Shared universes are a big deal in cinema these days. The #MarvelCinematicUniverse has proven that the formula works in tremendous ways. Warner Bros. has had some well-known challenges setting up the DCEU, but they are not giving up.
And then there's the #XMen.
Back in 2000, X-Men kicked off the superhero movie boom. At the time, nobody expected it to still be going with the same continuity 17 years later. While Batman, Superman, the Hulk and Spider-Man have all gotten reboots, the mutants are still in their original cinematic universe. And as the franchise expands, it's becoming kind of awkward: characters in various eras, different timelines, alternate universes and spinoffs that don't even connect.
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The X-Men cinematic universe may have its flaws — especially compared to the meticulously planned #MCU — but this cloud has a silver lining. In fact, it’s a wonderful thing. Here's why:
An Emphasis On Emotion And Character
When it comes to movies, we want to be emotionally invested in the characters above all. A story can be well-designed on a technical level, but without compelling heroes and villains, audiences will lose interest. And the X-Men films have always had great performances, even when the continuity doesn't line up 100 percent.
For example, take Professor X. He died in The Last Stand, took over somebody else's body, and then came back in The Wolverine’s end credit scene looking exactly the same without any explanation. (The popular theory is that the body was Xavier's twin brother.) In X-Men Origins: Wolverine he could walk and use telepathy at the same time, but Days of Future Past made it an either/or choice.
But it doesn’t matter, because all we care about is that Patrick Stewart is back to play the role that he was born to play (other than Jean-Luc Picard). The presence of Professor X and his constant fight for hope makes up for it.
When emotion is the key factor, it's okay to forgive other lapses. In Iron Man, Tony Stark gets pissed, goes from one side of the world to the other without refueling or taking a break, lands and takes out some bad guys. Boom! We’re in for the ride! In The Dark Knight Rises, we're happy to see Bruce Wayne back in occupied Gotham — it doesn't matter how he infiltrated the city; what's more important is that he found his way back to his home to fight for its survival.
This is why having Professor X back in Days of Future Past without explanation was still satisfying. With an important character like him, we’re emotionally invested. He is the heart of the X-Men, he is the epitome of hope, and he needs to be there for them. Explaining every little thing about how he got his old body back would only bog it down, lessening the quality of the story.
The Standalone Movies Can Actually Stand Alone
Why does Colossus look and sound totally different in #Deadpool than he did in the other movies? It doesn't really matter, because Colossus was perfect in Deadpool — much closer to the comic book version of Piotr Rasputin — which wouldn't have been the case if the movie had adhered to the franchise as a whole.
It works as a standalone story, while being nominally set in the X-Men universe. Deadpool asking which professor he’s being taken to—McAvoy or Stewart—is a fourth-wall breaking joke that serves as a commentary on the universe and where it stands.
Even if we're still not totally sure how exactly Deadpool fits with the other movies, it's a faithful adaptation that delighted fans and paved the way for future R-rated comic book movies like #Logan. Fox’s success with Deadpool has given them flexibility, allowing other small properties within the X-Men universe to shine.
Similarly, while the new TV series Legion (about Professor X's son) may not directly link to the movies, that only gives it more creative freedom to excel.
Past Mistakes Can Lead To Great Future Storytelling
If it weren't for the problems caused by The Last Stand and Origins, then Days of Future Past — arguably the best film in the entire series — wouldn’t have been made. It was the Terminator 2 of the X-Men movies, fixing past mistakes while continuing the First Class storyline.
Did the movie do it perfectly? No, but it emotionally satisfied old and new fans of the franchise. And soon X-Men: Supernova may even redo The Last Stand's attempt at the Phoenix Saga, giving fans what they've waited decades to see done right.
Wolverine Has Been The Constant — But What Happens Next?
When it’s said and done, the X-Men universe couldn’t have achieved success without the powerhouse that is Hugh Jackman. No matter how disjointed its storylines and timelines are, Wolverine is what stays the same. He is the constant that elevates the X-Men universe, serving as the host and the selling point.
Yes, the franchise is thematically about Magneto's and Xavier's clashing ideas, but — whatever the two characters' ages — Wolverine was always there between them. Logan marks the end of that constant. He is the reason that the flawed universe is forgivable. And now the X-Men universe must find its way without him.
Perhaps X-23, Cable, Deadpool or Gambit is the key to the next phase. No matter how convoluted the future X-Men movies get, though, there will be more masterpieces like Deadpool and more room for experimentation like Logan's Western motif. Fox should look forward, not backward, and keep embracing its convoluted but lovable universe.