EJ Moreno looks back on Fox’s X-Men franchise…
During the start of the Fox/Disney merger, the Internet took a sharp turn when it came to discussing the X-Men films. While it was never universally loved, the long-running comic book series never had such negativity surrounding it. With many fans wanting to see these characters find their place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the general tone was that Disney would “finally get the characters right.”
That notion sadly diminishes an essential legacy in the world of superheroes films, and blatantly ignores some of the genres best work. Again, this isn’t to say every X-Men film under the Fox banner is some cinematic masterpiece, but the good outweighs the bad when it comes to these films. For every X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there’s an even stronger Logan-sized counterpoint to that.
In an attempt to bring more positive energy to a franchise with so many movies and even more fans, let’s dive into the history of Fox’s X-Men films and why you should be putting more respect on their name.
Kicking off the modern millennium craze of superheroes is no small achievement, and X-Men rarely gets enough credit for that. Yes, Batman films came before X-Men, but those weren’t received well by the time Schumacher forced them into hiatus. Marvel even attempted a small comeback in the ‘90s with Blade, and that sent waves through the industry. But nothing like the first X-Men film in 2000.
Featuring a compelling cast with actors like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Famke Janssen, and Hugh Jackman, they elevated the campy material to new heights. Critics raved about it, and it brought in enough money to have the highest-grossing opening weekend for a superhero film at the time. No matter the feelings on 2000’s X-Men, the film did well enough to garner fans and a great sequel.
For a long time, X2: X-Men United was considered one of the very best superhero films and still holds up to this day. The action is plentiful, the characters feel more established, and it just seems to have way more fun with the material. The only sequence alone with Nightcrawler attacking one of America’s most secure places is a bold choice that sets the tone of this movie very well. Hugh Jackman also came into his own as Wolverine, which would set the character up for a wild journey. Hell, even famed critic Roger Ebert gave this a 3 out of 4 stars, an improvement from the first entry.
With these two movies making such a big splash, Hollywood put trust back into superheroes movies. Marvel was pumping out films like the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie and the hilariously campy 2005 movie Fantastic Four. That same year also had the return of Batman with Christopher Nolan starting his iconic trilogy. All of this just five years after Fox proved these type of stories could play to audiences again.
You can’t just blindly praise something, and there have been some very major blunders during Fox’s run with X-Men. First, that comes to mind is X-Men: The Last Stand. With a change of director, it felt apparent as everything was turned up to 11 with this movie. While never subtle, the messages in this movie scream out to the audience and it gets tiresome by film’s end. Rushing the Dark Phoenix story also proved to hurt them as the iconic villain was underused and even thrown to a side character. It still boasts some great action though, the only improvement from other movies.
If The Last Stand wasn’t bad enough, an even worse project followed. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is one of the worst superhero films of all time, not just in terms of characters but overall production. There isn’t much to add to the narrative of this, but it’s sad the role got off to such a lousy solo run. Hugh Jackman’s follow-up, 2013’s The Wolverine, is ultimately forgettable between the horrendous first film and the stellar conclusion.
It’s not just the films though, the cinematic universe and continuity are one of the messiest. Odd recastings, age inconsistencies, and enough plot holes for Quicksilver to run through, the series gets muddled the moment you take a further glance. With all that said, these original Fox movies and the timeline shift starting with X-Men: First Class laid some initial groundwork that other studios would later perfect.
Diving into the previous mentioned X-Men: First Class and its surprising sequel Days of Future Days is a must as well. First Class plays like a reboot of the franchise but doesn’t lose some of the original ideas completely. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender add something to the film history of Xavier and Magneto, really elevating everything around them.
2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the few real “event films” in the series. Mixing old and new, in an adaptation of an iconic comic, proved to work well and felt like a perfect send off the franchise. All of the stories seemingly tied together, and it felt like the fanbase got an earned ending. It didn’t turn out that way, but we can still pretend like this is the real Fox X-Men ending.
The impact Deadpool had on Hollywood is undeniable as well. The story of this film and the journey Ryan Reynolds went on to get the movie into theaters is quite incredible, and showed the passion of creators and fans alike.
Deadpool is such a beloved character started by Fox and Ryan Reynolds that he is probably the only holdover from the Fox to Disney merger. When asked, Disney CEO Bob Iger praised the more mature X-Men movies. “We will continue in that business,” promised Iger, adding, “There’s certainly popularity” with those types of films.
Logan is an Oscar-nominated film, with some of the most impactful actings in the series and throughout the genre. Following the more adult tone set by Deadpool, the James Mangold Western-inspired take on Wolverine stands out in the world of comic book movies as something more. Much like Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Logan escaped the tropes and labels of a big budget superhero movie and brought real cinema into it.
Nearly twenty years of Fox X-Men, and it’s ultimately come to an end. It hasn’t always been perfect, but it’s been a thrilling adventure, nonetheless. For many long-time fans, this is a massive part of their cinematic journey and something not soon forgotten. Others see this as the start of something new for the characters under the umbrella of Disney, whenever MCU mastermind Kevin Feige chooses to do so.
No matter how you slice it, always remember the X-Men impact and why they aren’t just an essential comic book entity, but groundbreakers in the world of comic book movies!