After being considered a linchpin of Fox's X-Men franchise for the better part of two decades, director/producer Bryan Singer is stepping away from Marvel's mutants, at least for a while.
The move isn't unexpected, considering the director walked away once before to film movies like Superman Returns, Valkyrie and Jack the Giant Slayer, but ultimately returned first as executive producer and then director of the most recent X-trilogy.
It's worth noting that two of three X-films that had no involvement from Singer are the two that weren't well-received: X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (the third is The Wolverine, but that fared considerably better than Logan's first solo outing). That being said, superhero franchises, as a whole, are in a much better place than they were in the mid-to-late 2000s, the era of which the Singer-less X-Men projects happened.
It's for this reason, as well as the very nature of superheroes themselves, that it's the right time for Singer to step away and leave the franchise in somebody else's hands.
Superheroes Need To Be Reinterpreted To Survive
Superheroes have been around for nearly a century, surviving most consistently on the pages of comic books. Comics have had thousands of writers and artists during that time, each of them adding — and sometimes subtracting — mythology from the characters, reinventing them time and again. This is a necessity to keep superheroes relevant.
Reinterpretation ushers superheroes into the modern era, be it the social activism of the '60s (which spawned the X-Men in first place), the gritty realism of the '80s, or the progressive diversity of the 2010s. It also adds depth to their motivations and histories, and keeps the characters and their respective universes feeling fresh, despite more or less maintaining the status quo year after year.
This is what helps them stand the test of time; if characters like Superman, Batman — or for our purposes, the X-Men — ended with their original creators, they'd be remnants of the past. Fun remember-whens at best, instead of beloved icons.
With superhero films fast approaching comic book levels of interconnectivity and frequency (at least, as frequent as their huge budgets allow), this sort of reinterpretation on screen is becoming just as important as it's been in comics in the past. Singer has been involved with the X-Men for nearly 20 years, his influence and vision carrying through from 2000's X-Men to 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse.
While his contributions to the progression of superhero movies in general is important — X2 helped legitimize the dramatic potential for heroes on screen — it's equally important to know when it's time to step away and let other artists contribute to the ever-changing legacy of the heroes.
Fresh personal perspectives is a key ingredient to disseminating the message of these superheroes to a wider audience.
Less Connection To The Past
One of the things that's always bugged me about the First Class era of X-Men is how it desperately tries to put the square peg in the round hole. There's an understandable adherence to Singer's earlier X-Men films while also trying to establish a new continuity. Days of Future Past goes to great lengths to try to make it all work, but it's still a considerably convoluted timeline.
First Class should have been a hard reboot from what had been done in the interest of longevity for the franchise, but instead it tried to do both with a band-aid movie to follow. Days of Future Past was great, of course, particularly in its clever erasure of the events in The Last Stand and the pure joy of seeing the old cast meet the new.
But we can't move to the future without saying goodbye to the past. We should build on it, of course, but the films should also learn from the mistakes of superhero comics.
While new creative teams have reinvented characters through the years, others have relied too heavily on the past. Superhero comics have become insular to the point of detriment; superhero movies, however, still have a chance to avoid that altogether.
Freshening up the creative talent, and thus the direction, of characters like the X-Men will go a long way to alleviate this.
Farewell, Bryan Singer
Though his time with X-Men may have passed, Singer's influence on superhero films is undeniable and often underappreciated. Let's not forget that X-Men started the "black leather" trend that permeated movie superhero costumes pretty much up until the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduced Captain America, and Hugh Jackman's performance as Wolverine is the longest-running on-screen superhero character to date.
But I have to say: I'm ecstatic to have Singer available for other films. The Usual Suspects is a masterpiece, Valkyrie was a fun thriller, and Superman Returns is one of my favorite superhero films, despite an overwhelming adherence to the past (see?).
As much as we love these characters, I think it's equally important to remember that these filmmakers have a personal perspective that can — and should — be applied to original stories in other genres as well. Having a filmmaker tied up in one franchise for years means we're being robbed of other films that they could be making.
So long, Singer, I can't wait to see what's next — for both the mutants you've made relevant for the last 16 years, and for you.