Carter’s Comic Corner XIV: The Curious Case of the X-Men Movies

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Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to see “Deadpool” this weekend, so I can’t really talk about the film in depth. However, it does allow for endless conversation regarding its mere existence. In development hell for almost a decade, the R-rated comedy about a cult-joke character has somehow become the 8th film in the X-Men franchise. And looking back at that 16 year history, it is simply unbelievable that this film is allowed to exist among the other films. The X-Men franchise is an utterly fascinating study, looking at how the series has lumbered on through the ever-changing superhero landscape.

When it was released in 2000, X-Men was something of a renaissance. The last major comic book film to come out was “Batman and Robin,” the infamous disaster that scared off Hollywood from the entire genre. But with Bryan Singer’s taking on one of Marvel’s iconic teams, a new era was approaching. Soon, Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” and “Blade” would revive the superhero film franchise. So is it weird that looking back on it, X-Men isn’t that great? Yes, it handled the Civil War metaphor with class; and Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellen were wonderful. But it was colorless, the action was bland, it was doing a poor Matrix impersonation and it seemed utterly ashamed of its comic book origins. But given the backlash toward “Batman and Robin,” having something decent was a revelation. And “X2” showed incremental improvement and the potential to dive more into the mythos, so it has routinely been praised as one of the great comic book films (it isn’t). Then things came crashing down with the death nails of “X Men: The Last Stand” and “X Men: Origins.” However, looking back, it is strange such a long-lasting franchise was built on such a wobbly base.

Above all, it is strange how small the series seems to think. Yes, X-Men restarted the superhero genre, but we are in a new era. In the age of the Avengers and “Batman v Superman,” where characters and outlandish ideas can seem to leap off the page, the mutant franchise seems quaintly behind. In the comics, the X-Men have faced aliens, dinosaurs, cults and all sorts of strange enemies.  Who have they fought in the movies? Mutants. More Mutants. Some Robots. People. While there’s something to be said about keeping the fights personal, the fact that  it took until films 7 and 9 to see “Days of Futures Past” and “Apocalypse” is stunning. It feels like the writers and creative minds are holding themselves back, not wanting to dive head-first into the weird, creative world of the X-Men. Maybe it is because they still believe that “X1” and “X2” are the standards to which they must be held, but in a world where the Avengers have assembled, it’s time to evolve or die.

The series had an opportunity to change course with the semi-reboot “X Men: First Class.” It was colorful, it had imaginative action with a big cast of characters, it was humorous, and above all it felt fresh. Director Matthew Vaughn looked to usher in a new era of X-Men films, until he left and was replaced by Bryan Singer, who tried to bend everything back into his vision of the X-Men. Granted, “Days of Future Past” was a big improvement from his earlier work, showing a little more of the outlandish potential of the mutants. But at the same time, a lot of the color was drained, Wolverine was the center again, and the new characters from “First Class” were conveniently killed off-screen.

The X-Men are too big a piece of the Marvel Universe not to be used to their full potential, something I fear the current creative team isn’t capable of. My big hope is that Deadpool’s massive box office take in will be a flashing light to Fox that people want weird, they want strange, they want colorful. Hopefully, this is message that after 16 years, it’s time to stop being ashamed of comic books, realize that the Matrix’s mopey, humorless style isn’t the end-all of film, and finally embrace what makes the X-Men special. After all, isn’t accepting what makes you unique the point of the series?

Carter Glace is a staff writer for Washignton Square News.


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