Want to know what the world needs? X-Men.
No, no, no, not the X-Men you know from Fox’s X-Men franchise which began with director Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000 and will end with The New Mutants in 2019 (fingers crossed). What I’m talking about is an X-Men series that will capture the magic of the comic books which dominated comic book sales in the 80s and 90s.
The X-Men were responsible for launching powerhouse characters like Wolverine and Magneto. At one point, the X-Men imprint had two running titles, six spin-off titles, and myriad limited issues plus animated series, toy lines, and merchandise. Dominating.
What happened, though?
The abridged version is that Marvel Comics went through a dry spell and tried to score a movie deal with one of its most beloved properties. Unfortunately, there is a pecking order within the entertainment industry, and film professionals place themselves far above comic professionals. What that means in practical terms is there is a sentiment that comics are for little boys, and comic material has to be appropriately adapted from the knuckle-dragger nerdy comics to the high brow silver screen. So, studios generally did one of two things: 1) just throw together a bunch of slap-stick ridiculousness to draw in preadolescent boys and mouth-breathing nerds to make as much money as possible (see Steel starring Shaq as an example), or 2) allow film writers to appropriately adapt the material with their own artistic spins. The latter is what we got with X-Men and the franchise that followed.
But with MCU-affiliated X-Men films on the horizon, three generations of comic fans and two generations of X-Men movie-goers may experience X-Men the way it’s supposed to be experienced. All that said, let’s discuss some great things we may see in MCU X-Men. Additionally, let’s talk about some things Fox’s franchise did right and some things that they just couldn’t get right. I’ll keep it at a manageable three things for each. I just want to point out that I have a list of about 150 things Fox gooned-up, but I’ll spare you the nerd rage.
1. The actual original team: That’s right! We might actually see the fabulous five X-Men doing the superhero thing on the silver screen as a family, team, and staff, using their powers together in amazing feats. Just imagine Cyclops on the back of Iceman’s ice slide letting evil-doers have it; Angel doing hit-and-run tactics for the team; Cyclops again getting real-time battlefield information from Angel; slow-motion acrobatic scenes of Beast breaking his size twenty-two Nikes off in villains’ backsides; and Phoenix (or Marvel Girl…I’m good with either name) going hard in the paint with her telekinesis for crowd-control, to hurl massive objects at villains who can take it, and to shield her teammates from danger. Additionally, imagine watching a subplot about Jean’s developing telepathy and her struggle to deal with voices in her head. With young adult narratives being all the rage right now, the original five would be a hit. Oooo…what if Iceman were the point-of-view character with all his witty trash talk? Ah, that’d be so cool…
2. Wolverine as he’s supposed to be: Oh man! Wouldn’t it be great to see Wolverine in his actual costume? Even better, imagine the amnesiac Wolverine who is one part grizzled wise man, one part fugitive, one part favorite uncle, two parts field operative, and ten parts murderous animal. My nerdgasm is almost too intense for me to type right now just thinking about it. Imagine the X-Men in a serious bind and Cyclops resorting to the ace up his sleeve: unleash Wolverine to kill everyone. Boom! You might be thinking: We got that in Logan. Yeah—I mean you kind of got it an asymptotic kind of way. But it was Wolverine murdering people because 1) the studio eased into the idea for sixteen years (Deadpool made the violence okay) and 2) because he was a summer action hero and summer action heroes are Dirty Harry proxies. What I’m referring to is that Wolverine is part of a team, buys into a dream, and realizes that if he doesn’t make sacrifices, innocent people will suffer. I’ll add that Wolverine is a character that believes that he’s damned to hell for the terrible things he’s done but truly believes that he can ensure others find salvation by making sure the blood is on his hands. Hugh Jackman put forth considerable effort to portray Wolverine and I truly respect what he has done. But, the Wolverine of the franchise was really only a glimpse of the character. Imagine him in his full glory.
3. Recasting characters: Just consider it. An actor who can properly portray Sabertooth, Nightcrawler, Beast, Havok, Apocalypse, etc. By the way, I just want to say that I’m a fan of Liev Schreiber, and I think he was a great fit for Sabertooth in terms of Schreiber’s ability to exude menace. But, nothing about him looked like Sabertooth nor behaved like him. Schreiber could have pulled off Sabertooth if 1) the makeup team had not been wasting their time on the travesty called Deadpool and 2) the writers made Sabertooth a crazed killer instead of the angsty man-child with abandonment issues. Um—somehow I jumped off MCU possibilities and started venting nerd rage about something Fox messed up. My apologies.
4. Bonus Possibility: Iconic Stories – Yes, ladies and gentlemen! Wouldn’t it be magical to see the greatest stories unfold on the screen? Mutant Massacre (with a cameo of Thor perhaps), Inferno, X-tinction Agenda, X-Cutioner’s Song, Fatal Attractions, Legion Quest, Age of Apocalypse, Operation: Zero Tolerance, Messiah Complex, Age of X, A vs. X. Somebody stop me! We could see the X-Men exactly (read: x-actly) like they were supposed to be seen – an exploration of civil liberties and rights, teamwork, diversity, ethics, and redemption. No endless Magneto-angst, no X-Men Origins: Wolverine, no Hunger Games, none of that. The possibility just makes me what to go buy a family-sized bag of peanut M&Ms and a bucket of soda and wait outside the theater until something populates. Don’t judge me.
Things Fox did right:
1. Patrick Stewart: Before the internet, the comic community had a magazine called Wizard. One the staple articles that appeared in every issue was a fan Casting Call that suggested to the comic community what actors would be excellent as certain characters if we were ever lucky enough to see comic movies that studios actually took seriously (if only I could go back in time and tell everyone at the comic book shop about the Infinity War movie!) . Every X-Men Casting Call suggested Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier. In short, he was the comic community’s champion for the controversial headmaster of the X-Men.
2. Seriousness: Fox and Bryan Singer (to his credit) made an honest attempt to tell a serious, thoughtful, heartfelt story starring the X-Men in 2000 and 2003. After that point, it just became a complete &#@%-show. And, I know what you’re thinking: Kenny, X-Men First Class was a great movie. And I would agree when you compare it to the other garbage X-Men movies. But, I got news for you, other than the chemistry and hard work of Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, the movie was underwhelming. Period. End of story.
3. Power Sets: The studio was faithful to the characters where powers are concerned. I mean, Juggernaut in X-Men: The Last Stand was a wash, Mystique’s powers were kind of whatever the writers needed them to be beyond shapeshifting, and HAVOK WAS COMPLETE CRAP. Otherwise, the power sets were pretty solid.
Things Fox Just Couldn’t Get Right
1. Cyclops: Look, this character isn’t hard. First off, he’s utilitarian; he does a cost-benefit analysis, and he directs the team based on his assessment. Second, he can destroy anything he looks at. Think about that. How would he miss you if you just have to be in his 188-degree field-of-view for him to blow your head off? Plus, he’s integrated his optic blast into his fighting style: Punch, punch, roundhouse, blow the floor out from underneath you and finish you with an uppercut to the jaw as you fall. Third, Cyclops is all business. He’s not a jerk; he just doesn’t get frazzled under pressure. Last, find me a comic where Cyclops goes out like a punk. Well, he went out like a punk in every movie he was in. Go back and watch them.
2. Costumes: Sooo…black leather is more practical than colored uniforms? Oh wait – comic uniforms make no sense? I’m sorry. I came to see a movie about a guy with blades in his arms and woman who can command lightning. Why are we throwing suspension of disbelief out the window at costumes? I agree I need the costumes to be reasonable but come on. Now, the costumes in First Class were a step in the right direction since the X-Men had blue and yellow team uniforms in the comics, but they also had individual costumes too. Sigh. Whatever.
3. Wolverine: WE GET IT! CLAWS ARE COOL! GIVE IT A REST!
Before I close, I just want to say I went to see X-Men on opening night when I was 19 in 2000. It was a magical moment for me as a diehard X-Men fan to see Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, and Jean Grey do their thing. Understand, the X-Men were some of my first friends as a child, and I wanted nothing more than to see my heroes wow the world. However, despite the magic, I was a bit disappointed – disappointment that I refused to discuss because I was loyal to my characters. With each subsequent installment, I became more disappointed. I keep hope up that we’ll get an X-Men movie that is as ground-breaking as The Dark Knight. If you’re a fan of the X-Men franchise, more power to you, and thank you for supporting my childhood heroes. You may not share my frustrations, but as a fan (in my case a comic fan and in your case a movie fan), we can mutually look forward to a bright future on the silver screen for the beloved mutants.