Hollywood’s obsession with cinematic universes can make seeing a superhero movie something of a baffling endeavor. If you haven’t seen all the previous installments of, say, the Avengers franchise, you might have no clue what’s happening in Captain America: Civil War. The challenges are even more dire when it comes to Fox’s X-Men cosmology, which is convoluted and contradictory, even by caped-crusader-flick standards. And it appears that Logan, the next addition to that shared universe — which is the longest-running one in American film — could make things even more confusing. The movie’s star, Hugh Jackman, spoke to Digital Spy and said of the movie, “Not only is it different in terms of timeline and tone, it’s a slightly different universe” and that “It’s a stand-alone movie in many ways.”
Now, Jackman might not be using “universe” in the technical sense that geeks use. He could euphemistically mean it’s a long way away from the conventional approach to the X-Episodes. He added: “It’s not really beholden to timelines and story lines in the other movies. Obviously Patrick Stewart was in there so we have some crossover but it feels very different and very fresh.” Again, that could just mean Logan doesn’t mention previous stories much. But there’s a history of X-Men movies that play fast and loose with their forebears, most notably by retroactively ignoring big portions of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand in subsequent films and quasi-rebooting the general chronology in 2011’s X-Men: First Class. That said, Fox has made an effort to get things a little more streamlined within the context of the post–First Class installments.
We could be looking at two significant outcomes for the viability and marketability of this lucrative franchise. If Logan just ignores what came before without actually contradicting it, that could be a real boon: A self-contained tale means newbie viewers won’t feel as lost as they might otherwise. On the other hand, if it introduces new facts that contradict previous stuff, that could be a real shot to the foot, because existing fans will be further confused about what counted. That alienation could lead to bad word of mouth, as well as head-scratching from viewers who use Logan as an entry point and find out that the next X-Men movie deals with material that doesn’t sync with Logan. That sound you hear is generations of fans of X-Men comics telling you, “Welcome to our pain.”