is claimed by Stryker for Weapon X
The foiled assassination attempt that exposes Mystique to the world raises the visibility of mutants to levels unfathomable, had the assassination been carried out in private. And mutantkind is shown in a new light when one mutant raises an entire stadium to surround the White House, and attempt to kill President Richard Nixon through control over all forms of metal. The world watches as Mystique, another mutant, arrives to save the day, showing that mutants can be feared... but also idolized.
Unfortunately, the new timeline for Logan is completely changed, finding himself at the bottom of a river. Sure, he helped pull Charles Xavier out of his funk a few years earlier than had previously happened (with help from his older self), but he now wound up unconscious, and taken in as the property of William Stryker and his devious scientists at Alkali Lake. Where Logan had originally been recruited and dispatched as part of a strike team of mutant soldiers in the 1980s, Stryker has a new plan.
Having seen Logan's powers up close, and now finding him helpless, and with public sentiment turning towards mutant heroism rather than fear, he comes up with a new idea for what Weapon X can be. One taken straight from the comics.
1983 - Logan is freed from Weapon X, his blood is collected for future cloning
Instead of taking on missions alongside Wade Wilson and Sabretooth, Logan now finds himself imprisoned, brainwashed, and physically augmented as Stryker's pet project. The killing machine Weapon X is finally let loose when a young batch of mutants from Charles Xavier's school - Scott Summers, Jean Grey, and Kurt Wagner - free him to create a diversion as they rescue their friends (in Apocalypse). Weapon X savagely murders everyone within Alkali Lake, forms a brief psychic link with Jean Grey (who claims to have unlocked some kind of truth or memory in his feral, damaged mind), and he escapes into the wilderness.
2016 - Deadpool is created
Considering how horribly Alkali Like turns out, it appears that the scientists pursuing mutant control stick to the shadows, triggering mutations in forgotten souls and selling them to the highest bidder. Wade Wilson is among them, becoming Deadpool and joining forces with the modern Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
2018 - Having stopped mutant births through genetically modified food, X-23 is created
It's around this approximate time that the X-23 project is put into motion by Alkali Transigen, seeking to create new mutants in laboratories and raise them as such from birth (Laura among them). It can also be presumed, thanks to information volunteered in Logan, that the efforts to spread Canewood Corn's corn syrup - infected with a virus to suppress mutant genes - are under way. Or completed already... the years get a little iffy soon. Either way, Transigen has a two-pronged attack: suppress mutant births, and establish a monopoly over carefully grown mutant soldiers.
2023 - Logan's consciousness returns to this Timeline, Charles informs him of history since 1973
At this point, Logan wakes up in his 2023 body, history having been re-written around him (as shown in the final scenes of X-Men: Days of Future Past). Since the Sentinels weren't created, and the events of the proceeding films never took place (or not as we know them, at least), the original X-Men have survived and all seems well at the Xavier School - Logan's even a teacher! The Logan to this point has been the one that broke out of Alkali Lake, and scrambled his way to Charles Xavier in the decades that followed.
Charles has been waiting for the moment that this Logan would catch up with the one he had met in 1973. Knowing that Logan from the future would have had his new consciousness dropped into the changed reality - memories intact - Charles spots his confusion the second he arrives, and explains that they have decades of new history to catch up on. Sadly, as Logan would soon reveal, that happy ending didn't last very long.
2029 - The events of Logan
The final chapter of Days of Future Past was so perfect a conclusion, fans didn't want to believe that the bleak, grim future of Logan was connected in any way. It was another timeline, another possible future, or a parallel universe... right? That theory was bolstered when star Hugh Jackman claimed that Logan was set in a "different universe," which was taken to mean a different universe literally, not figuratively, as in a completely different tone and ambition. In his mind, the movie is separate from the other franchise films - an idea proven true by the isolated nature of Logan.
Director James Mangold broke hopes and hearts when he explained that even if fans can't spell out exactly which events or moments from previous-timeline-movies could or could not have occurred in Logan's new life, we know in which future Logan is set:
Simple fact. We take place in 2029, 5 yrs past anything depicted in XMEN film.
Since there's only one canonical timeline, that means just a few short years after Days of Future Past's happy ending, Charles Xavier likely killed the rest of the X-Men. And here's where things get a bit harder to connect to the previous films in any meaningful sense. Mangold has been open about the fact that he tried to tell a standalone story apart from what came before - probably the smartest creative decision that can be made. It's for that reason that he set Logan years ahead of anything seen already - to have a blank slate.
In that sense, the movie can stand apart as essentially one possible future for Logan, without any need to connect to preceding stories for its significance (even that implied murder of the X-Men is only vaguely alluded to). That approach might be best for fans to take, but the reliance and recollection of past events by characters encourages viewers to take previous films as essential backstory. That means the mentions of the Statue of Liberty (X-Men) and adamantium bullets (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) in Logan will raise more questions than they answer.
So the answer is simple, if hard to place into a larger context that neither demands nor negate investment in the previous films and stories. Logan was made as a vision of Wolverine's last days, regardless of what came before. In the timeline of the series, it's the future half a decade after the closing scene of Days of Future Past. Apparently, that anti-mutant corn syrup did a number on Logan and Xavier not long after they were reunited.
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