Disney’s acquisition of Fox couldn’t have come at a better time for Marvel. They’re about the clean house in the MCU with Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of 11 years of filmmaking, and a bunch of characters will either be retired or killed off, leaving room for a new batch of superheroes to enter the game. Meanwhile, Fox has managed to fade the X-Men franchise, the once-thriving cinematic behemoth that started the superhero movie trend in the first place, into near-total obscurity. Marvel has a chance to reset the X-Men on the big screen and get them back on track. Here are 10 Ways Marvel Can Fix The X-Men Franchise.
In Avengers: Endgame, a number of our favorite characters, who we’ve been following on their big-screen journeys for over a decade, will likely be killed off: namely, Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. If they were leaving us with a bunch of obscure characters we didn’t really care about, the franchise would quickly die off. But what Marvel masterfully did is hook us in with those beloved characters in the beginning, and then spend a few years getting us to fall in love with all the then-obscure characters – Black Panther, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel – so that when the O.G.s are killed off, we’ll still have a bunch of new favorites to see in these movies. When Wolverine and Professor X died in Logan, it was an emotional ride, but the franchise lost two of its greatest assets and left us with basically no one we really cared about.
The biggest problem with the plot of Fox’s X-Men franchise is that it’s totally inconsistent. It’s one thing to have the Merc with a Mouth complain about how confusing the timelines are, but moviegoers who keep coming back to see movies that either erase each other or have gaping plot holes are going to feel cheated out of their money – and they do. The MCU doesn’t keep its timeline totally consistent – how many years are there between the Battle of New York and Spider-Man: Homecoming exactly? – but on the whole, it all fits together. That’s what Marvel’s X-Men movies should do, too.
One of the MCU’s strengths is that they give their directors creative freedom. The DCEU has picked up on this in recent years and it’s been much more successful for it. Most of the X-Men movies have the money for spectacle, but not the personal touch of an auteur to make them truly great blockbusters.
Fox let James Mangold go to town on Logan after forcing him to adhere to a strict PG-13 studio tentpole formula with The Wolverine, because he was playing with a much smaller budget. The same goes for Tim Miller and David Leitch on the Deadpool movies. But the MCU gives its directors that kind of freedom with huge budgets, and the resulting movies have soul and personality and life.
Nothing excites an audience more than something new. Maybe not completely new, like an original story featuring original characters, but certainly not something they’ve seen before. They’re excited by familiar characters going into new territory (even if that means an animated movie being remade in live-action). For example, we all know the Avengers – we’ve seen them in 21 movies now – but we’ve never seen them travel through time or deal with half their friends turning to dust or simply being defeated, and that’s why we’re all so excited for Endgame. Dark Phoenix, on the other hand, is telling a story that was previously told in X-Men: The Last Stand. The events of that movie were erased by Days of Future Past, but still, it’s a movie we’ve seen before, and that’s why no one is excited to see it. Future X-Men movies should learn a lesson from this and only tell stories that haven’t been told on-screen before.
Whether the X-Men will join the MCU or not under Disney remains to be seen, but either way, there’s enough potential there for them to become their own cinematic universe anyway. There are certainly enough characters to populate it and enough stories to be told. But if that’s going to happen, the universe needs to be as carefully constructed as the MCU has been, with a perfectly structured narrative arc and interconnectivity that actually works and pays off. Other studios have tried and failed to do this – as did Fox with their X-Men movies, like when they named the third of would what eventually be 13 movies The Last Stand – but luckily, Marvel Studios knows how to do it. They’ve done it before with some success.
There’s something to be said about the fact that John Wick ended up with a murdered dog instead of a murdered family after test audiences cared more about the dog. In every X-Men movie distributed by Fox, the world is at stake. The mutants need to save the Earth from something that threatens the entire Earth. We’ve seen it a dozen times now. On a scale of that magnitude, the audience simply won’t care – especially when it becomes the series’ defining cliché. Sometimes it pays to give the audience stakes they can wrap their heads around. The world is too big. It can be more effective to introduce us to a smaller target – like, say, Talos’ family in Captain Marvel – and have the hero save them.
In many ways, X-Men: First Class screwed up the X-Men franchise. It wasn’t a terrible movie, but it did recast all the roles with younger actors and start to mess up the whole timeline. The fact that the later movies that brought back the older cast in a confusing melding of timelines were more successful than the ones focusing on the younger cast alone told us one thing: it wasn’t necessarily Professor X or Magneto or Wolverine that audiences responded to – it was Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Hugh Jackman. The likes of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence are fine actors, but X-Men fans have refused to accept them as their favorite characters. They have to go.
What has always set X-Men stories aside from other superhero movies is their sociopolitical undercurrent, treating mutants like any other minority group to make interesting points. It’s no coincidence that the most successful movies in the X-Men franchise of late, both critically and commercially, have been Deadpool and Logan. Those movies are both rated R and both have a very hard edge, either a satirical one or a harrowing dramatic one. Their R ratings allowed them to deeply explore the sociopolitical themes of the X-Men stories, and that really clicked with audiences. The early X-Men movies had soft allegories linking the prejudice against mutants to racism and homophobia, but the PG-13 ratings they were going for prevented them from really hitting hard.
It’s hard to think of Deadpool as “obscure” now, since Ryan Reynolds has made him an icon. But a couple of years ago, he was relatively unknown among the moviegoing community, and Fox was hesitant to bring him to the screen, because he swears and talks to the camera.
Look at the X-Men characters who have connected with audiences in the recent movies: Quicksilver, Domino, X-23, Negasonic Teenage Warhead. These are the weirder, more obscure characters – and they’re clearly the ones that audiences are the most interesting. So, Marvel should focus on the more obscure characters in their X-Men movies.
The current X-Men franchise isn’t workable. The timeline is all messed up and no one cares about the current cast or characters, except for Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool and maybe Evan Peters’ Quicksilver. A lot of people complain about the fact that we got three big-screen Spider-Men in the space of less than a decade, but the cold, hard fact is that Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man wasn’t working out. The MCU brought in Tom Holland, who was not only the first big-screen Spidey who didn’t look 30 years old; he was also the first one who brought the humanity and relatability and humor of the character to the screen. Marvel’s best bet with the X-Men is simply to start over.