Nearly two decades ago, 20th Century Fox’s X-Men kicked off the modern superhero craze. Due to a lack of world building (mostly because a comic book movie shared universe was a pipe dream at that point), the franchise also wound up with an extremely convoluted continuity. After the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the studio wiped the slate clean, rebooting all the disparate elements by collapsing the various temporal paradoxes and plot holes from the previous entries in the series.
As a result, Fox created a new continuity primarily driven by the classic X-Men from First Class – and, of course, Wolverine. The release of Logan in early March, however, brings a new angle to the new timeline (assuming the film occurs within it) and another possible hiccup to the rebuilt continuity. Set roughly seven years after the coda in Days of Future Past, Hugh Jackman’s “final” outing promises to pull fans into a world where mutants haven’t fared so well – though it's yet to be revealed why they have all vanished. The arrival of a cloned version of Wolverine, Laura Kinney (a.k.a. X-23), could infuse the franchise with another generation of mutant characters and theoretically inspire another string of movies.
If Logan meets or exceeds expectations, though, it could wind up splitting the timelines, with wildly different X-Men teams operating in two different eras simultaneously. Is this all part of the plan, or could Fox have another temporal mess on its hand?
Logan and the 'Sillier' X-Men Universe
The success of Deadpool cleared the path for another sequel or two, as well as a possible R-rated X-Force spinoff. If Logan is as well-received as its early hype has been, it could open up a timeline of all its own. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine may not survive the bleak future, one where his healing powers are diminished, but Laura Kinney could carry the torch for mutantkind, making the world safe for the X-gene-enabled once again (although it remains to be seen whether she'll actually become the new Wolverine).
Assuming Fox has some sort of plan for X-23, they’ve got one tricky aspect to overcome: her first appearance is as a preteen in a film that transpires in 2029, at the very tail-end of the current timeline. In order to use her adult self, they’ll either have to follow up the "final" Wolverine sequel with another loosely-related movie placed further in the future, or Laura will have to travel back in time (which never complicates anything) via Cable or through a temporal rift or something of the like. However, with several more edgier X-films on the way or in development, the studio may decide alter their approach.
Since Deadpool itself was only loosely related to the overall X-Men universe – mostly by the inclusion of Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (who, interestingly enough, sported a New Mutants look for the film) – the Merc with a Mouth also falls into a gray area in the overall chronology. The first film took place roughly in 2016, as conveyed by its contemporary look and feel, and its sequel will probably line up directly afterwards or in the not-too-distant future.
Speaking of which, Deadpool 2, as well as the in-development X-Force, is also reportedly part of the what writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick call the “sillier” X-Men universe. While Logan looks to be about as deadly earnest as it gets, the Deadpool writers are more so referring a metafictional strea -, something to break the tension of the more brutal aspects that Deadpool and Logan embody. The former's wall-breaking was clear, but the latter has already displayed a touch of this meta-commentary in its second trailer, when Wolverine takes a swipe at the X-Men comic Laura is reading.
Assuming the Deadpool sequel occurs either contemporaneously to its release or in the not-too-distant-future, it and the X-Force movie's timelines could march haphazardly towards the dark end of the franchise (Logan), especially considering that both Wolverine and X-23 were members of the X-Force team at one point or another.
Where Would New Mutants and Dark Phoenix Fit?
At this point, it's uncertain where The New Mutants fit into the overall revamped chronology. If Fox sticks relatively closely to comic book timelines, Cannonball, Magik, Sunspot, and crew cropped up in the early 90s – the same era in which X-Men: Supernova is supposedly based. Were this the case, the revamped (and probably Dark Phoenix-related) saga and the New Mutants project could represent one end of the continuity, while Deadpool, X-Force, and Logan rest at the far-end of the spectrum.
There are no guarantees. The New Mutants could hypothetically drop into the timeline wherever the studio sees fit. Still, placing it closer in time to Supernova, especially given the potential for crossovers, would make it more viable as a companion for the First Class clutch – especially since many of the original X-Men wound up as teachers, mentors, and teammates of the New Mutants. With Fox hiring Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars) to co-write and direct, we can speculate that New Mutants and Supernova will be oriented towards a teen and general audience (like First Class), and won't embody the edgier feel of X-Force and Deadpool 2.
Of course, with time-travelers like Cable (and perhaps even Bishop) in the mix, the entirety of the X-Men universe could meet and greet at one point. While the tonal differences alone could make it a challenging endeavor, the potential rewards of watching X-23 and Cable meet their tamer cohorts might just be worth it.
Days of Past and Future Present?
The real challenge for Fox moving forward will be maintaining two possibly divergent universes with very different feels. Even if the end of the grimmer, "sillier" end of the spectrum doesn't maintain an overall continuity with the lighter, more serious fare, both styles still represent fragments of the shared X-Men world. Depending on which mutants sign up for the X-Force movie, whether Laura Kinney becomes Wolverine or remains X-23 (and stays a part of the franchise at all), and how Cable’s time-traveling abilities affect things, keeping everything separate won't make all of Fox's headaches go away.
Considering that the studio has already played fast and loose with their own continuity, and that they don’t seem to mind rebooting it whenever they see fit, they do have more leeway if they do decide to dovetail their timelines. They could even push for another major, R-rated endgame, such as a true Old Man Logan storyline (building off elements from Logan), or a showdown with Mr. Sinister or Onslaught. Or, much like Days of Future Past, X-23 or Cable (or even Hugh Jackman, if they get him to stick around), could travel into the past to kill off to next wildly disparate continuum – although a total retread won’t thrill the fan base or most audiences.
In the long run, the smart play seems to be giving each timeline enough wiggle room so that the First Class and Logan ends of the spectrum can play out without too many awkward connectivity issues or gratuitous crossovers. Leaving the two universes entirely separate is probably the best way to avoid stepping into the pile of troubles Days of Future Past had to clean up. At the same time, despite the tonal variations between Deadpool 2 and New Mutants, creating a sense of interplay between the two X-universe could lead to some interesting and at least PG-13 efforts (Gambit?) and enjoyable character interchanges.
At this point, Fox has an opportunity to construct or deconstruct their shared universe as they see fit. If they studio handles things well, they could breathe new life into the 17-year-old X-Men saga, refreshing things and making up for the shortcomings of the past. Conversely, not heeding those mistakes may lead to an Old Man Logan-style box office wasteland - something the franchise won't recover from.