This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on March 21, 2017.
Last week we wrote about how Fox Studios was creating a new model for their superhero franchise, the X-Men. (Sorry, not sorry, Fantastic Four) In the past year Fox has done some pretty impressive work both reinventing one of the oldest sets of superheroes on the big screen and carving out their own niche to compete against Marvel Studios. It’s a great start, but it’s still just that: a start. So what comes next for Fox and the X-Men?
This week we examine that question and make some predictions about the next few years may hold for X-Men, both in film and on television. This isn’t a gambler’s guide to X-Men movies. We’re not betting on any specific characters or conflicts. Instead, we’re taking a look at what has succeeded recently and how Fox Studios might capitalize on these trends to continue that success. These are predictions based on optimism as much as they’re based on accuracy. However, there’s no reason to believe any of them are unlikely given how things are going. If Fox Studios is paying attention, and all of us X-Men fans are lucky, then this is what the future of the franchise will hold.
The conversation surrounding superhero films, especially Fox’s supehero films, at this moment is all about the R-rating. Fox broke that taboo last year with Deadpool and did it again with Logan, only to be rewarded in both instances. It’s clear that an R-rating won’t kill a superhero movie, but that’s not the main lesson to be learned either. What the studio should be recognizing is that both of these films were unlike anything that had come before and found an audience both by being well made and entirely unique.
This is a lesson that applies to Legion as well. It’s a mature show that has succeeded due to its unique visual sensibility and a storyline that’s unlike any other superhero-related show on television. The connective thread between all of these successes is that they are experimenting with what the superhero is, both in style and genre. Whether it’s the inclusion of madcap comedy, classic Westerns, or psychedelics, they experiment. So it only makes sense that Fox would continue to do so. This could be in the form of a Dazzler focused musical or a Nightcrawler focused pulp adventure or a dozen other ideas. The key is that Fox will continue to surprise us and avoid formulas.
More Solo Films
If you’re not a long time X-Men fan, one thing you’ll discover is the wide array of favorite characters that different readers possess. Wolverine is obviously the biggest one in Hollywood, but in the comics it seems like there’s a significant fanbase for at least two dozen mutants. We already mentioned Nightcrawler and Dazzler, but there’s also classics like Storm and Shadowcat and cult favorites like Fantomex. Heck, even Cyclops has some very, very devoted fans. The X-Men make a great team, but most of them also manage to function very well as individual characters.
Looking at the past year, it’s clear that pulling out these individual strengths has made for a very strong franchise. Both Logan and Deadpool play their leads off of some other notable mutants, but are focused primarily on a single character and the sort of story that allows them to work best. This is a great strategy for the studio too because it allows them to build the shared universe while growing individual franchises. Small elements like Xavier’s Academy may be dropped in without ever slowing down a Deadpool movie. This focus on unique characters offers more opportunities for expansion and less restrictions when trying to introduce favorite individual X-Men.
More Political Stories
The X-Men have always traded in political narratives when at their most successful. While Chris Claremont and his collaborators built the franchise into a powerhouse at Marvel Comics, they played heavily with themes of discrimination and racism in the United States. Politics is as much a part of the X-Men’s DNA as the genes that make them mutants. The success of both Logan and Legion have shown there’s an audience for more political stories, as well. And if you doubt that, well, just consider this spoiler from Logan…
At the end of Logan, a bunch of immigrant children gather around a rich, Southern soldier who dehumanized them as a group and brutally murder him. And this scene is clearly established as one of the biggest victories of the entire film. Logan is undoubtedly a political film and its politics are pretty clear.
This isn’t to say the films should go in any particular direction, but that they would be smart to avoid the generally apolitical messaging of Marvel Studios. The X-Men have always been steeped in controversy and the struggles of their day. Embracing these narratives and exploring them is a smart move and one that will allow Fox to tell superhero stories other studios can’t or won’t tackle.
And here we arrive at the most unpredictable prediction of the lot: What happens to the team films? As much as we love individual X-Men with their own eccentricities and leanings, the X-Men are still a team. It seemed like X-Men: First Class had created a perfect new launching point for the franchise, but it had already been ruined by the third installment of X-Men: Apocalypse in what seems to be history repeating itself. So what can Fox do with the team now?
One word: Relaunch. It’s clear that X-Men movie fans don’t crave continuity. The past few team films barely hang together and none of the solo outings work without awarding a whole lot of no prizes. So the best answer is to start over once more rather than attempt to fix something as broken as Bryan Singer’s last film. Pick the X-Men you want, the time period you want, and the story you want, then make the best team movie possible. If the past year and these previous predictions show us anything, it’s that fans want a great superhero movie above all else.
The core of all of our predictions, including this relaunch (soft or hard) is that Fox Studios has learned this lesson and will be focusing on telling great X-Men stories going ahead, not worried about how the franchise fits together.