How Marvel Studios Can Fix The X-Men Films

fox x-men poster

Now that Dark Phoenix is over and done with when it comes to the Fox X-Men films, it is time to turn to Marvel Studios. As the inheritors of the X-Men film franchise, the studio has some work cut out for them. The X-Men films do need some retooling after all, and there are a few fixes that Marvel Studios can implement as they integrate the mutants into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Let the Mutants Rest

Fortunately, Marvel Studios is doing the right thing here, which is hard for some to accept considering the demand for the MCU to feature the X-Men. Marvel Studios head, Kevin Feige, repeatedly stated that there aren’t any plans to introduce the X-Men right away into the MCU and one of the main reasons is that the film studio already has plans for the MCU for the next few years. Trying to force the X-Men into the crowded, but beloved, cinematic universe would be too much.

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Then, after the bad taste that the last two X-Men films left fans with (sans the solo releases of Deadpool 2 and Logan), it is best for now to let the mutants rest. This will enable Feige and others the time to properly retool the franchise and cast its characters. Plus, imagine the built up anticipation for the X-Men. By the time they return, they will have a genuine comeback.

Be Faithful to the Comics and Characters

The X-Men comics from Marvel Comics were at one time among the most popular and revered comic books and for good reason. This was not because of their flashy costumes, and unlike Fox, Marvel Studios should not be afraid to use the comics costumes. Rather, the popularity was due to the wonderfully developed characters and situations. The Fox X-Men films have had a mixed record with the characters. At times they were fairly faithfully represented, other times not so much. Plus, some characters like Wolverine were allowed to hog the highlight and as a result many popular characters like Cyclops or Storm were given scant screen time.

Wolverine-Movie-Alternate-Ending-Costume

It is too easy to allow uber favorites like Wolverine dominate a film, but this is a mistake. The comics were successful because they were about a team with diverse characters. In other words, an ensemble. Ample time and issues were devoted to each of the X-Men members, which is why there are so many popular characters. Perhaps, Marvel Studios should do what Fox did with their prequel films and not feature Wolverine (which happened for the most part) and probably Magneto, as well, at least for the beginning. This leads to another fix.

Explore Other Villains

Magneto has played a prominent role in the Fox X-Men films, usually as an adversary, and for good reason. He is one of the greatest and most developed villains in Marvel Comics. To not use him in a major film is unheard of, but necessary at this point. He needs some rest at the moment, and a well thought-out reimagining. For instance, even though his Holocaust/World War II backstory is very powerful, it makes the Master of Magnetism very old today. Just look at the criticism in Dark Phoenix where Magneto still looked youthful in the film’s 1990s setting compared to his first introduction in the 1960s-set X-Men: First Class.  Another more recent real-world conflict or tragedy will have to be used such as the Yugoslav Wars or the Chechen War.

There are so many other worthy foes that the X-Men can face aside from Magneto. Take for example Mr. Sinister, Nimrod, Onslaught, the Marauders or the Freedom Force. Each of them are powerful, menacing foes with fascinating back stories and motives. Marvel Studios could also lean into its successful cosmic side and introduce the Brood or the Shi’Ar Empire. The latter force could then be used to properly adapt the “Dark Phoenix” storyline.

Go Epic and Personal

 

The X-Men are renowned for their epic story arcs like “Dark Phoenix”, “Days of Future Past”, “Age of Apocalypse” and “House of M”. These stories spanned several comics including other non-mutant titles and weren’t afraid to go big and tragic. The Fox X-Men films often felt like they were holding back when they tried to go epic. One exception was X-Men: Days of Future Past. But they dropped the ball on “Dark Phoenix” twice already and truncated the story. When adapting these stories Marvel Studios should not hesitate in going big. Of course, you can adapt them to fit the film and budget like Captain America: Civil War, but the film studio should not hold back.Age of Apocalypse

On the other side of this equation, the X-Men films in the MCU should not forget to make the films personal. Fox did fine with this aspect for many of their films like the first X-Men, where we saw what it felt like for a young person to experience being a mutant for the first time such as with Rogue. Other films that grounded the mutants included Logan, which explored Wolverine facing old age as he was slowly dying, and X-Men: First Class, which showcased several young adults grappling with their newfound powers. However, many of their other films glossed over personal journeys. A good example is X-Men: The Last Stand, which barely examined the ramifications of a mutant cure. But that was just one of that film’s flaws. Many of the comics had outstanding small, personal stories that explored what it was like to be a mutant in today’s world. This is the core concept of the X-Men comics: how to fit into a world where you are feared and hated. As long the future X-men films stick to this, then they will be beloved.

So, anyone reading this have their own ideas of how to fix the X-Men films? Drop a comment and share your thoughts.

 

 

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The Fox X-Men Films Ranked

All X-Men

Now that Dark Phoenix is out in theaters and ending the Fox X-Men film series, it’s time to quickly look back at the franchise and rank the films. This obviously will not include The New Mutants because it is not out yet and frankly, after the way Dark Phoenix did so poorly in the box office, it’s doubtful The New Mutants will ever get released. Expect it to pop up in a streaming service like Hulu and given what is known about the film, it doesn’t seem like it is part of the Fox X-Men films.

It is easy for some superhero film fans to look down upon the Fox X-Men films and they are thrilled that Disney owns the film rights now. But keep in mind that many of these films are bonafide classics that rank among the best superhero films ever made. Also, it goes without saying that starting in 2000, the X-Men films ushered in the modern era of superhero films that were dramatic improvements over what came before.

With that, let’s get to the films and see how they rank.

Wolverine and deadpool

12. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009):

Oh, boy, not only is this worst X-Men film but among the worst superhero films ever made. How could 20th Century Fox executives botch this one? A film exploring the origins of the most popular X-Man should have been great. Instead, we got bad CG, poor storytelling, limp action, and butchered characters. Exhibit A: Deadpool. His appearance in the film was so awful that it nearly prevented him from ever appearing again on film. At least, Deadpool 2 rectified this film during its post credits!

11. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006):

While the first two X-Men films were expertly guided by director Bryan Singer, this one was not, and it shows. After Singer left the project, Fox ultimately gave the directing job to Hollywood hack, Brett Ratner, who turned in a by-the-numbers superhero film. Not only was it crowded with too many undeveloped, new characters, but the story was all over the place. What could have been a great plot about a mutant cure was rushed. Plus, the famous “Dark Phoenix” story from the Marvel Comics was reduced to a subplot. One would think that when it came to retell the story, Fox would have learned its lesson…

10. Dark Phoenix (2019):

Despite the vitriol from some parts of the Internet, the final Fox X-Men film is not a complete disaster. Rather it is a disappointing adaptation of the classic story that defined the X-Men comic books. It sorely lacked the grand epic scale of the comic book story and came off as pedestrian. It has its moments, such as strong performances from many of the actors, and it covered some interesting ideas such as the hubris of Charles Xavier and Jean Grey’s struggle to control her new powers. However, under the tutelage of a rookie director, Dark Phoenix did not approach the intensity and visual punch demanded by the original story.

9. The Wolverine (2013):

Thankfully the Wolverine films recovered after the disastrous X-Men Origins: Wolverine with this effort that took Logan/Wolverine on a solo adventure in Japan. For the most part, The Wolverine is a well-executed superhero film that focused on the angst felt by the main character as he grappled with his past and the fact that he lost his healing ability. For the first time, Logan is actually vulnerable, which added a much-needed sense of danger during his fight scenes. The film loses some of its magic with its final act that did not match the grounded tone of the rest of The Wolverine.

8. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016):

Bryan Singer is a talented director, but by the time he helmed his fourth X-Men film, it was easy to tell he was checked out. This was evident with the way the chief villain Apocalypse was presented. A larger-than-life presence in the comic books, here Apocalypse is a rather mundane foe with little presence and poor motivation. Still, X-Men: Apocalypse has some spectacular segments such as Quicksilver’s rescue of Xavier’s students and a no-holds-barred final confrontation. During the climatic battle, the X-Men and their opponents get their moment to shine utilizing their unique powers, especially Jean Grey and Charles Xavier.

7. Deadpool 2 (2018):

While not as inventive or as fresh as the first Deadpool, this sequel is still a lot of fun. The Merc with a Mouth returns with even more gross-out gags, outrageous stints, and fourth-wall-breaking madness. This time out, Wade Wilson gets involved in a Terminator-inspired plot to protect a future mutant despot while meeting great, new characters from the comic books. These new characters help expand the madcap world of Deadpool and it would be a shame to completely lose it and Deadpool’s outrageousness now that he is in the House of Mouse.

6. X-Men (2000):

The very first X-Men film may feel a bit dated, especially when it comes to its action, but it still holds up. Most of the major players in the Fox X-Men films make their debut in this film and are immediately captivating. Needless to say, the breakout character of X-Men was Wolverine, well portrayed by Hugh Jackman. Unfortunately, his presence didn’t allow for the development of other X-Men like Cyclops. However, other actors were just as charismatic like Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellan, who both added gravitas. Overall, the film hit the ground running and brought us the modern age of superhero films.

5. Deadpool (2016):

Thankfully, after his debacle of a debut in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the Merc with a Mouth was given another chance and his mouth back. This was the first time a Fox X-Men film was allowed to have an R rating and it earns it well. Irreverent from the very start with its blood-soaked, but exciting scenes and hysterical opening credits, Deadpool did not hold back in terms of gory action, offensive jokes and banter, and lewd innuendo. Thanks for the success of Deadpool, of course, goes to its star Ryan Reynolds, who helped champion the foul-mouthed anti-hero for years until Fox relented and greenlit this classic dark comedy.

4. X-Men: First Class (2011):

After the poor reception of the previous two films, the Fox X-Men film series needed a course correction. X-Men: First Class provided that with this soft reboot/prequel that showcased the early days of Xavier and his uneasy friendship with Erik Lensherr/Magneto. Set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was caused by evil mutants, the film presented fresh incarnations of established characters while introducing new and intriguing ones. Much of the credit for the success of rebooting the film franchise goes to Matthew Vaughn, who sadly never returned to do another film. He brought an invigorating approach to the characters and their situations and revived the series.

3. X2 (2003):

Often called X2: X-Men United, the first X-Men sequel is considered to this day by many as one of the best superhero films. The mutant superhero team are forced to team up with their mutant enemies to a grave threat: a scheme by a bigoted human to kill all mutants. The action kicks it up a notch as seen in various scenes which showcase the full potential of the mutants’ powers. These include Nightcrawler’s stunning attack in the White House and Wolverine unleashing his inner animal to defend Xavier’s young students. The final moments of X2 tantalize and frustrate us with an epic Dark Phoenix followup that never happened.

2. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014):

The greatest X-Men epic film unites the original and new cast of X-Men in this time-travel classic. Adapting the comic book story, X-Men: Days of Future Past starts in the future where mutants are nearly extinct and an older Wolverine’s consciousness is sent to the past to prevent this apocalyptic future. What follows is a superb time-travel tale set in the 1970s where he meets many of the First Class characters. As this goes on, the remaining mutants in the future have their last stand against the robotic Sentinels that are hunting them. Seeing the old and new cast interacting was such a blast and everyone involved with the film went all out to properly tell this expansive story. Simply put, X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the greatest comic book story adaptations of all time.

logan and x23

1. Logan (2017):

This masterpiece should have been the finale to the Fox X-Men films, because it is the perfect swan song to their saga. Somber, brutal and poignant, Logan follows the last days of the title character as he deals with old age and mortality. With his healing powers fading and striving for a quiet life of retirement, Logan is thrust with a final mission to save mutant children. Reluctant to take up the Wolverine mantle one last time, Logan nevertheless rises to the occasion. Logan is a haunting and heartbreaking film that is part Western, part superhero tale and will leave many in tears. Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart gave their finest performances and it’s a shame neither of them were nominated for Academy Awards. By that count, Logan should have received a Best Picture nomination because it’s that great and one of the best superhero films ever made.

José Soto

The Fox X-Men Film Series Burns Out With Dark Phoenix

dark phoenix poster

It’s been interesting to read and watch all the negativity and vitriol hurled against the final Fox X-Men film, Dark Phoenix. Yes, technically there is still the unreleased film The New Mutants, but from all accounts that upcoming film (if it is ever released) does not appear to be connected to the Fox X-Men films and it will be radically retooled. Who knows, now that Disney owns the film property, The New Mutants could be retconned to be part of its own Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), though that is a risk.

Getting back to Dark Phoenix, the reaction to the conclusion of the X-Men film saga has been harsh, perhaps a bit too harsh. It’s not that bad and has its moments, though it is flawed. It certainly isn’t a Logan or X-Men: Days of Future Past, just a missed opportunity, which is sad.

Dark Phoenix takes place in 1992 where the X-Men are revered celebrities with their heroics, thanks to the efforts of their leader Charles Xavier'(James McAvoy) to show the world that mutants shouldn’t be feared. By this time, he even has a direct phone line with the U.S. president. Xavier gets called for help with stranded astronauts onboard an orbiting space shuttle. The X-Men are dispatched to go rescue them with the team consisting of field leader Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Nightcrawler (Kodie Smit-McPhee). They are able to save the astronauts from a coming solar flare, but Jean Grey is blasted by the flare which turns out to be the elemental Phoenix Force. This transforms her, increasing her telepathic and telekinetic powers beyond measure and leaves her struggling to control them and her fragile emotions. Her plight draws conflict not just from outside forces wishing to either kill her or control her but by the X-Men themselves, who are divided on how to deal with Jean Grey.

The film is very loosely based on the monumental “Dark Phoenix Saga” from the Marvel Comics X-Men books, which is widely considered to be one of the greatest comic book stories of all time. The previous attempt to bring this story to film, X-Men: The Last Stand, was a poor one and the latest attempt is only marginally better. Unlike Last Stand, Dark Phoenix is solely centered on the Jean Grey’s story, but the execution feels pedestrian many times. By itself, Dark Phoenix is competent but lacks the true epic scale of the comic book story and needed a better visual and filmmaking punch from a more competent and experienced director.

magneto and dark phoenix

For some bizarre reason 20th Century Fox deemed it OK to give this film about the beloved story to a first-time director (Simon Kinberg) who just lacks the skill to give us the epic story this X-Men film saga deserves. By the time the film series was nearing its conclusion, the upper management of Fox must have known they were to be sold off to Disney, so if they wanted to conclude their successful film series why hand this finale off to Kinberg? Yes, he wrote and produced the previous films and has clout, but allowing someone who never directed anything at all to handle Dark Phoenix was a risky move that blew up in their faces. The direction is very workman-like and too safe. Many pivotal and emotional scenes lack the flair shown in other X-Men films and shockingly the film is shot like a low-budget or TV film. To be fair, the third act of Dark Phoenix was re-shot because it was too similar to another recent film (probably Captain Marvel) and its done quite well, but it will disappoint comic book fans looking for the original story’s spectacular space showdown. Still, the confrontation between the X-Men, Jean Grey and other forces was exciting and probably the best part of the film.

There are many good elements in the film, aside from the final act. Chief among them is the acting by Sophie Turner in the pivotal role of Jean Grey. Her character is the core of the film and it was vital that we be invested in her struggle and we are. In spite of some actions that she carries out in the film, it is hard to see Grey as evil and she comes off as sympathetic. Most of the other actors bring their A-game to the role including McAvoy, whose Xavier must come to grips of mistakes he’s made with his disciple Grey when she was younger and how he let fame get to him. Other standouts are Hoult as Beast, who takes a less understanding view with Grey, Michael Fassbender who is always great as the conflicted Magneto, and Smit-McPhee, who while not getting much screen time manages to make his Nightcrawler a standout, sympathetic superhero with awesome teleporting powers.

mystique and jean grey

Other actors don’t fare as well. The worst of which is Lawrence, who is so checked out with playing the shapeshifting Mystique that you could tell she was counting down how much longer she had to play the role. Another one is Jessica Chastain, who portrays Vuk, a mysterious alien that is invested in the Dark Phoenix. Unfortunately the subplot involving Vuk and the aliens she leads is very uninspired and dull. Chastain basically sleepwalks through her lines and has zero charisma. While Magneto is one of the best supervillains on film, Vuk is clearly one of the worst. The problem here is that the alien angle is a major story point and a detriment to the film.

 

To be clear, Dark Phoenix is not the disaster that some hyperbolic and offended critics are claiming it to be. Seriously, this is not the worse Fox X-Men film. That dishonor still belongs to X-Men Origins: Wolverine. However, the Dark Phoenix story needs to be properly told or not at all. Kinberg probably should have chosen a more low-scale story to tell which would have been suited to his limited skill set. It is easy to tell that Fox and many of those involved were burned out of the X-Men and ready to hand the film rights to Disney. It’s a shame really, the X-Men films had a suitable conclusion with Logan and the Fox X-Men film series deserved a better send off than Dark Phoenix. But the film is OK to watch if you keep in mind the film won’t properly re-tell the classic comic book story. But at least we get to see some terrific actors play their iconic roles one last time and see the film series come to a conclusion.

José Soto

 

All Hail Godzilla: King Of The Monsters

Despite what many critics are blaring, the latest American Godzilla film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is quite enjoyable. There are issues with the film, which is part of Legendary Entertainment’s Monsterverse cinematic universe, and I was hoping we would have gotten the definitive Godzilla film from Hollywood. That goal still evades us, but this film is a solid B, which is kind of appropriate given this can be considered a B-film even though Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a blockbuster event film.

The film’s plot is not complicated. A bunch of giant monsters are awakened from their prehistoric slumber; these include the famous kaijus Rodan, Mothra and the big baddie himself Ghidorah. These monsters start vying for the top spot as the apex Titan and joining this conflict is humanity’s most unexpected hope: the king himself, Godzilla.

To be clear, this film is a continuation of the Garth Edwards Godzilla released in 2014. The events from that film are mentioned here with a couple of characters returning, though this film focuses on a largely new cast. Godzilla was an enjoyable reboot of the Hollywood version of Godzilla and comparing the two, I’d have to say I prefer Godzilla: King of the Monsters because of all the epic kaiju battles. The monster scenes are the film’s best parts, they’re just amazing and beautifully choreographed. Their scale is simply jawdropping. The special effects are topnotch and the super powerful fight scenes are meant to be seen on the big screen!  Even compared to the Japanese versions, this film has the best Godzilla fight scenes I’ve ever seen. Godzilla: King of the Monsters also does an interesting job of showing the monsters’ place in world history and expands upon the mythology shown in the previous two films of the Monsterverse, Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island.

Believe it or not, the scenes with the humans are well done for the most part except for a flaw I’ll get to. The actors like Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown turn in fine performances that are not one-note like in Godzilla. The first Monsterverse film was hobbled with forgettable actors except for Bryan Cranston and he was not around too long in Godzilla. The big issue with the humans in this sequel, which bogs the film is that the humor falls flat most of the time. It feels forced and annoying. We came to see the film for giant monsters not bad attempts at comedy. Another problem with the film is that it lacks a suspension of disbelief. There a many scenes where the characters are right in the middle of intense monster action or are interacting directly with the kaiju and nothing happens to them, even though there is debris flying all around them. In previous kaiju films, the humans were always far away from the action and it was believable that they did not get hurt. But here, they’re right in the middle of the action and nothing happens to them. Sorry, but this is unbelievable and took me out of the film.

Putting the gripes about the film aside, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is an enjoyable blockbuster. It has its issues and deserved to be better but it is what it is, a big romp of a kaiju movie. While not as great as other cinematic universes, the Monsterverse is delivering consistently entertaining films and hopefully next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong will up the ante and be an improvement.

Walter L. Stevenson

Alien: In Space No One Can Hear You Scream 40 Years Later

This month marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most influential sci-fi/horror films, Alien. Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon from a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the film shocked and thrilled unsuspecting audiences in theaters and continues to scare us to this day.

Alien is still regarded as a landmark film that successfully merged two of the best genres in cinema, science fiction and horror. Its success is evident in the way that it showcases a universe that seems real and almost used up in a way and draws us in with its terrifying premise. The movie starts with a crew of interesting characters that are in basically an outer space version of a tug ship called the Nostromo carrying ore back to Earth. Their journey is interrupted by a signal from a planet along their path that gets them to stop at a desolate world that houses what turns out to be a parasitic alien life form that impregnates one of their crew and then kills him as it bursts out of his chest in one of the most iconic and horrifying scenes in movie history.

The claustrophobic atmosphere of the ship gives off the vibe of a haunted house in outer space that builds tension as the crew is killed off one by one until only Lt. Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) is left to fend off the creature. The death of Captain Dallas (played by Tom Skerritt) earlier in the film was shocking and let audiences know that no one was safe and ratcheted up the tension even more.

The setting of the movie is also interesting from a sci-fi standpoint. It is very different from previous films that came before it such as 2001, which had a very clean, almost sterile look to it. Alien basically features a group of truckers in space flying what looks like an oil rig, trying to make a living hauling fuel for a faceless corporation that ultimately sees them as expendable.

Alien is set in the near future (early 22nd century), but still has a somewhat familiar feel with the bridge and living quarters having a lived-in look. The tension and mistrust between the crew members, caused by things like pay disputes and later on the threat of the alien, is also realistic and puts the characters in a relatable light. This universe would be expanded in subsequent sequels, some more successful than others, that further explored this unique take on our future that featured colonial marines and prison planets that always had humans facing off against the insidious aliens trying to wipe them out.

Another landmark of Alien is the design of the creature itself. Designed by H.R. Giger, it is both hideous and beautiful at the same time as well as incredibly original. Its dual mouth and razor sharp teeth and skeletal appearance is the stuff of nightmares and stands with any other horror icon.

The slow but methodical way in which the alien kills off the crew of the Nostromo builds the suspense of the film until the very end. The design of the crab-like creature that plants the alien xenomorph in unfortunate crew member Kane is also something that is instinctively unnerving to the audience, as well its brutal way of giving birth to its offspring. Later movies would add some wrinkles to the xenomorph design but the basic look of the creature is still based on Giger’s incredibly unique design.

All of these unique qualities resulted in a new genre of film, sci-fi/horror, which led to such films like Event Horizon, and Life and even influenced other mediums like video games such as popular fare like Doom and Dead Space that also feature humans in space facing off against similar alien threats. Alien’s success also inevitable led to a veritable industry of cheaper knockoffs that has the same basic plot of space crew finding an alien that wipes them out. Obviously none of them could match the seemingly perfect combination of chills, mystery and monsters in space that makes the original Alien still a classic film four decades after its release.

Weaver’s portrayal of Ripley is iconic as well and served as the blueprint for subsequent strong female leads in movies such as Linda Hamilton’s role of Sarah Connor in the Terminator series, Katniss Everdeen, Kira Nerys, Furiosa, and most recently the film version of Alita.

Needless to say, Ripley is one of the many influential aspects of Alien and among the greatest on-screen heroines that re-shaped the role of the female protagonist in cinema.

The franchise spawned by this movie is still ongoing as well, all these years later. The first sequel Aliens is a classic sci-fi action movie. Subsequent entries and spinoffs such as Alien 3, Alien: Covenant, Prometheus, and Alien vs. Predator were not as well received, but I have enjoyed all of them and look forward to more movies that take us back to this rich universe populated by arguably the scariest creatures in space ever imagined.

C.S. Link