Following in Marvel Studio's highly profitable phase one "shared universe," 20th Century Fox began considering a similar approach to their forthcoming X-Men films. To help shape their interconnected mutant-populated movie world, the studio enlisted the help of Mark Millar - a fan-favorite comic book writer that has seen many of his own creations brought to the big screen.
Still, Millar wasn't brought-in until long after director James Mangold had already begun work on The Wolverine. As a result, fans and industry insiders have kept busy speculating about how many "shared universe" story elements have been retroactively stuffed into the latest standalone Wolverine picture. Now, in a new interview, the writer opens up about his feelings on the upcoming Wolverine movie as well as how the character fits into the future of the X-Men movie universe.
In a conversation with Sci-Fi Now, Millar first clarifies his (lack of) influence on the movie and praises Mangold for relaunching the Wolverine film series (after an overwhelmingly negative reaction to Gavin Hood's X-Men Origins: Wolverine):
"When I got this job they’d started shooting a couple of weeks but the screenplay to The Wolverine is really, really terrific – I’m really, really delighted with it. Obviously the casting’s all been really good, the director’s brilliant."
Moviegoers have not been quick to forget the problems that plagued Jon Favreu's Iron Man follow-up - after the studio pushed for a heavy dose of S.H.I.E.L.D. in an otherwise straightforward Tony Stark story. For that reason, many fans are concerned that The Wolverine could face similar challenges (we already know that The Wolverine contains at least one X-Men cameo), if Fox is too forceful in their attempts to tie the spin-off sequel into the upcoming Brian Singer-led X-Men Days of Future Past. Attempting to put fears to rest, Millar claims that it makes sense to see the character jump back and forth between standalone movie adventures and X-Men team-ups:
"You know, I wrote the Wolverine comic twice – I did the Old Man Logan story and Wolverine: Enemy Of The State – and I don’t think it detracts having individual Wolverine adventures from the X-Men. He’s like a lone wolf character, he disappears and does his own thing sometimes and then he comes back and hangs out at the mansion, so it does feel quite natural to for him to be in these movies."
In response to "Phase Two" of The Avengers cinematic universe, many Marvel followers have wondered how the next round of filmmakers will successfully tell standalone character stories, given that the heroes could always call upon their Avenger friends if things got too hairy. Ultimately, we'll have to wait until this summer's Iron Man 3 before we know whether or not casual audiences can suspend disbelief in a post-Avengers movie world (something comic book readers have been doing for half a century). Comparatively, Millar's argument about Wolverine's "unconventional" personality is a workable defense of the character moving in and out of team-up films to standalone adventures.
That said, Millar is cognizant that too much Wolverine could undercut the impact of the character - and it seems as though Fox will not simply rely on Wolverine movies and X-Men team-ups in the next "phase" of their X-Men shared universe.
"You don’t want to have him out there all the time, because I think if you’ve got him in X-Men and Wolverine movies and they’re all running at the same time, it’s a little bit too much but as long as you’re smart with it and there’s a lot of other characters to explore as well. The X-Men universe is about the same size as the Marvel universe in terms of the number of titles it sustains at any one time, so there’s a ton of stuff to play with there and a lot of characters I’d like to explore there too."
It's unclear at this point how big a role Wolverine will play in X-Men: Days of Future past. However, as listeners of the Screen Rant Underground podcast already know, we're expecting the character to play a large part in Singer's time-traveling X-Men movie - especially if the director intends to rectify certain continuity errors created by Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class prequel/reboot. Currently, First Class occupies a weird middle-ground where it revisits moments and faces from the original trilogy (such as the Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Romijn cameos) while at the same time contradicting previously established plot beats (example: Professor X acts as if he has never met Wolverine before in Singer's 2000 movie). The disconnect was forgivable when First Class was considered a reboot but, with Fox's plans to create a X-Men shared universe, it's hard to imagine that Singer and Millar won't also attempt to iron out the wrinkles - which could mean a significant role for Wolverine.
Yet, while Hugh Jackman remains a prominent face in the X-Men film series, Millar's comment about "a lot of characters I’d like to explore" could also be hint at what's to come in the franchise. It's easy to imagine that Jackman doesn't need (or want) to play Wolverine every two years - especially as an extensive interconnected set of stories takes shape. This is not to say that the character will disappear after X-Men: Days of Future Past but it's clear that Millar is attempting to divert some attention away from Wolverine as the central figure in the franchise in order to make room for other characters and spin-off adventures. As for which characters exactly, we'll just have to wait and see - since it'll depend on the direction that Singer takes the series in Days of Future Past.
Of course, that was the whole idea behind the X-Men Origins branding back in 2009: to make room for side stories from the already existing X-Men film franchise. While X-Men Origins: Wolverine undercut a bit of enthusiasm for the series, The Avengers' $1.5 billion global box office haul reignited 20th Century Fox's ambitions and gave the studio a reason to bring the idea back around again. Days of Future Past indeed.
Fingers crossed The Wolverine will serve as a better jumping-off point than its predecessor.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for more on The Wolverine and the X-Men film franchise as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.
The Wolverine hits theaters July 26, 2013. X-Men: Days of Future Past hits theaters on July 18th, 2014.