Dear Fox: Just Reboot The X-Men Already (You Know You Want To)
Fans of the X-Men movie franchise have probably noticed a pattern emerging. You will have seen the evidence repeatedly, in X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past and now this weekend’s X-Men: Apocalypse. Every single movie in this 16-year-old series ends with the same promise: that next time you will finally get the movie you wanted in the first place.
X-Men ended with the team finally officially in place. X2 immediately split that team in multiple directions, but it ended with a tease for the popular Dark Phoenix Saga. Two bad movies later (X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine) we went back in time to see the X-Men come together for the first time, in X-Men: First Class. That movie ended with – you guessed it – the promise that the next film would be the real X-Men movie, the one with all the characters in place as opposed to just another origin story. And sure enough, X-Men: Days of Future Past turned out to be a time-traveling soft reboot that annihilated previous continuity in favor of setting up the next X-Men movie with a clean slate.
X-Men: Apocalypse now does basically the same thing, ending with a proper team of proper X-Men in their proper setting, but only in the last minute of the film. Fans of superhero movies keep complaining that we’ve seen enough of origin stories, but not enough people seem to have noticed that one of the pre-eminent superhero franchises has been trying to tell the exact same origin story for the better part of two decades.
And frankly, I’m sick of it. There’s a lot of good in these movies but the flaws have piled up so high that it’s impossible to ignore them. Great characters have been wasted, in some cases multiple times. The White Queen showed up as a teenager in the early 1980s in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, only to show up two decades earlier in X-Men: First Class (and played by an older actress no less). Psylocke was a teenager in the “near future” of the early 2000s, but now she’s a 35-year-old Olivia Munn in 1983 in X-Men: Apocalypse, a film that gives the fan favorite character almost no dialogue to speak of, and forces her to wear a skimpy leotard while the rest of Apocalypse’s crew gets to wear practical body armor.
Every time the filmmakers behind the franchise try to solve a problem, they end up creating new problems, and I think it’s time to admit that the reason is simple: the whole series was built on a shaky foundation to begin with. The first film came out in 2000, before the modern superhero movie genre had been formally tested with audiences. Nobody knew what would work, how many liberties you could take with the source material, and whether or not that many superheroes in a single movie would even fly with mainstream audiences who, 16 years ago, rarely seemed to even accept one at a time.
But X-Men came along and, to the film’s credit, did a lot of things right. The film was a superhero movie, yes, but also an undeniably strong allegory for relevant social issues. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan brought dramatic heft to a story that might have come across as silly othwerwise, imbuing their many, many ponderous speeches with an air of sinceirty. And Wolverine, one of the more unusual superhero success stories in comics (at the time, anyway), was perfectly performed by Hugh Jackman. It may be hard to remember now, but before the first movie came out that was the fanbase’s biggest concern. It seemed like too much to hope for that Wolverine would be done right on film.
But enough with the kudos, let’s admit the mistakes. While Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto were handled nearly perfectly, significant characters like Storm, Cyclops and Sabertooth got brushed under the rug or worse, screwed up altogether. The film abandoned the visual style of the comics, choosing a moody color palette and kinky leather over the familiar costumes, under the excuse that what worked in a comic could not possibly work on screen. (Even though, as we eventually learned in both First Class and Apocalypse, the old costumes looked better.)
Regardless, the X-Men movies deserve credit for being one of the first contemporary superhero franchises out of the gate, and a few freshman mistakes were probably inevitable. The real problems came as the series progressed. X-Men: The Last Stand killed off valuable characters with very little rhyme or reason, to name just a single problem with it, and that film – combined with the disappointing X-Men Origins – forced Fox to set X-Men: First Class back in a time period before all of those screw ups. Then, when First Class was a hit, they had to make a whole separate movie to retcon all of those future screw-ups out of existence. And now X-Men: Apocalypse STILL has to bat clean-up, and spend half the movie wrapping up old storylines so that the new storylines – the ones we wanted in the first place – could finally begin.
And if 20th Century Fox had just admitted to themselves, if nobody else, that their franchise was broken they could have rebooted it years ago, and it would have saved us all a lot of trouble. Each progressive X-Men movie tries to fix the old ones, while simultaneously trying to convince us that mistakes were never made and this was all some sort of brilliant plan.
The X-Men movies are fun but they have undeniable problems. Forcing new filmmakers to conform to all these old, outdated and sometimes simply unsuccessful storytelling ideas is shooting both them and the franchise in the foot. Sometimes it really is better to just tear the old house down and build a new one. This foundation has rotted and we are repeatedly wasting time and money on fixing it. That’s a fool’s errand.
So Fox, I invite you to just reboot this series from scratch. Some people will care, most people won’t, and it won’t affect Deadpool 2 one way or another. He’ll just make a joke about it and move on. You can start fresh, with an actual plan in place from the beginning this time, with the benefit of nearly 20 years of experience guiding you in the right direction. You can get it right off the bat, instead of spending multiple years and sequels fixing old problems, making new ones, and never quite getting around to where you wanted to be in the first place.
Just think about it: an all-new, all-different X-Men? It’s worked before…
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.