Can 20th Century Fox Give The X-Men Franchise The Avengers Treatment?
Last summer, The Avengers proved that comic book movies could share more with their source material than a cadre of spandex clad heroes. Joss Whedon’s blockbuster was the final building block in Marvel’s first phase of films that created a shared cinematic universe for the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor to play in. With the final piece in place, The Avengers offered movie and comic book fans alike a thrilling payoff for investing their time in the five films that came before. Suddenly the superhero film genre could offer up more than just dollar signs for studio heads, it could also pull off telling meaningful, interconnected stories across multiple franchises just like the comics that fuel the genre. Now the question is, which franchise is going to become the first to follow Marvel’s lead?
With any luck the answer to that question will be the X-Men. Of all the heroes across the myriad franchises both onscreen and within the colorful pages of comic books, none are more deserving of The Avengers treatment. As a group, they’re a sprawling bunch of outsiders and underdogs brought together by an idealistic man who believes in the power of community and change. Individually, they’re a stream of untapped revenue for 20th Century Fox, the studio that owns the film rights to Marvel’s iconic team of mutants. The studio has been churning out X-Men movies for over a decade now, but so far they’ve lacked the focus and coherency needed to make the franchise live up to its full potential. However, with two films set to be released before 2015, and the success of The Avengers creating a new model for other superhero movies to follow, there are signs that 20th Century Fox is beginning to realize what the X-Men could do for them. Building a shared universe out of the Frankenstein’s monster the franchise has become isn’t going to be easy though.
Back before Marvel got into the business of making movies based on their own properties, the title for best modern comic book movie was held by Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000). Singer’s film revitalized a genre that was waning due to an overabundance of camp in the ’90s. The first X-Men was as gritty as it was fun. Focusing heavily on the themes of isolation and intolerance gave Singer’s vision of the X-Men a realistic edge. The film pales somewhat when compared to Iron Man or The Dark Knight Trilogy, but in 2000, X-Men was revolutionary for a genre that had become terrified of taking itself even a tiny bit seriously.
Fast forward a decade or so and the franchise’s legacy becomes murkier. A pair of clunkers, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, played fast and loose with continuity and nearly dragged the entire franchise under with the combined weight of their silliness. Then along came 2011’s excellent X-Men: First Class to pull our favorite mutants out of their tailspin. The film sidestepped the mess left behind by director Brett Ratner’s Last Stand outing by focusing on the origin story of Professor Xavier and Magneto’s complex relationship. It was a fast-paced, emotionally rich period piece that rebooted a property that was in desperate need of resuscitation (at least critically).
Next up on the docket is another solo outing for Wolverine, which has the unenviable task of being the first film set in the aftermath of The Last Stand, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, a film that will pull together the timeline of the original franchise with the past timeline established in First Class. These two films will both confront the specter of The Last Stand head on, and hopefully set forth righting that film’s considerable wrongs, not the least of which were killing off key team members Cyclops and Jean Grey. In addition, they’ll also be tasked with giving the X-Men universe a new jumping off point. Once the past has been cleaned up, the studio can start focusing on the future of the franchise in earnest.
In an ideal world, Marvel would be the studio driving this bus, but all of the information released about The Wolverine and Days of Future Past so far has been promising. The former is taking Wolverine to Japan and allowing Hugh Jackman to delve deeper into the character’s psyche. The latter is bringing Singer back to the franchise and building a supercast out of the best actors from the original franchise and First Class (with an assist from the always amazing Peter Dinklage). Even if the studio isn’t laying the groundwork for a project as ambitious as The Avengers, their most recent moves indicate that they’re beginning to think seriously about the expansive world they own. Now we just have to sit back and wait and see what they do with it.
Do you think 20th Century Fox can make the most of The X-Men franchise? Which characters would you like to see get their own films?
The Wolverine hits theaters July 26, 2013. X-Men: Days of Future Past will follow in Summer 2014.
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