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The entire Wolverine movie story finally explained

Making sense of the X-Men timeline is something of a fool's errand. Every time another movie would join the ridiculously convoluted chronology of the X-films, fans would twist themselves in knots trying to make sense of it, despite the fact that the movies themselves seem entirely unconcerned with slotting logically together on a consistent timeline. 

However, if you want to wrap your head around the X-Men timeline without busting a vein, there is one character you can follow whose story still more-or-less tracks — even after 12 films — as long as you stick with his point of view. This character, of course, is Hugh Jackman's Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine, who's appeared in nine of the X-Men movies. Over the course of the franchise, Wolverine has lost and regained his memory, been sent back in time, and lived through multiple versions of the future. But unlike the other characters in the series, he's the only one whose consciousness has been consistent (or as consistent as these films get) throughout the whole thing. 

But if you're confused, then read on, as we unravel the tangled events of the X-Men films and piece them back together in the order that Wolverine would've experienced them, in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, they might make sense.

1845: The story begins with James Howlett

The first chronological glimpse we get of the boy who grows up to become Wolverine is in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where we learn that his name isn't Logan at all. Instead, it's James Howlett. Logan is actually the surname of the man who murders James' father, an event which causes James' mutation to activate, pushing bone claws out from between his knuckles. Enraged, James kills Logan, only to learn that the man was actually his biological father. 

Along with his half-brother, Victor Creed, young James flees his home. Victor possesses the same mutant healing ability as James, which not only makes the boys practically impossible to kill, but also slows their aging, keeping them looking youthful for decade after decade. The two brothers spend the next century fighting side by side in a series of wars, including the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. In 2013's The Wolverine, we see that during this time, while being held in a Japanese POW camp in 1945, James saves the life of Japanese officer Ichirō Yashida from the bombing of Nagasaki, an event which will prove important many years later. 

1962: That'll be a hard pass

In X-Men: First Class, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) find themselves up against Nazi mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his team of superpowered henchman. Realizing they'll need some help to bring Shaw down, the duo uses Cerebro to find new mutants and a form a team of their own. So in a zippy montage set in 1962, they recruit Tempest (Zoe Kravitz), Darwin (Edi Gathegi), Havok (Lucas Till), and Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), all with minimal persuasion.

But their plan hits a solid roadblock when Erik and Charles walk into a bar and attempt to convince a cigar-smoking James to join their brand new squad of X-Men. No sooner have Erik and Charles introduced themselves than James (Hugh Jackman, in an uncredited cameo) tells them that he's uninterested in their offer. Only he doesn't put it quite so politely, using the film's one allotted PG-13 F-bomb to maximum, hilarious effect. 

1970s: Joining Team X

While fighting together in the Vietnam War, James notices Victor (Liev Schreiber) becoming increasingly more short-tempered and violent. Eventually, Victor sexually assaults a woman, and then kills the officer who tries to intervene. James, not realizing what Victor has done, rushes to his brother's aid, and both are sentenced to die by firing squad. Of course, the mutants manage to survive the bullets thanks to their healing abilities. 

Their miraculous survival catches the eye of Major William Stryker (Danny Huston), as shown in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Victor and James are recruited to his black ops team of mutants, Team X. At this point, James starts going by the alias Logan, after the father he killed so many decades before. Logan and Victor work with Team X for several years, but ultimately, Logan decides he can no longer stomach the team's inhumane practices and callous disdain for human life. But while he quits Team X, Victor decides to stay, and the two part ways. 

1979: Becoming the Wolverine

Six years after walking away from Team X, Logan is pulled back into Stryker's world after Victor murders Logan's girlfriend. Stryker tells him Victor has gone rogue, and he asks Logan to undergo an experimental procedure that would fuse adamantium to his skeleton, making him strong enough to seek his revenge on Victor. The procedure would kill any other person, but with Logan's mutant healing ability, he should be able to survive. Logan agrees to join Stryker's program, which he calls Weapon X. Before undergoing the procedure, Logan requests new dog tags with the alias "Wolverine."

The procedure is a success, but Stryker never intended to let Logan go free once it was completed. Stryker even orders that his memories be erased so he can use the Wolverine as a weapon. Logan manages to escape, but when he learns that Victor is kidnapping young mutants for Stryker, Logan returns to free them and to find Victor. The young mutants are flown to safety by Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), while Logan and Victor fight — first against each other, then together once more against Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds). However, once Wade is defeated, Logan tells Victor that they're done being brothers. Victor leaves, but before Logan can get out, Stryker shoots him in the head with an adamantium bullet. Logan survives, but when he regains consciousness, he realizes he has amnesia.

2003: A school for the gifted

Set in the year 2003, X-Men reveals Logan living as a cage fighter in Canada, still missing most of his memories but using the alias "Wolverine" thanks to the dog tags from X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He meets young mutant runaway Rogue (Anna Paquin) and offers to give her a ride, but they're attacked on the road by Victor (Tyler Mane), who's now called Sabretooth, although neither brother seems to have any memory of the other. They're rescued by Storm (Halle Berry) and Cyclops (James Marsden) and taken to Charles Xavier's mansion, where they join the X-Men

Together with the X-Men, Wolverine fights Magneto (Ian McKellan) and his Brotherhood of Mutants, who wish to use Rogue's abilities to power a device that will induce mutations in humans who don't possess the X-Gene. Their plan is in response to the Mutant Registration Act, which would require all mutants to register with the government as a means of controlling them. While the X-Men manage to foil Magneto's plot, leading to Magneto's imprisonment, the tension between mutants and humans remains.  

2003: Wolverine's search for memories

X2 opens with an assassination attempt on the president of the United States, causing relations between mutants and the U.S. government to become rockier than ever. William Stryker (Brian Cox), now much older than the last time we saw him, receives permission from the president to investigate Xavier for his ties to mutants, but it's really a ruse so that Stryker can force Xavier to use Cerebro to destroy all mutants. 

The X-Men travel to Stryker's base underneath an abandoned military installation at Alkali Lake, the same place where Xavier told Logan he'd find some answers about his missing past at the end of X-Men. Logan enters the room where he received his adamantium skeleton, and some of his memories return. He attacks Stryker, demanding to know why the military man did this to him, and he's shocked when Stryker reveals that Logan volunteered for the Weapon X program. 

Logan refrains from murdering his old foe, but Stryker is ultimately killed when a nearby dam bursts, drowning him. Meanwhile, the X-Men have managed to overcome both Stryker's people and Magneto, who tried to double cross them. But in the process, their plane is damaged, preventing them from being able to take off. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), whom Logan has fallen in love with, uses her powers to lift the plane to safety while holding back the lake, but she's then swept away by the rushing water.

2006: The ultimate sacrifice

At the beginning of X-Men: The Last Stand, Cyclops goes to Alkali Lake to visit what he thinks is Jean's final resting place. So naturally, he's overjoyed to learn that she's still alive, but his delight is short-lived when Jean kills him. Xavier sends Logan and Storm to see what's happened, and they're horrified to learn that Jean has been taken over by a destructive power called the Phoenix. Meanwhile, a "cure" for mutantism has been discovered, and Magneto rebuilds his Brotherhood of Mutants in order to oppose it. 

Feeling betrayed by Xavier, who suppressed the Phoenix when she was a child, Jean kills her mentor and joins with Magneto. (Don't worry. Xavier is only mostly dead.) Intending to use Jean to destroy the cure, Magneto and the Brotherhood attack the lab where the cure is held, while the X-Men try to stop them. However, during the battle, Jean loses control of the Phoenix and begins indiscriminately destroying everything around her. Due to his healing ability, Logan is the only one who's able to get close to Jean, and in a moment of lucidity, she asks Logan to save her. Tearfully, Logan tells her that he loves her before driving his claws into her chest, killing her and ending the destruction.

2013: Wolverine takes a trip to Japan

Set in 2013, The Wolverine finds Logan living in the Canadian wilderness, where he's still agonizing over killing Jean. However, that's when he's contacted on behalf of Ichirō Yashida, the man he saved at Nagasaki back in 1945. Yashida's health is failing, and he wishes to say goodbye to Logan before he dies. So Logan travels to Japan and meets Yukio, a mutant who has the ability to foresee people's deaths. Yukio has a vision of Logan dying with "blood everywhere and his heart in his hand." 

While in Japan, Logan realizes that Yashida didn't ask him there to say farewell. Instead, the dude wants to steal Logan's immortality and live forever. Logan loses his adamantium claws battling Yashida, but he manages to defeat him using his regenerated bone claws. After the fight, Logan leaves Japan, accompanied by Yukio. In a mid-scene set two years later, Magneto and a very-much-alive Charles Xavier approach Logan in an airport to tell him of a new threat to wipe out all mutants.

2023 / Alternate 1973: The story gets complicated with a little time travel

X-Men: Days of Future Past opens in the year 2023, when mutants have been driven to near-extinction by the robotic Sentinels. However, a few mutants — including Logan (who miraculously has his adamantium claws back), Charles Xavier, Storm, and Magneto — have managed to elude the Sentinels long enough to form a plan. With the future already beyond repair, they decide to use Kitty Pryde's (Ellen Paige) mutant ability to send Logan's consciousness back to 1973 to stop the events that led to the creation of the Sentinels in the first place. They hope that, if he's successful, the timeline will reset, placing them all in an alternate (and safer) version of 2023. 

Using his 1973 body piloted by his 2023 consciousness, Logan joins forces with the younger Charles Xavier and his X-Men to prevent the assassination that paves the way for the Sentinel program. Although Logan succeeds in his mission, he's horribly injured in the process, with his mangled body sinking to the bottom of a lake. However, Logan's 2023 consciousness doesn't stick around long enough to learn how he survives. As soon as he changes the future, the Kitty who was holding him in the past vanishes, and he returns to an alternate 2023. In this new timeline, Logan realizes that his memories of the years since 1973 are no longer accurate. He's now a teacher in Xavier's school, where many of the X-Men who'd died in the primary timeline are now alive again, including Jean Grey.

Alternate 1983: Still Weapon X

After completing his mission in Days of Future Past, Logan's maimed body is recovered by a team led by a person who appears to be Stryker, but is revealed to be Mystique. However, in X-Men: Apocalypse, it seems that Logan somehow wound up back under the real Stryker's control anyway. In this new timeline, he never escaped the Weapon X program after gaining his adamantium skeleton in 1979, as he did in X-Men Origins: Wolverine

The X-Men come upon this alternate version of Logan — who's still being called Weapon X and has no memory of his true identity — when they infiltrate Stryker's facility in 1983. After Wolverine slaughters many of Stryker's soldiers, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) offers to help him, and she manages to restore some of his memories. Logan runs out into the cold, and Cyclops speculates that they'll never see him again. But presumably, Jean's intervention paves the way for Logan to still join the X-Men at some point down the road, leading to the future he saw at the end of Days of Future Past

2029: The last of the mutants

The Wolverine we meet in Logan is a much older, more beaten-down and bedraggled version of the character than the one we saw in Days of Future Past and Apocalypse. After living for nearly two centuries, Logan's healing ability is finally beginning to fail, and he's growing increasingly ill from adamantium poisoning, which is presumably what's caused him to age so drastically. This future version of Logan is working as a limo driver and caring for an ailing Charles Xavier. Plus, he carries around an adamantium bullet, implying that he's pondering the possibility of ending his own life. 

Despite the rosy future Logan returned to at the end of Days of Future Past, we learn that in the intervening years, most mutants have been wiped out anyway, including the X-Men. It's revealed that Charles has started suffering from seizures which cause him to lose control of his telepathic abilities, incapacitating the people around him. A few years before the start of the film, Charles inadvertently killed the rest of the X-Men during such an attack, a fact which Logan remembers, but Charles has mercifully forgotten. 

2029: A vision fulfilled and a story concluded

In 2029, Logan encounters a young girl named Laura whose powers mirror his own. This kid is determined to get to a mutant sanctuary in North Dakota called Eden. Charles persuades Logan to take her there, and the three embark on the journey together. Along the way, they learn that Laura was created using Logan's DNA (collected by Stryker) as part of the villainous Transigen program, making her his biological daughter. Unfortunately, that DNA was also used to create X24, a vicious clone that looks exactly like Logan did in his prime. 

Before they can reach Eden, X24 kills Charles, but Logan and Laura manage to escape. Laura convinces Logan to continue onto Eden, and when they get there, they find the other mutant children who've escaped Transigen. Laura and the kids make plans to escape into Canada, but before they can, they're attacked by Transigen soldiers and X24. 

The children fight back and defeat the soldiers, but X24 seems an impossible opponent. Logan fights him as best he can, but he's no match for the younger mutant, who impales him on a fallen tree. Before X24 can finish him off, Laura shoots him in the head with Logan's adamantium bullet. A blood-covered Logan dies holding Laura's hand, metaphorically fulfilling Yukio's vision that he would die with "his heart in his hand." Laura and the other mutant children escape to Canada, leaving behind Wolverine's grave, which is marked with an "X". In other words, it's the perfect way to end Wolverine's story