Readers Write In #140: Comparing Time-Travel: X-Men vs Avengers

Posted on February 1, 2020


(by Barry)

Over the years, Time Travel in films has been implemented in a variety of entertaining ways. Both the X-Men Cinematic Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have had a critical movie that saw the characters use Time Travel as a device to solve a problem. This element of science-fiction has always been a subject of extensive discussion because of the general mess it creates in the film. Let’s take a look at how Time Travel differs in the way it was implemented in both the film universes and the effect it has on the subsequent movies. Be warned, there is going to be a ton spoilers ahead.

Long before the Avengers, the X-Men saw fame in the cinematic universe. It began well and started losing steam with The Last Stand and Wolverine Origins. They sprung right back with First Class featuring a set of new actors playing the characters’ younger roles. Just when you thought it was all lost after The Wolverine (2013), Bryan Singer, the director of the first two films, struck back with Days Of Future Past. DOFP was the first mega-multi-starer in a Marvel comics film.

In the MCU, we witnessed a much slower and steadier build of characters with their own films until we saw them unite as the Avengers. They were executed beautifully through multiple phases, and it all led up to Avengers: Endgame. We saw Endgame sporting an elaborate Time-Heist to undo what Thanos had accomplished in Infinity Wars.

Let’s look at each of the films from the following perspectives:

1) The mechanics of Time Travel (how they did it)

2) The consequence of Time Travel (the aftereffects)

X-Men: Days of Future Past

The Mechanics

Wolverine’s consciousness is transported back into his own body at a time in the past. So, there is no physical traveling through time. Because of that, in the past, you don’t have the problem of two Wolverines. But now, you have the situation of a lead character who’s aware of the future. Hence, he can alter the course of events re-writing history, and he does precisely that.

The Consequence: New Alternate Timeline

The outcome of Wolverine’s actions in DOFP results in a whole other timeline where events of the movies X-1, X2, X-3, and The Wolverine (2013) never happened. When Wolverine’s consciousness leaves his past self, it travels back to the future. But the future has been re-written, so Wolverine finds himself waking up at the school where everything is hunky-dory. For instance, Scott and Jean are still alive and well because events of X-3have been erased.

Avengers: Endgame

The Mechanics

The team uses Pym particles to enter the quantum realm. With the help of a space-time GPS, they navigate themselves physically to the past. And, as you can see, you have the problem of two Nebulas, Steves, etc. The team here doesn’t intend to change the past but temporarily steal Infinity Stones from the past. But their actions do have an impact.

The Consequence: Multiple Timelines

The events of Endgame that take place in the past always occur in an alternate timeline. Each time traveling group lands in a timeline of their own. Changes made to the past in these timelines have only a local effect and not to the previous MCU movies. Long story short, regardless of what the characters do in this movie, all other films leading up to Endgame remain intact. Of course, you are left with stray timelines, but that’s one of the undesired results of the Time Heist.

Conclusion: Why does the dynamics of Time Travel matter?

Well, further films depend on the effect the Time Travel has had on the cinematic universe. In the case of the X-Men, one timeline was overwritten by another. There was no clear definition of this new timeline in DOFP. There was no clarity as to why Jean and Scott were alive, what happened to Raven, what path Magneto took if not the one we saw in X1, and so on. Films like Apocalypse, Logan, and Dark Phoenix were forced to take a brand-new track and could not link back to the older movies in any way. This is not as easy as it sounds. The audiences were quite confused when watching Dark Phoenix trying to connect it back to the first three movies.

In the case of the MCU, Spiderman: Far From Home continued straight where Endgame left off. The Prime timeline was left untouched. What the audiences had seen over the past years remained intact. There are talks about taking up upcoming MCU films in some of those “stray” timelines created by Endgame, for instance, the one with Loki escaping with the Tesseract. This could open doors for dead characters reprising their roles. Events in newer movies (if done right) would also never do any damage to the Prime MCU timeline. I think this approach to Time Travel was a great choice by the Russo Brothers as they have protected the older films from forthcoming MCU movies and their own.

What are your thoughts on the timeline continuity of the MCU and XCU?

Barry is a film lover, a music enthusiast, and a techie. He writes film explanations for complex movies on his website