‘X-Men’ film franchise must mutate to be heroic again

Oct. 09, 2009 | 5:56 a.m.

FOUR FRANCHISES AT A CROSSROADS: PART THREE

This week we’re taking a look at four major trilogies from this decade that are looking to add a fourth film despite substantial challenges — not least among those challenges the skepticism of moviegoers who may wonder whether some of these Hollywood vehicles are running on empty. You can find the other three installments of the series right here.

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X-Men

The story so far: With the triumph of comic-book properties in Hollywood today, it’s easy to forget how startling Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” was when it arrived in 2000. Sleek, sophisticated and respectful of its studied source material, the Fox film ran counter to the then-standard Hollywood approach of turning comic-book adaptations into smirking cartoons that insulted loyal fans of the properties. The $75-million film made $296 million in worldwide box office (it finished as the eighth-highest-grossing film in America that year) and later won over a vast audience that saw it on home video, cable or pay-per-view. The sequel “X2: X-Men United” arrived as one of the most anticipated releases of 2003 and finished with $408 million worldwide and better reviews than the first one. Singer left the franchise to take on the oddly airless “Superman Returns,” so Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour“) was brought in for the third movie, “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which rolled up $459 million at the box office but suffered some withering reviews.

The challenge: When the credits rolled on “The Last Stand,” most observers assumed the franchise (like a good number of the main characters) was dead and waiting to be buried. The fact that the franchise’s central hero, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), was spun off into a lone-wolf film this year suggested that the Marvel mutant team might be akin to aging band that just watched its lead singer launch a solo tour. But last month, producer Lauren Shuler Donner, a key figure in the franchise from Day 1, said that a fourth X-Men film remains viable and, more than that, there are efforts moving toward that goal, although they are in very early stages. That may be true, but there have been plenty of mixed signals when it comes to Fox and potential mutant movies; more than a half-dozen different projects have been trumpeted at one time or another, among them a Magneto film, a Deadpool movie, a Gambit project, a New Mutants spin-off and a Wolverine sequel. It’s maddening to try keep track of what is (and isn’t) happening.

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The status: Amid all the noise, the most interesting tidbit in recent months was the August report in Variety that Singer was flirting with the idea of directing “X-Men: First Class,” which would be a prequel based on the popular comic book series and the draft script by “The O.C.” creator Josh Schwartz. Later, Donner publicly stated that “First Class” is not the likely next film, but the linkage of Singer to any Marvel mutant is big news — and may signal an effort to have him back in X-business. Donner has made a point of saying in interviews that having Singer back would be a welcome idea, and why not? The director’s departure from the X-franchise didn’t burn any bridges. Plus, Donner’s husband, “Superman” director Richard Donner, was an engaged mentor for Singer as the younger filmmaker toiled on a version of the Man of Steel that was a valentine to the Donner interpretation. Singer’s slate of upcoming projects looks dense, but Fox wants to keep the “X-Men” properties front and center, clearly. The studio’s rights will revert back to Marvel in 2012 if there is no project in active development. I know Donner is looking at the wide mythology of the entire “X-Men” universe and there is plenty there, of course, but if they go with a “First Class” prequel, they may have a tough time shoehorning Jackman and his signature character into the film continuity. A reunion sequel may be the safer way to go, but that would require reuniting the scattered big-name cast (which would be difficult) and coming up with a deft way to bring back the dead characters (less challenging, if the old comics are any indication).  

The prediction: Back in 2000, I remember telling one of the top film-coverage editors at the Los Angeles Times that there was huge potential audience for “X-Men,” and he scoffed. “Well, ‘Mystery Men‘ tanked,” he said. “Why should this be different?” “X-Men” was a pivot point in superhero cinema and, with the intensity of its opening concentration-camp scene, it gave a ready generation of filmgoers the heroes they wanted, not the bloated old-school farce of “Batman & Robin,” which was a mere three years earlier. With all that context, watching “The Last Stand” was torture. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was better but still not on the level of the Singer films. Despite the upbeat chatter on both sides, I’m skeptical that Singer will actually return to the franchise — when decision time comes, there will have to be a truly marvelous script to get the “Usual Suspects” director to circle back to ground he’s covered before, especially considering that the landscape is charred and pitted after Ratner’s noisy residence. No, I predict we instead see more spinoffs of Singer’s outsider tale. And (judging by recent history) the directors entrusted with those mutant ventures might deliver video-game plots, flimsy characters and some killer explosions.

– Geoff Boucher

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Comments


11 Responses to ‘X-Men’ film franchise must mutate to be heroic again

  1. Xfan66 says:

    The writer seems to have missed one important element that the first two X-Men films had in common that the "oddly airless Superman" did not – writer David Hayter.

  2. Peter Lange says:

    Well, I have made this comment before on an earlier blog, but why not make it again. I see a lot of promise still for the X-men franchise, but it has to jettison the past rather than try to revive it.
    Jean Grey is Dead. Cyclops is Dead. Charles Xavier is Dead. Leave them dead. We still have Rogue, Iceman, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Angel as viable characters. Wolervine would need to be present as a box office draw. And the Wolverine solo movie gave us an Emma Frost character. So we have a bunch of mutant kinds in an upstate private school whose teachers have pretty much all died. Many of these kids have no where to go. Wolverine always has a soft spot for kids. So he finds them a new School: Emma Frosts Massachusettes Academy, whose Headmistress is a mutant telepath (like Charles Xavier) and also has the ability to turn her body to diamond. But is she as helpful as she appears, or does she, and the organization she is a part of — The Hellfire Club — have an agenda?

  3. Bob from Berkeley says:

    @Peter Lange: Charles Xavier is not necessarily "dead" (happens all the time in the comics). That was his voice coming from the brain-dead guy at the very, very end of "Last Stand". Could his consciousness somehow have transferred into another mind? Only time (and the next sequel) will tell!

  4. Rachel says:

    It would be possible to have another X men movie.. However, another solo wolverine movie might damage the draw for an audience. The Hobbit should be made, and without haste, before the original actors are just too old to be in it! The Hobbit would probably have the same size crowd as an X men movie, or perhaps a larger one. Pirates really hurt itself with the third film, it got quite out of hand in terms of plot and character development (or lack thereof). While the acting was great on Johnny Depp's part, they can't keep relying only on him to keep the black pearl afloat. Spiderman should NOT be made. Period. The last two films were not well received by critics and audiences above the age of seventeen.

  5. Gerry says:

    It is also interesting to note that the writer seems to use "video game plots" as a point of derision. I wonder how many video games the writer has actually played. Also interesting, as Xfan66 points out, X-Men and X2 were written by David Hayter. Hayter is most famous the character Solid Snake in the incredibly popular and cinematic Metal Gear Solid Series. Surprise: Metal Gear Solid is a video game.

  6. Geoff Boucher says:

    Gerry, the VAST majority of videogames have plots that exist merely to set up action sequences. I'm looking for a bit more from the films I watch. How many videogames, really, have character development, nuanced narrative, quality dialogue and evocative acting coupled with quality roles?

  7. Gerry says:

    Geoff, your claim against video games seems directly aimed at blockbuster video games, but you use language dismissing all video games. It would be as if I made a comment deriding ALL film, when I really was making a claim against just Hollywood blockbusters. There are many incredible independent games out that have very engaging characters and storylines. There are also video games that work within their medium and explore possibilities not even possible in all of film. Sure, these aren't the mainstream, but that doesn't mean they don't exist in large numbers. True is same for comics. The medium is mocked, but they only seem to be mocking super heroes and fail to recognize comics like Maus, Love and Rockets and A Contract With God. Several critics ridicule all of American cinema, citing only mainstream Hollywood trends. This type of language ignores the vast market and artists who don't need Hollywood to create meaningful art. Transformers doesn't represent all film, Spider-Man doesn't represent all comics, Halo doesn't represent all video games.

  8. Geoff Boucher says:

    Well Gerry I suppose I'll apologize for any perceived insult but, really, in a piece where I was writing about an "X-Men" movie and then made a reference to a "video-game plot" I assume most people DO understand it as shorthand for all of those big, mainstream, bestselling, superhero combat games that are a signature part of the sector. And as shorthand, it's not unlike using the term "summer movie" and assuming the readers will know you didn't mean an arthouse film released in July.
    "X-Men 3" felt like one of those blockbuster games to me and that's the point I was trying to make.

  9. Gerry says:

    Geoff, I know it may seem like I am being an ultra-fan boy, super nit picky, jerk. However, I feel that the majority of journalists (excluding game journalists) generally ride-off gaming and video games in general. I think it permeates from the idea that all video games are ventures in the ultra-violent and hyper-sexual, which is really not the case. It is the most profitable market, but I feel like games have to work three times as hard just go get any respect (kind of like comic book movies had to in the past, and may even still need to). Thanks for your response, means a lot.

  10. Geoff Boucher says:

    Fair enough, thanks for the thoughtful comments. I promise to be more precise in the future. The last thing THIS blog should ever do is dismiss any aspect of pop culture with the blunt insults of genre snobbery.

  11. Brett says:

    Here are some examples to refute Geoff's claim that Video Game plots solely exist to initiate an action sequence:
    Metal Gear Solid (All of Them), Xenogears, Just about every Final Fantasy after 7, Silent Hill 2, and others to name a few.
    Each of these games consist of more dialogue than action so to speak.

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