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Franchise Fracas! – X-Men (Part One)
June 26, 2014Posted by on
The X-Men series is a very complicated one. Since 2000, there have been seven films connected to it, making it one of the longest-running superhero franchises out there currently. Unlike other properties (like, say, Spider-Man) X-Men have yet to be completely rebooted – shocking in this day and age. But that said, the series is far from perfect and have had a lot of black marks against it, including some retro-active “reviews” from online commentators.
2000’s X-Men is a fairly simple film. There is nothing offensive about it, but there is also nothing overly memorable about it either. I remember watching this movie back during the holidays of that year (I missed it in theaters), and, while I enjoyed it, I felt it just came short. One of things that I took away was the fact that the movie didn’t kill off the main villain, Magneto (Ian McKellen). Given that the big superhero movies up to that point were the Batman films and each entry more or less killed off the villains, the idea that the main bad guy could return in a sequel was surprising to me (and given that it is Ian McKellen, we are all thankful for that).
The film went on to receive high critical praise and dominated the box office. This was a surprise by many considering that comic book movies were at an all-time low, the X-Men were a mostly unknown property (to general audiences), and the cast was comprised of largely unknowns or actors under the radar (which is really strange to think from a 2014 perspective). 20th Century Fox was happy, and a sequel was commissioned with director Bryan Singer returning. The result was 2003’s X2 (an obviously studio-forced title).
X2 improved upon its predecessor with a larger and more complex storyline, deeper themes, and a bigger scale. On the other hand, the film sometimes gets a little too big for its britches, and it slightly comes off a bit pretentious – mostly in regards to how too-serious the characters act and not embracing some of the goofiness the movie inherently has. That said, it is a minor criticism, and I do feel that X2 is the arguably the strongest film in the series thus far. At the time, people felt that the movie was one of the best superhero films out there.
Which is very, very interesting. Within the last three or four years, the online opinion of the first two X-Men films have nearly reversed. They used to be loved by many. Now, they are considered some of the worst superhero movies ever made. This is utterly perplexing to me. Why such a turnaround? I have no problem with people revising their opinions, but the consensus seems to be that they were never good and that no one ever liked them – which is completely untrue. What happened? My theory is that that internet echo chamber is ridiculously comparing these films made nearly 15 years ago to modern standards. Does X-Men and X2 look cheap compared to things like Marvel’s The Avengers or Man of Steel. Of course they do! They had much, much smaller budgets and were a part of a genre that was not nearly as accepted as it is today. The success of those early X-Men movies allowed for the current wave of superhero films. I am not saying that gives Singer’s films a complete pass, but you really have to judge these things in relation to the time period they were released in.
After those two X-Men films, problems occurred. Singer departed the franchise to helm Superman Returns. Fox, not wanting to wait for him, turned to Matthew Vaughn. Vaughn did pretty much all of the pre-production work on a third installment before he bailed on the movie. Fox scrambled and hired internet-whipping-boy Brett Ratner to pick up the slack. The result was 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand.
I have a confession to make: I really like this movie. Oh, I know it isn’t perfect, and there is a noticeable drop in quality from the previous installments, but for me, it has just enough social commentary to give the film some weight with enough fun action and character bits to make it a really good popcorn movie. The internet hates this film. I mean hates it. I don’t think it really warrants it. They also hate Brett Ratner for it (well, it is one of many things they hate him for). I really don’t blame Ratner for
the outcome. If you look at everything involved, this really was Vaughn’s film. From my understanding, Ratner served as the midwife.
But, whatever one thinks of The Last Stand, it definitely signaled some bad times ahead. Fox didn’t quite know where to go next with the X-Men. They got a trilogy out of it (which resolved many of the ongoing storyline threads), but they were not ready to reboot the property or focus on the “next generation” of characters. And why would they when they have the popular Hugh Jackman as fan-favorite Wolverine? So, with a huge stable full of characters, the next idea was to do spotlight films on specific characters. Under the banner of X-Men Origins, Fox entertained the idea of doing films about Wolverine, Magneto, Deadpool, Gambit, and Emma Frost (note: up to this point, the first two were the only characters so far featured in a X-Men film).
Unfortunately for Fox, the only Origins film made was about Wolverine (which did feature Deadpool, Gambit, and Emma Frost). Also unfortunate for Fox was that the Wolverine movie was…not very good. Even though it was directed by Gavin Hood (hot off his 2005 Oscar win), critics and audiences savaged it and for good reason. The film had an overly complicated story, nonsensical character motivations, and surprisingly terrible effects for 2009 (seriously, how do you screw up Wolverine’s claws for his own movie when it was done so well for three previous films?!). The film seemed as if it was structured by set pieces than an actual story suggesting that this really wasn’t Hood’s movie and, instead, was made by a committee of studio execs. You can read more here.
Not helping matters was that the film was leaked to the internet weeks before its release date. To its credit, X-Men Origins: Wolverine did feature some really fun performances from Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber. But, it wasn’t enough to save it. I think the Culture Cast’s very own Zack is the film’s only fan.
The X-Men series was in the midst of some dark times, but as history has shown, the mutants were far from over. Since this Franchise Fracas entry proved to be too long for its own good, tomorrow, we will pick up with the rest of the X-Men franchise.