No, It’s Not Just You, the ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ Timeline Makes No Sense
The following post contains many spoilers for X-Men: Apocalypse and other X-Men movies.
(Wait, do they count as spoilers if they don’t make any sense?)
The X-Men. It’s a simple premise. A genetic fluke gifts (or curses) a select few with special abilities. These people are known as “mutants.” Some of those mutants band together as the X-Men, sworn to protect the society that hates and fears them.
That’s it. But after 50 years of constant exploitation in the pages of Marvel Comics that simple premise has grown immeasurably complex. Characters die. They come back to life. They die again. They come back to life again. They suddenly age. Then they de-age. Teams form. They break apart. Other teams form and take the old teams’ names. All of reality gets erased, then rewritten again. Y’know that Malcolm Gladwell line about how you need 10,000 hours of practice at something to get really good at it? That’s probably on the low side of how much time you need to spend reading comics to fully understand X-Men continuity. People who can truly make sense of this stuff are a minority even smaller than mutants are in the Marvel Universe.
One of the most appealing aspects of X-Men movies, at least in the beginning, was the way they distilled all those decades of stories into one easy-to-understand timeline. But as of the new X-Men: Apocalypse, Fox’s cinematic mutants are 16 years old. Their once streamlined chronology has gone through prequels and other prequels and time travel stories and now a movie that’s part-prequel, part soft reboot, and all kinds of confusing.
If you found yourself asking a lot of questions during X-Men: Apocalypse, you are not alone. Here are just a few of the more head-scratching developments. To me, my [confusing] X-Men [plot points]!
Wait, how old is Magneto? He looks pretty good for a guy who was in a World War II concentration camp.
He does, right? In both X-Men and X-Men: First Class, Magneto is shown enduring the horrors of Auschwitz. If he’s 10 in 1944, when those movies supposedly take place, then that makes him almost 50 in 1983, when X-Men: Apocalypse is set. But the actor playing him, Michael Fassbender, just turned 39, and looks way too young to play a haunted, doomed veteran of many wars. Apocalypse could have downplayed, or outright ignored, Magneto’s World War II backstory, but instead it explicitly references it in a scene where Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) drags the reformed supervillain back to Auschwitz to remind him of everything he’s lost. Things can’t be going that badly for the guy; look how good he looks! I guess that magnet therapy stuff really works!
Magneto’s not the only confusingly youthful character either. Most of the cast look too young for their parts, the result of a franchise hopscotching through time. X-Men: First Class, the first movie with Fassbender, James McAvoy, and the rest of what we might call the “Prequel Cast,” was mostly set in 1962 around the Cuban Missile Crisis. The past parts of X-Men: Days of Future Past took place in 1973; Apocalypse picks up the story 10 years after that. So while just five years have passed between the releases of First Class and Apocalypse, 20 years have passed in the lives of the characters, who’ve remained inexplicably fresh-faced despite decades of hardship. The movie even admits that the actors look way too good to play their parts when one character marvels that Rose Byrne’s Moira MacTaggert looks like she “hasn’t aged a day” since they last saw her 20 years prior. And speaking of Moira...
Moira MacTaggert: Wasn’t she also in X-Men: The Last Stand? Which took place in present day?
She was! And it sure did! In X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Apocalypse, MacTaggart is a CIA agent played by Rose Byrne. In 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, MacTaggart, played by Olivia Williams, is now a medical doctor, caring for a coma patient whose brain becomes the new home of Professor X. She even appears in the film’s all-important post-credits scene.
Theoretically, there is a way for Moira MacTaggert to appear in both movies (even if it’s pretty unlikely for a woman to abandon a 20-year career in espionage for one in medicine). But assuming MacTaggert is roughly Rose Byrne’s age in 1962 (she was 31 at the time of First Class’ release), then Moira would need to be about 75 when we meet her again 44 years later during The Last Stand.
Williams’ age in 2006? 37!
So Moira’s aged six years in 44 years. And she’s not even a mutant! Wait, is she not a mutant? Maybe not aging is her mutant power?
Speaking of not aging: Wasn’t Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand too?
He was! And he’s in X-Men: Apocalypse as well! X-Men movies! They do not make sense!
In X-Men: The Last Stand, Warren Worthington III was portrayed by (the insanely ripped) Ben Foster (who really should invest in a pair of better-fitting jeans). In X-Men: Apocalypse, he’s Ben Hardy. Again, there’s no way to rationalize these two different versions of the character. Both Foster and Hardy were 25 when they played Angel, 10 years apart, in movies set 23 years apart. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
An extremely charitable viewer might say that these changes can be explained by the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, which supposedly altered Earth’s timeline from its original dark future to a more hopeful one. And, sure, that sort of thing could absolutely rewrite specific events and relationships. (Like, say, Mystique’s relationship with Xavier at the end of Apocalypse versus their relationship, or lack thereof, at the start of the original X-Men from 2000). But would it really make someone be born 20 years earlier than they were before? That is a butterfly effect that would make Ashton Kutcher’s head explode.
Didn’t Jubilee show up before too?
The X-Men franchise has screwed over a lot of characters over the years but it’s been particularly cruel to Jubilee. In almost every single one of these movies, someone gets cast as the popular character from the ’90s X-Men cartoon. In almost every single movie, she’s relegated to glorified extra, standing somewhere in the background of group shots wearing her signature bright yellow jacket and sunglasses on her head. Time and again Jubilee’s lines get cut, her scenes get deleted (like this one from X2), and the part gets recast. Through nine movies, the character has had almost as many actors (three) as lines of dialogue.
Jubilee gets slightly better treatment in X-Men: Apocalypse, where she’s at least referred to by name (and played by Lana Condor), but just barely. Her role leaves no impact on the story, and after a couple brief scenes and a trip to the mall, she basically vanishes from the film entirely.
There’s no way to explain the old Jubilees (played by Katrina Florece and Kea Wong) with the new one, or to rationalize why the same outlandishly dressed woman spent 17-plus years in high school, but since most of her material from the first X-trilogy (including anything that would definitively identify her as Jubiliee and not just a teenager who coincidentally happens to dress exactly like Jubilee) was left on the cutting-room floor, the series probably has plausible deniability on this one. But just barely.
Havok and Cyclops are brothers, but one was a teenager in 1962 and one was a teenager in 1983?
Sure. You don’t know families where the kids are born 20 years apart? That happens all the time! Even director Bryan Singer admitted this made no sense: Back in 2011, when this version of Havok (Lucas Till) was first introduced in X-Men: First Class, Singer told the Los Angeles Times that “it wouldn’t physically fit for him to be the brother of Cyclops.” Whoopsie! Did he say it wouldn’t physically fit? Because they did it anyway!
Technically, this is possible, assuming Cyclops and Havok are either half brothers or their mom had Havok when she was a young teenager, and then had Cyclops in her late 30s. I guess if someone can be born with lasers that shoot out of their eyes, they can be born a reeeeeeeally long time after their older brother. Still it’s the sort of thing that’s so jarring that it takes you right out of the story.
Okay, so Wolverine is back in Weapon X program? Didn’t this already happen? Also, I thought Mystique captured him at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past!
This is another one you’d chalk up to the rewritten timeline from Days of Future Past. The X-films already covered Wolverine’s origin in the aptly titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine. X-Men: Apocalypse essentially takes a mulligan on the whole thing, showing us another version of the old Weapon X story from the comics. Both versions even involve William Stryker, although he’s played by different actors in each film. (Danny Huston in Wolverine, Josh Helman in Apocalypse)
On the one hand, it’s kind of bold for the franchise to concede that they screwed this up the first time and then try to rectify it (and while Apocalypse’s Wolv-origins takes its own creative license, its brutality and darkness feel a lot closer in spirit to the comics than the wacky amnesia bullets of the first Wolverine movie). On the other, how do we reconcile the two? That’s sort of tough to say. It would make more sense if this Weapon X story took place before the previous one, but this one is set in 1983 and that one was set no later than 1979 (since it took place on Three Mile Island, which suffered its meltdown that year). In X-Men Origins, Wolverine volunteers for the adamantium bonding process and gets it basically immediately. In this new version, Stryker kidnaps Wolverine at the end of Days of Future Past in 1973 and then experiments on him for a whole decade?
Except it wasn’t Stryker who fished Wolverine’s lifeless body out of the Potomac River, it was Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique disguised as Stryker. In 2014, X-Men writer and producer Simon Kinberg told Empire that their original plan was to have Wolverine captured by Stryker, but that this ending was eventually deemed too much of a “downer,” and one that felt too close to what already happened in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Kinberg continues:
“So from there we thought about who else it could be. I was thinking of having other people on the boat – he could be fished out by Charles and Hank – but we set this thing up where Mystique is masquerading as a military character saving mutants from going into some sort of experimental programme in Saigon early on, so there’s a really nice symmetry there at the end.”
So now we’re in a situation where Wolverine is “rescued” by Mystique, masquerading as Stryker in order to save mutants from going into “some kind of experimental program” and then when we find him again he’s been kidnapped by the real Stryker and is in some kind of experimental program. Also: Why would Stryker experiment on Wolverine for an entire decade if it only took him, I dunno, a couple weeks max to turn him into Weapon X the first time? My brain hurts.
Speaking of Mystique: Wasn’t she kind of a villain in the last movie? She was trying to kill Boliver Trask. Now she’s leading the X-Men into battle? Does that even have any precedent in X-Men comics?
Jennifer Lawrence is really popular, guys. Like hugely popular. They’ve gotta keep her involved somehow.