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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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