In Memoriam: The ‘X-Men’ Movie Franchise
It is with a heavy heart that today we lay to rest a long standing and highly successful movie franchise, a series on the very cusp of renewed vigour suddenly struck down by a series of perplexing decisions.
Now before you set the comment sections ablaze with “um, actually” I am well aware that TECHNICALLY there are two ‘X-Men’ movies coming out this year, but, for reasons we’re going to discuss, the plug is getting pulled. They’re clearly in a lot of pain and this is better for us all. I say so.
Now we’re going to take a moment to take a fond look at the history of the ‘X-Men’ franchise, the mistakes that bring us to this point and why we need to take Dark Phoenix and New Mutants out behind the wool shed for meeting with Mister 12-Gauge.
PIONEERING THE MODERN AGE OF SUPERHERO FILMS
Or: Playing it the Right Amount of Safe
Back in the 90s (I was in a very famous TV show…[sorry]) superhero movies came in two distinct flavours: cartoony or gritty. And somehow Batman managed the extremes of both in one continuous series. If you weren’t The Phantom, Mystery Men or Batman and Robin you had to be Blade, The Crow or Spawn. Either way, they were mostly terrible. Very, very few films tried to strike a balance between bright, comic book characters and realistic characters, or attempt to make it feel like it could take place in our world. Richard Donner’s Superman came close, and then was undermined by increasingly goofy sequels.
Then, in the year 2000, the way forward was marked out by Bryan Singer’s X-Men. It looked dark and serious without feeling like a 14 year old edgelord. Its design was bold without being ridiculous. Most importantly, it was remarkably well cast. That’s not to say all the characters were well realised because…well, they weren’t…but there were some strong shoulders to carry the weight of this concept.
Poor Dougray Scott got caught up filming the bananas Mission: Impossible II in Australia, meaning that the fan favourite character Wolverine went to ironically Australian Hugh Jackman. We can never say for certain that Jackman was the best choice, we never saw Scott in the role, but he absolutely nailed it and has gone on to reprise the character in another eight movies since. Jackman, along with the other new talents filling out the latex, are also working with trained thespian and world class big screen performers Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart. The weighty, dialogue heavy idealists with decades of history between them, need actors of this calibre doing the work. In an era when CGI wasn’t quite polished enough to completely carry the action it was these actors who made the films a success.
We got X-Men and X2: X-Men United and things were looking pretty good. Having established the core cast we were able to get a more interesting story in the second film. After that Bryan Singer decided that Superman Returns was a more worthy challenge than a third film…
…a decision spurned on by Fox making hefty cuts to his budget. Instead the fan favourite ‘Dark Phoenix Saga’ was going to handled by Brett Ratner, the low budget answer to…well…everyone. The movie was stylistically and narratively a mess with terrible action, inaccurate representations of the characters and poor performances all round.
At this point the series was pretty much done, and Brett Ratner did not return to franchise, instead focusing his efforts on sexual harassment, rape and being a tremendous creep.
THE GLORIOUS REVIVAL
Or: Wait, come back Matthew Vaughn…
Part of the studio plan for X-Men 3: The Last Stand was to spin-off a younger X-Men team. Ratner’s atrocious work as a director and human being prevented this from happening, and Matthew Vaughn agrees. The British film-maker had proven himself with Layer Cake and was considered for the third X-Men film. Instead he swung through the window on a chandelier ready to safe the day with a prequel reboot.
X-Men: First Class was a damn fine movie and felt more like an X-Men adaptation that any of the previous film. They focus on the race/class struggle of the emerging mutant population, they use real world events to frame their stories, they kept the ideological conflict between Xavier and Magneto at the core of their battles to come. It was a really fun film combining talented, well known figures like James McAvoy and Kevin Bacon to support newer talent like Jennifer Lawrence, Nicolas Hoult and Michael Fassbender.
Then came the sequel, X-Men: Days of Future Past. An ambitious project that combined the original cast with the new is a sprawling tale across two periods of time. James McAvoy’s Xavier coming face to face with Sir Patrick Stewart. The return of Wolverine as a major figure. We would’ve loved nothing more than for Vaughn to stay on and continue his work, but he was determined to get his collaboration with Mark Millar Kingsmen: The Secret Service underway before similar projects from rival studios made it into cinemas.
Instead they went back to Bryan Singer, and this makes us sad. You might be thinking that we’d be down with this given what we said about his original films earlier in this article and the heavy emphasis on his return in the marketing. But a lot of time has passed a few things have changed.
BRYAN SINGER IS A HUGE CREEP
Like Seriously, More Than Brett Ratner
During the production of Apt Pupil, an interesting character piece concerning a teen obsessed with WWII discovering a war criminal hiding out in his small town, a number of underage actors accused Singer of wanting to film them in shower scenes for his own personal viewing. The following lawsuit was dismissed for lack of evidence. This was far from the end of controversy involving Bryan Singer.
Accused of sexual assault of a minor in April 2014, and again by a different alleged victim in May of the same year and, again in 2014, accused of hosting underage sex parties along with producer Roland Emmerich. If only a small portion of these accusations are true, then Singer is very much a predator. In these days of the #metoo movement seeing many Hollywood bigwigs disappearing from screens and the public eye we will no doubt see nothing of Singer in the future.
Just kidding, he just made a bajillion dollars for Fox making Bohemian Rhapsody. Yes, he stopped showing up to work two weeks before they were done filming and Dexter Fletcher had to step in, but Singer got his name on the project.
Edit: Whilst putting this piece together Bryan Singer has, once again, been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor.
THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Or: I Went With the Obvious Pun
Having Bryan Singer involved once again adds a black mark to the franchise. Every time his name appears on screen we’re reminded of the grotesque allegations made against him. But the alleged crimes aren’t the only problem with his inclusion.
For one, whilst the style of the movies worked well in the year 2000 we have had the best part of two decades, two decades involving a huge number of increasingly impressive superhero movies, pass us by. Whilst Marvel is turning out epics and DC is doing…something…Bryan Singer is stubborning retaining the visual style of the initial X-Men films. That may make sense on paper. The original two movies were gangbusters, but X-Men: Apocalypse felt stale. In a year that included Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War this X-Men outing barely made a ripple.
And it’s not only the changing market. ‘X-Men’ as a franchise has always carried a cultural relevance, adjusted for time and writer, an allegory for the civil rights, gay rights, social stigma…whatever it needs to be. X-Men 2 in particular leaned heavily into being a veiled message about homophobia. X-Men: Apocalypse didn’t have anything to say beyond “don’t conquer the world”. Bryan Singer is going through the motions.
At least it’s better than Bohemian Rhapsody, where he didn’t even do that. Or even show up.
Singer isn’t the only one making a token effort, some of the longer standing actors are starting to phone it in. Jennifer Lawrence is reportedly completely over the make-up process involved in becoming Mystique, reducing the screen time of the full body look the character was known for. Hugh Jackman has entirely departed, hanging up the claws after a massive nine films. We’re losing our key players.
The short version of this section is thus: you had a fresh start with First Class and you have squandered it. There’s plenty of directors who aren’t out-of-touch sex offenders who could improve these movies.
DAYS OF FUTURE PRESENT
Or: 2019 is Dead in the Water
First: Dark Phoenix. The perplexingly named ‘Dark Phoenix Saga’ (it’s two issues…hardly a saga) is one of if not the greatest X-Men story of all time. Jean Grey descends into madness, embraces her immense power and eats a sun. An intergalactic empire wants to bring her to justice for causing planet-wide genocide, and the story ends with Jean sacrificing herself to save her friends and prevent further death.
What 2019 brings us is the second attempt to bring this story to the big screen, the previous being Brett Ratner’s weak effort hampered by reduced budgets. It’s little wonder that the franchise wants to take a second stab at this classic tale. Except this time around they’ve done next to nothing to flesh out the character of Jean Grey, and shown nothing of the set-up to the Dark Phoenix character. The current batch of characters are also fairly underdeveloped, especially Cyclops. For a ‘lowest point’ style plot they’ve set the stales pretty low.
The most glaring red flag is, of course, the trailer. Perhaps you thought it wasn’t all bad, or showed potential. I’d be surprised if you thought it was anything but dull. Regardless, there is something to remember: Suicide Squad had an amazing trailer. You can make an amazing trailer from a terrible movie. What is so wrong with this film that they couldn’t squeeze a good trailer out of it?
It’s little surprise that it’s back in for reshoots. Now try and name three movies that were improved by reshoots. Time’s up.
DAYS OF FUTURE PRESENT: PART 2
Or: “Stop, stop…it’s dead already!”
Dark Phoenix isn’t the only dead-in-the-water X-Adventure in screens this year. There’s also the original ‘X-Men’ spin-off, New Mutants! I love The New Mutants. Obviously open premise, fantastic line-up of characters, a dollop of teen drama…overall it’s a good property. The casting was also on point. Anya Taylor-Joy as Magik, Maisie Williams as Wolfsbane, Charlie Heaton as Cannonball…fantastic young talent ideally suited to these roles. The team have also promised a superhero version of The Breakfast Club in terms of tone. Early test screening reports suggest that audiences liked it as much as Deadpool. Holy shit, that sounds great! Let’s take a look at that trailer…
Oh. Ok that’s a horror film, not The Breakfast Club. It’s very much a horror movie. Why is it suddenly a horror film, that is not what we were promised. I mean, I’m fine with a superhero horror movie, especially with these characters. Sounds like a great idea. But what’s with all that The Breakfast Club talk?
It would appear that this trailer came out after It became a smash hit and the producers saw an opportunity to tap into that market. Ok, fine, but that means you have to run off and do reshoots. Hurry up and get another trailer together.
A year passes. The revised February 2019 release date has been pushed back another 6 months after (surprise, surprise) turned it into a piece of crap. Now they’re reshooting AGAIN with a mind to add more characters and do a complete overhaul of the story.
This movie is dead, deader than any other movie currently on the slate. We’re going to get Dark Phoenix before we see this. We’re going to see Justice League out perform The Avengers before we see this.
Time to face facts. The X-Men movies are done.
BUT WAIT…THERE’S DEADPOOL!
Or: Insert Meta Joke Here
Perhaps the spark can live on. Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead could continue to team up with Deadpool in his outings, keeping the franchise alive until it can sort itself out. We just have to hope that Deadpool doesn’t do anything to cheapen the brand…like a lazy cash grab…
Oh. Never mind.