X-MEN: 20TH ANNIVERSARY

A LEGACY WORTH SAVING?

RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW
By Jess Fenton
12th July 2020

This week, some of us will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the dawning of a new era. We'd had Superman (we'd actually had several Supermans... Supermen?). We'd had Batman (we'd actually had several... ah, forget it!) We'd even had a live-action Spider-Man TV series in the 70s with the guy who played Friedrich von Trapp in 'The Sound of Music', but everyone keeps forgetting about that one. What we hadn't had yet was live-action X-Men. Then in 2000, the movie franchise we never knew we always wanted arrived - and boy, did it deliver. It was so successful that 21st Century Fox produced a further seven films in the franchise and five (almost/soon to be six?) spin-off films - all of... varying commercial and critical success. Okay, enough with the pleasantries, the last two 'X-Men' films were abominations. The first two 'Wolverines' were just god-awful, and who the hell knows if 'The New Mutants' will ever see the light of day. That's 12(ish) films in 20 years. No small feat. Nothing to scoff at. However, since the franchise's one shining light, Logan/Wolverine/Hugh Jackman, in now dead (on-screen, not in real life... Hi Hugh!) and its saviour 'Deadpool' is now in the hands of a children's entertainment conglomerate, it's time to ponder whether or not the X-Men should be put to rest. Or is the pool of material too vast? Does the world hold too much talent to pull from to resurrect this Beast (*wink*)? Or - and this is a big one - is the legacy too badly damaged? A lot has happened in 20 years. Let's look at the facts:

VERY NAUGHTY BOYS...
The #MeToo movement hit the 'X-Men' franchise, and it hit it hard. Of the seven 'X-Men' films, the directors are as follows: Bryan Singer, Bryan Singer, Brett Ratner, Matthew Vaughn, Bryan Singer, Bryan Singer, and Simon Kinberg. Matthew, Simon, you're free to go, but Bryan and Brett... daaaaym boiz! Singer has been accused of drugging and raping a minor. In all, four men came forward with allegations. The last he was heard of was on the set of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' where his on-set antics, unprofessional behaviour and mood swings created an environment so hostile he was eventually replaced by director Dexter Fletcher to finish the film. Singer wasn't present during the 2019 awards season in which 'Bohemian Rhapsody' was heavily rewarded (not by me, that's for damn sure - yuck!). As for Mr Ratner, he's been accused by several actresses of sexual assault and harassment, including Olivia Munn and Natasha Henstridge. In 2012, Ratner joined forces with billionaire James Packer to create RatPac Entertainment. After the unfavourable allegations came out, Warner Bros. ceased ties with the company and they haven't produced a film since. Sorry, not sorry.

BOX OFFICE WOES...
In 2000, 'X-Men' made $296,339,528 on a $70 million budget. Three years later, the budget increased to $110 million and the return also got a boost at $407,711,549. Moving on a further three years, and the budget was almost doubled to $210 million and while the returns increased as well, it wasn't quite as high as anticipated, but still a healthy $460,435,291. And let's not forget the all-important merchandise factor. Then blah, blah, blah, we arrive at 'X-Men: Dark Phoenix' (2019). Budget: $200M. Box Office: $252,442,974. Ouch! Was it 'X-Men' fatigue? No, it just plain sucked. And we know this because in 2016 'Deadpool' grossed $782 million, 'Deadpool 2' (2018) = $785 millioon and 'Logan' (2017) = $619 million. The critical consensus seems to follow the money, for the most part, as well. So it seems that the public and critics have chosen their champions, and with new characters continually being added to the narrative but with zero further standouts (even Jennifer Lawrence jumped ship), is there anything left to hold on to?

THE WORLD HAS MOVED ON, BRO! ...
While it's taken 20 years to bring us 12(ish) 'X-Men' films, it took Marvel 11 years to give us 23 films (and counting). They even have "Phases", there's so damn many! The lowest-grossing MCU film was 'The Incredible Hulk' (understandably, I mean have you seen it?), and that pile of crap still managed to rake in $264,770,996. And that was only the second MCU film. Back then it was just the MC with the hopes of becoming a U, so cinema-going audiences weren't yet aware of the impact of such a film. Fools may attribute the latest offering 'X-Men: Dark Phoenix' as fatigue, but as is evident in the previous paragraph, when the juice is good, there's no such thing as fatigue. Ya feel me? So are we just living in an MCU world and we are MCU girls, or do we play through the pain and find that third wind?

Yes, I'm aware that 'X-Men' is Marvel property, but it's not actually considered "MCU", just MU. Don't @ me!

I'M THE BEST YOU'LL EVER HAVE, AND YOU BLEW IT...
Hugh Jackman is a man of many talents - he attempts to sing, he dances, he entertains, he acts, he and Ryan Reynolds have the world's most delightful faux feud, and something else about coffee or whatever. He's also frequently referred to as the nicest man in Hollywood. That's gotta be a pretty hard moniker to acquire since Tom Hanks is still alive. So, wow! Now, this golden human being has appeared in 10 - count 'em, 10(!) 'X-Men' films... technically 11 if you include archival footage used in 'Deadpool'. But the dude is now 51 years old, and getting ripped like a motherfucker every couple of years is just not as easy as it once was... and it's also, like, really really hard and stuff in general. He doesn't want to play Logan/Wolverine any more, so much so that he killed the beloved character off. And despite desperate pleas from fans - and Ryan Reynolds (mostly Ryan) - I very much doubt a Wolverine/Deadpool crossover will ever eventuate. Sad, yes, but it's a reality we're just going to have to live with. So the MVP of the universe is gone. Replacing him, while possible and plausible, will be risky AF. Fans will scrutinise the shit out it. However, Taron Egerton's name has already been put forward, and quite frankly I think it's genius. Marvel and Fox have created a universe where there are literally now two of every character (yet Logan stayed the same coz HJ is awesome) which is proving to be confusing and complicate for both fans and filmmakers. The next-most profitable character is Mystique, and as mentioned earlier, J-Law has bailed too. The franchise is so stupid now that they even killed off Zoë Kravitz after just one film. She was a stripper and a fairy and Zoë Kravitz. They could have made six highly successful films off of that alone. Fools!

Do we play through the pain and find that third wind?

CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN...
Let's face it: when the 'X-Men' franchise set off, there was no master plan. They didn't know the Juggernaut (*wink*) they had on their hands. So after three movies, when it was time to give the films a bit of a revamp, this is what happened...

(Conversation not based on actual events. Any similarities in dialogue is purely coincidental.)

Fox Guy #1: Gentlemen, we've made three highly successful 'X-Men' films. They've made us a lot of money. I would like them to keep making us money. I love money. What should we do next? We need a fresh angle.
Fox Guy #2: Well sir, there are literally hundreds of characters from the comics we can pull from...
Fox Guy #1: We should have all the exact same characters but younger (not you Hugh) and in the 70s! See what the hot blonde from 'Winter's Bone' is doing these days. I wanna know what she looks like blue. Let's make it happen, people!

This franchise was a ship without a captain. The most consistent players throughout the series' run were Bryan Singer, and, well... you know. And Simon Kinberg and again, we all know what happened when he was given the wheel. Yeesh!

CONCLUSION...
Look, I'm being harsh, but also correct. The franchise hasn't been good for years. I'll admit that I actually liked when they went Rogue (*wink*) and created the multi-verse/timeline thing... once I wrapped my head around it. January Jones was a mistake though. To say she phoned in her performance was an understatement. But the real winners in the shift were McEvoy/Fassbender Stans who got to enjoy a slew of homoerotic fan-fiction of both the visual and literary variety thanks to their on-screen chemistry and off-screen friendship. Isn't the internet just a wonderful place! But it's time not to let Hugh Jackman's hard work go to waste. The franchise needs a reboot and a "Kevin Feige" to pull this thing out of the crap hole it's dug itself; and for fans to pretend 'X-Men: Apocalypse' and 'X-Men: Dark Phoenix' don't exist, just like 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' or 'Star Wars' episodes 1, 2 and 3. 20 years ago we were given a gift, and some of us have weathered the ensuing Storm (*wink*) for these last two decades. We still have hope. We still have faith. Together, we can help the franchise rise from the ashes like a... oh, don't make me say it (*wink*).
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