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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Continuing from Part One where I looked at the original X-Men trilogy and the first attempt to continue the franchise.
Seeing they made a misstep with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fox knew they had to do something to right this train, so they turned back to franchise starter Bryan Singer. He (in a producer’s role) teamed with The Last Stand’s original director Matthew Vaughn and delivered 2011’s X-Men: First Class. Connecting it closely with the original X-Men film, Vaughn and Singer crafted an origin tale for Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and ultimately the X-Men. The film, though grossing lower than previous entries, was embraced by critics and audiences. While I enjoy the film, I do feel that it suffers from the same problems as X-Men: The Last Stand (likely due to Vaughn’s involvement), but that’s for another discussion.
I really appreciated that the film was able to reinvigorate the X-Men series without resorting to a reboot (which, by 2011, would have been the expected move). A sequel was soon in production with Bryan Singer retaking the directing reins. There was a lot of fan backlash with Singer back as director. Coinciding with the “revised” online opinions of the first two films, Singer was now oddly considered a hack where as he was previously adorned with Christopher Nolan-like love. It is reasons like this that I just don’t understand fandom. However, the angry neckbeards were pacified upon learning that the next film was going to be an adaptation of a popular X-Men storyline titled Days of Future Past, and would incorporate the casts of both the original trilogy and First Class.
But before they could get to that, there was more Wolverine to be seen! 2013 saw the release of The Wolverine, a sequel of sorts to X-Men: The Last Stand. This is arguably my favorite of the X-Men series given the more character driven nature of the film. It is pretty surprising how strong the film ultimately turned out considering that it had several pre-production issues including director changes, late script rewrites, and continuous revising of the shooting schedule.
Directed by James Mangold, The Wolverine was met with an enthusiastic response from the fans. Surprisingly, critics were not as impressed with the movie only achieving a 69% Rotten Tomatoes score. This is something that really perplexes me as I thought the film would have ranked higher even with the slightly silly ending. But, Fox was happy with it to recruit Mangold to direct a third Wolverine movie starring Jackman.
Earlier this summer, X-Men: Days of Future Past was released and was a monster hit both critically and financially. Combining the casts allowed fans to get a trip down memory lane and push the X-Men story forward. The movie also did a pretty interesting trick in rebooting the X-Men franchise without actually rebooting it. Because they used Wolverine to change the events prior to the first X-Men movie, it effectively “erased” the events from those movies. Instead of disappointing audiences for feeling like they wasted their time becoming invested in the earlier X-Men films, Wolverine still remembers those events, thus they still have impact. I suppose it is somewhat appropriate that Wolverine is the only one who remembers considering one of the major fan criticisms of the X-Men movies is that they were too Wolverine-centric.
That being said, I am not sure that really needed to happen. Online fans complain that the X-Men films had terrible continuity, but beyond a few small things that no one other than the most anal of neckbeards would care about, the series holds up pretty well. I get why they did what they did as it does free the current run of prequel films up narratively.
As mentioned, the film was a box office success as it is the highest grossing X-Men movie thus far (though 2006’s The Last Stand is still the most successful domestically as of this writing). And, because the filmed wiped away a lot of the continuity from the prior movies, future films have the flexibility to do whatever they want and become serious contenders for the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.
What made these films popular to last nearly 15 years? Well, I think Hugh Jackman is a big reason. People love the guy and he is probably one of the most enthusiastic actors out there currently. It seems like he has such a passion for the Wolverine character and the films that it bleeds into his performance and the audience just eats it up.
Plus, these movies do have the edge of having something to say. Some of the films do better than others, obviously. But each have that message of discrimination and look at the issue with the appropriate shades of grey. They don’t really dumb down the situation (even the action-heavy The Last Stand).
And, with that, the X-Men series actually take risks with their movies. They dared enough to try new things (not all that worked, mind you), and was willing to break away from the source material in order to service the movie at hand. Characters have been killed off or given permanent changes. Plot points have played with audience expectations. Heck, even The Wolverine featured a mostly Asian cast – how often does that happen in a mainstream Hollywood summer blockbuster? Unlike other comic book movies (like the Marvel Cinematic Universe), the X-Men films were not afraid to make some bold choices for their movies.
So, what comes next? Already, there are two more X-Men films in development. Currently Bryan Singer is scheduled to return as director for a 2016 follow-up to Days of Future Past titled X-Men: Apocalypse. In addition to a third (possibly final) Wolverine movie scheduled for 2017, there are rumors of spin-offs for the related properties of X-Force and Deadpool (yes, they are still trying to make this happen). Will these films continue the renewed success that Days of Future Past reignited? Anything is possible. I do have a slight fear that, given how Days of Future Past repositioned the pieces on the board, the X-films will lose some of what made them great in the first place and become just a series of soulless movies that play things too safe. I’d hate for that to happen, but I suppose we’ll see. And if that does happen, it will never take away the movies already made. And, for that, I am thankful.