'X-Men: Apocalypse': The Confusing Chronology Behind the Movie's Cameo Appearance

This story spoils elements of X-Men: Apocalypse. For those who haven't seen the movie, stop reading right now.

It's not just the relaxed attitude towards aging that makes X-Men: Apocalypse so true to the worst traits of its source: Thanks to a cameo appearance by Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, now the movies are beginning to have a continuity as tangled as the comic book mythology as well.

As teased in a late trailer for Apocalypse, Wolverine, last seen in 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past, shows up as the brainwashed Weapon X in the movie — a plot development that not only ties into two previous X-Men movies, but may also be seemingly contradicted or entirely invalidated by a third.

The appearance is supported by 2003's X2: X-Men United and, to a lesser extent, 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, both of which establish Wolverine's connection with both William Stryker (Brian Cox) and the "Team X" program. The version of the narrative offered in X-Men Origins doesn't entirely jibe with that seen in Apocalypse, however; in the former film, it appears that Wolverine gets amnesia — as the result of being shot in the head by Stryker — almost immediately after the process of being given unbreakable bones and then escapes Stryker, but Apocalypse instead suggests a period where the unbreakable Wolverine is essentially a brainwashed drone for Stryker before his escape.

It's tempting to suggest that difference is simply a result of Days of Future Past, a time-travel movie that purposefully made "changing history" the entire point of the story. After all, if it could undo the events of 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, inserting a short timeframe where Wolverine was a mindless killing machine controlled by the military is no problem whatsoever. But introducing the events of Days of Future Past into the timeline just makes everything far more confusing when it comes to Wolverine's backstory.

The last time "past" Wolverine appears in the 2014 feature, he's being kidnapped by Stryker after the showdown with Magneto — except that, as audiences quickly learn, that's not actually Stryker; it's Mystique in disguise. So how does Stryker have Wolverine under control in Apocalypse, exactly …?

The answer could be that the entirety of the 1970s sequences of X-Men: Days of Future Past take place in the middle of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, in the six-year gap referenced between Wolverine's leaving Team X and being approached by Stryker while living off the radar in Canada.

Or, alternatively, it could be that there's an entirely new sequence of events that overwrites X-Men Origins: Wolverine completely yet ends in roughly the same way, much as X-Men: The Last Stand was overwritten, thanks to history being changed in Days of Future Past — something that is arguably more likely, given that it was Wolverine that was actively changing history in the latter movie.

Confusing? Most definitely, but also in keeping with Wolverine's comic book history, which was enough of a confusing tangle of seemingly contradictory pieces of information that it took more than three decades, multiple comic book series and even more writers and artists to try and piece together a quasi-coherent sequence of events by the time the character was seemingly killed off in 2015's Death of Wolverine comic book series. (At various points in his career, the comic book version of Wolverine was intended to be a surly teenager, the son of Sabretooth and even the offshoot of a feral colony entirely separate from humanity, with "clues" seeded to each of these possibilities before calmer heads prevailed.)

With Jackman reportedly retiring as the invulnerable face of the X-Men movie franchise after the next solo Wolverine project, it's possible that the movies will be able to move back towards a continuity that is far more straightforward and less likely to contradict itself. At least until Deadpool 2 follows through on its promise to introduce Cable — the time-traveling son of Cyclops and Jean Grey who was sent to the future to recover from a deadly virus, only to arrive back in the present day as an adult cyborg older than his parents, from whom he hid his true identity.

Perhaps the X-Men franchise is just fated to be home to the most confusing elements of comic book superheroics.

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