Written by J.T. Johnson
Welcome to my tribute to the X-Men film series from 20th Century Fox! I just wanted to make a quick note that I actually wrote this article before seeing “Dark Phoenix”. Even though the film isn’t mentioned in great detail, I have left a link to my review for the film and you simply have to click the link below this paragraph if you want to check that out.
For now, though, I just hope you enjoy my look back at one of the biggest superhero franchises to ever exist as it rides off into the sunset.
With the release of “Dark Phoenix”, the main X-Men film series from 20th Century Fox will end and an era of superhero films that started almost 20 years ago will finally come to a close… Okay, technically speaking, next year’s “The New Mutants” will close off these films, but for some reason I have a hard time counting that one. It could be because that film really does feel like leftovers.
As I mentioned above, I wrote this article before going to see “Dark Phoenix”. No matter how that film turned out, though, I do bid the X-Men films a fond farewell. Sure, they were nowhere near perfect but they were mostly fun and without them, we wouldn’t have gotten to where we are today with superhero films.
Back in 2000, the superhero genre was not considered a great investment by the film studios. 1998’s “Blade” was a nice little independent film that did show there was an audience for these films, but its box office didn’t do much to suggest that this genre was going to be a place for massive mainstream hits. The budget for 20th Century Fox’s first “X-Men” was $75 million and that was only after Fox gave a little more money to the marketing department in order to really push the film as a summer blockbuster.
When you watch the film, you can tell it was shot on a budget. The story is smaller in comparison to other films and yes, the film also suffers from the studio trying to “modernize” it. Since we’ve seen far more faithful adaptations of comic book material since this film, the “yellow spandex” joke Cyclops tells Wolverine about their costumes doesn’t seem relevant anymore.
However, it must be stated that this was one of the first attempts to really take the source material seriously (“Batman” and “Blade” being notable previous exceptions). It was definitely the film that got the studios thinking about their own superhero properties. The movie paid off when it went on to make almost $300 million at the box office. Being a huge hit, it was only a matter of time before a sequel would be produced.
SIDE NOTE: Before I get to that, though, I just want to take a moment to mention that there was a young associate producer on “X-Men”. He was the one who actually helped supply Hugh Jackman with comic books while researching Wolverine. That man’s name was Kevin Feige, the man who currently runs Marvel Studios and helped start up the Marvel Cinematic Universe eight years later and continues to be one of the primary driving forces behind the MCU to this day.
Now, back to the franchise!
On May 2, 2003, “X2: X-Men United” was unleashed and after recently rewatching the film, I can say that the movie still holds up as a great superhero film in its own right. The story was expanded and the budget was bigger with great action sequences including Wolverine taking out a team of special ops commandos in Xavier’s mansion. The movie was another smash hit and Fox definitely had a consistent box office franchise on their hands.
Unfortunately, while the studios were now taking these comic book movies seriously, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t growing pains. Despite being another box office win, “X-Men: The Last Stand” was a far inferior film to the first two movies. I can still watch it with those films, but on its own, but it is a rushed film with too many plot points. Also, in another attempt to make the films more “realistic and grounded”, they completely butchered the “Dark Phoenix Saga” with a Jean Grey that was just mentally ill instead of possessing a deadly cosmic force.
The franchise was further hindered by what also has to be the worst film in the entire series. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was supposed to be the first film that would focus on singular characters rather than the entire team, but this film was so poorly received by the fans that those plans were quickly scrapped. Instead, the next film would be the beginning of a new trilogy and, thankfully, it would put the franchise back on track.
“X-Men: First Class” focused on a younger Xavier and Magneto as they assembled the first group of mutants that would be labeled the X-Men. I don’t know why, but I really hated this film when it first came out and I saw it twice just to be sure. Yet, when I revisited the film before the release of “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, I found that I actually quite enjoyed it though I do think that the special-effects still leave something to be desired.
With the main franchise back on track, it was time for Wolverine’s second feature, simply titled “The Wolverine”. It was a far better effort for Jackman, an actor who has become synonymous with the role. It was also the first collaboration with director James Mangold, but I’ll have more on that in a minute.
After “The Wolverine”, I was hooked on the series again and when I saw “Days of Future Past”, I was blown away with how much I enjoyed the movie. Again, rewatching it recently, I still had a fantastic time and it is one of the better superhero films out there. I enjoyed the time travel aspect of the story and the action was pretty solid all around. It wasn’t long before they filmed the final film in this trilogy featuring the younger Xavier and his younger X-Men, but before I get to that, we got our first real taste of Ryan Reynolds with a role that he was born to play.
In reality, Reynolds had already played the role of Wade Wilson in “X-Men Origins”, but after that film unsurprisingly butchered the character, he fought an uphill battle for almost a decade to get the character a proper film. Thanks to leaked test footage, though, we finally got “Deadpool” in 2016 after fans pretty much demanded that the film be made due to their positive reaction to the test footage. It is easily one of the most memorable and definitely the funniest superhero films ever made. It also showed that an R rated superhero film can work at the box office.
Also in 2016, “X-Men: Apocalypse” was released. It wasn’t nowhere near as good as “Days of Future Past”, but I still enjoyed it for what it was. The biggest problem with the movie, though, is that we were now firmly living in a world where the Marvel Cinematic Universe exists and while the X-Men films haven’t been quite as bad as some would make them out to be, they have grown outdated. This is also coupled with the fact that audiences have wanted Marvel Studios to get the film rights to the X-Men from Fox for a really long time now.
Despite “Apocalypse’s” flaws, the franchise still had two heavy hitters left before The Walt Disney Company would finally step in. “Logan” was the third and final Wolverine film, the last to star Jackman in the role and the second film from Mangold. It was a massive hit with audiences and is one of the best superhero films ever made. It was a hard hitting yet touching and fitting sendoff for everyone’s favorite onscreen mutant and my favorite film in the franchise.
Reynolds then returned and gave us one more movie featuring the Merc with a Mouth when “Deadpool 2” came out last year. Not long after that, though, it was announced that Disney, the studio that owns Marvel Studios, had bought 20th Century Fox. This means that “Dark Phoenix” will be the last major release from Fox due to the fact that it was already in production at the time.
So, what does this mean for the future of the X-Men? Well, MCU producer Kevin Feige has already said that it will still be some time before the X-Men make their first appearance in the MCU. It’s also a pretty safe bet that none of the original stories from Fox will remain as well and that the X-Men will be rebooted completely into the MCU, not unlike what happened with Spider-Man when Marvel Studios got access to that character beginning with “Captain America: Civil War”.
What I think will happen is that a future MCU film will hint at the existence of superpowered people who were born with their abilities rather than made. Then, the mutants will eventually reveal their existence and we’ll finally get a proper X-Men film in the MCU… please call it “The Uncanny X-Men”.
Again, no matter how “Dark Phoenix” turned out, I just want to give thanks to this long-running franchise one last time as it rides off into the sunset. No matter what you’re thoughts are on the franchise, without it we wouldn’t have gotten many of the great superhero films that have come out since. You can rest now, Fox. Marvel studios will take it from here.