With the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the film franchise that kicked off the current comic book movie craze in the year 2000 is officially back. Although X-Men: First Class was released in 2011, Days of Future Past brings Bryan Singer back in the director’s chair after the release of X2: X-Men United in 2003. While [X-Men: Days Of Future Past](movie:203942) is, in my opinion, the best movie in the entire franchise, it took Fox more than a decade to get its mojo back since the release of X2. It was well worth the wait to get to this point. So while I was watching the new movie, a thought popped in my head (as if Professor Xavier himself planted it in there in the first place) that Twentieth Century Fox is doing a great job making X-Men movies and the film franchise should never go back to Marvel Studios.
Back in the mid-90s, Marvel Entertainment was on the verge of bankruptcy. To save the company, Marvel started to license their properties to movie studios to generate revenue. With Sony picking up everything Spider-Man, Universal taking The Hulk and Namor the Submariner, Fox bought the film rights to the X-Men universe and mutant mythology in 1994. In 1996, Fox hired Bryan Singer to develop and adapt the X-Men for a feature film that would be due in theaters during the summer of the year 2000. To Fox’s surprise, the film was a smash hit and started a trend in major motion pictures that lasts today, the comic book superhero movie genre.
While Marvel Studios is at the height of all comic book superhero movies with Iron Man, Captain America, and The Avengers, Fox paved the way for their success with the X-Men movies. The movie studio has cut their teeth with good and bad X-Men movies that exist in their own cinematic universe. And I think that’s the key to why X-Men movies work better at Fox than they would at Marvel. Although there is a lot of online speculation, Fox has yet to expand and crossover the X-Men universe with their other comic book property, the Fantastic Four. While it’s the popular belief that there will be an X-Men/Fantastic Four crossover movie (though I really hope there isn’t), Fox has yet to make anything official. If Marvel Studios were making the X-Men films, the desire to crossover Wolverine with The Avengers would be too great and somehow less special.
Now I understand that Marvel created the X-Men and they have a home with the comic book publisher in various comic books, animated features, and graphic novels, but Fox is doing such a good job with the X-Men movies that even with their lesser offerings like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the movie studio and most importantly producer Lauren Shuler Donner have now shown a desire to not rest on their laurels and to deliver good quality films. The low points in the franchise were X-Men: The Last Stand and Origins, while the film series recovered with First Class and The Wolverine. While The Last Stand was a bad movie, there were some very understandable reasons why the franchise took a wrong turn in 2006, namely Bryan Singer left the film series.
Singer opted to make Superman Returns for Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures instead, and his replacement Matthew Vaughn bowed out of the project at the last minute before production started. Brett Ratner was brought in to captain a sinking ship, so I really can’t blame him for the misstep. If anything Ratner made the best possible movie under the circumstances. But through all the dark times with the X-Men film franchise, Donner saw an opportunity to get the series back on track with a new director and a new cast. Enter Matthew Vaughn (again) and the time honored current Hollywood tradition, the reboot.
X-Men: First Class brought in a new cast with James McAvoy as a younger Professor Xavier, Michael Fassbender as a younger and sexier Magneto, and Jennifer Lawrence as a younger Mystique. The quality in First Class is the cast, which also featured Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, and Kevin Bacon as the evil Sebastian Shaw. It was clear with the people Donner hired in front of and behind the camera that the film franchise was on a different track for quality assurance. Some would say that the X-Men got their groove back with First Class, but I believe Days of Future Past was the film that pushed the series over the slump into comic book movie greatness.
Days of Future Past combined the cast of the original series with the new reboot without missing a beat. The casting alone is reason enough to give Days of Future Past the prize for the “Best in Show,” but the film’s story and Singer’s direction makes the movie something tangible and coherent. With so many characters and crosscutting storylines, it would be easy for Days of Future Past to become something muddled and confusing, but while watching the film, it magically becomes clear. Singer displays a level of gravitas with the film’s cast, while at the same time a playful nature that shouldn’t be ignored. For the first time in a long time, we can see that it’s almost fun to be a mutant and have special superpowers with the character of Quicksilver zipping about, without losing any of the film’s urgent tone. Outside of The Avengers and the first Iron Man movie, this is something that I haven’t seen consistently in any Marvel movie to date.
So far, Fox has made seven X-Men movies with varying degrees of quality, but overall, they feel of the same piece. If Marvel managed to start making X-Men movies, then they’d start to become very similar to the Iron Man movies with a lighter tone and an action heavy approach. While the X-Men movies are a far cry from weightier thrillers like the Bourne film series or full on serious dramas like 12 Years a Slave, they feel more important in tone, as they tackle relevant social issues like inequality and a government’s role with its citizens. Now you can’t tell me the Iron Man or Thor movies explore social issues like the X-Men movies do. Can you?
Fox will live and die with the X-Men franchise and they’re doing a much better job with the property than Marvel or Sony would ever do. If you look at how Marvel’s other licensee Sony has fared with their comic book reboot with The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro, you can plainly see that Fox is doing a much better job with Marvel properties than Sony. The new Amazing Spider-Man reboot movies are an embarrassment of the genre and a complete money grab for the movie studio. With the release of Rise of Electro, director Marc Webb and Sony have effectively reverted the genre back to the superhero movies of the mid-90s with the likes of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.
If Fox can manage not to follow other superhero trends such as a combined cinematic universe with the Fantastic Four reboot, then the movie studio should be on pace to make interesting and high quality comic book movies like the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse. Considering that X-Men kicked off the initial comic book movie trend in the year 2000, the film franchise should be the trendsetters and not its followers. Twentieth Century Fox’s best days with the X-Men film franchise are certainly in the movie studio’s future and, not like most people thought, in its past.