X-Men: Herald Of The Modern Age Of Superhero Films

It was twenty years ago on this day that X-Men premiered in theaters. While many at that time knew of the film’s potential impact, its success was still surprising given how the superhero film has grown in stature.

Before the first X-Men film came out on July 14, 2000, there were many prominent and successful superhero films that made their mark in pop culture like Superman: The Movie, Batman and The Mask. However, the splash they made was not as intense as the one X-Men made. Yes, after those films made millions at the box office, superheroes were the craze with merchandising and copycat films and TV shows, yet X-Men heralded a new and lasting age of superhero films that continues to this day (well, coronavirus notwithstanding and causing most theaters to shut down and film studios to delay film releases). It was not that X-Men was a better film than say Superman: The Movie, it probably was that it was the first genuine hit based on a Marvel superhero IP. Before anyone brings up Blade, that film was marketed more as an action/horror film and most had not heard of Blade. The X-Men were different, they were prominent in geek culture and many fans were aching for a big-budget adaptation of the superhero mutants. They wanted to see how Wolverine would be realized in live action, how filmmakers could translate the complexity of the X-Men comic books. 

Director Bryan Singer did a fine job distilling and presenting a somewhat simplified version of the X-Men. This is not a criticism but rather a compliment in that he and the filmmakers (which included future Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige) were able to strip down what worked in the comic books, which were the best characters to bring forth, and knew what would resonate with audiences and fans. 

In their wisdom, they were nearly spot on with their casting. Starting with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, which was ironic considering Jackman replaced the original actor cast in the role, Dougray Scott, after Scott was injured during filming of Mission: Impossible II. Some scoffed at Jackman’s casting because he was tall, good looking and lacked a filmography that screamed comic book action star. But from the moment that Rogue (Anna Paquin) met Wolverine in a Canadian bar following a cage fight, we all knew after witnessing Wolverine’s feral nature that the casting gods were generous. 

Another equally important casting choice was Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, the leader and heart of the X-Men. Often, people mock fan casting for being ridiculous and unrealisitc. But time and time again Stewart was the fan favorite for a hypothetical X-Men film. Thankfully this proved to be perfect as Stewart brought gravitas and humanity to the role. We believed he was a kind and just mentor, who championed humanity. Needless to say. Ian McKellan as the villainous Magneto was a pleasant surprise given so many doubted his casting due to his age. However, McKellan displayed the same gravitas as Patrick Stewart and was able to believably match Hugh Jackman’s vicious Wolverine with his own cunning and hatred towards humanity.

For years, filmmakers were challenged by the idea of bringing the mutant team to life. Two reasons were because of budget and the complexity of the team. Their storylines were more mature than standard comic book stories as they tackled racism and related strife. It would not do to treat an X-Men film as a campy romp, nor could it be a mindless action fest. The villains were more nuanced with causes that audiences could sympathize with, namely the evil mutants’ actions resulted from humankind’s fear and bigotry. X-Men displayed this naunce splendidly, thanks to solid performances and Singer’s direction.

The film is not perfect, namely in the execution of the action pieces, which feel a bit pedestrian and low key compared to what filmmakers have been able to pull off in recent years. Some of those fights were cringe worthy! But no one should hold that against X-Men and the accomplishment of everyone involved with the film.

X-Men was not the biggest hit of that year, but it did well enough to excite fans and film executives who saw the box office potential of superhero films. Helping to cement the modern age of superhero films in the early years were Spider-Man, X2: X-Men United and Batman Begins. There were fits and starts in that decade but by 2008, the runaway success of Iron Man and The Dark Knight signaled that superhero films were here to stay and be a major influence in films. 

This was all due to X-Men; keep that in mind during the next viewing of this film.

The Tangled Web Of The Sony & Disney Spider-Man Debacle

Spidey out of MCU

AAARRGGH! We fans thought things were bad with the imploding DCEU and Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck’s departures, but now this! Superhero fans are still reeling from yesterday’s news that Spider-Man will no longer be in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). To say this was a surprise is putting it way mildly. It’s a bigger shock to our collective consciousness than Trump winning the presidency in 2016. We all thought things were going great between Sony, who owns the film rights to Spider-Man, and Disney/Marvel. Spider-Man: Far From Home is a smash hit, earning $1.1 billion dollars, making it Sony Pictures biggest money maker of all time. Disney’s Marvel Studios, which produced Spider-Man: Far From Home, is continuing to earn accolades as they sit on top of the box office world. The sharing of Spider-Man with Marvel Studios was for him to appear in six MCU films and so we all waited for news of when that film would happen and when the two film studios would announce a new deal extending Spider-Man’s presence in the MCU.

But it was not to be. Deadline reported that negotiations broke down between Disney and Sony after Disney demanded unreasonable terms. When the news first broke, everyone was out with the pitchforks for Sony because let’s be honest, their track record for their own Spider-Man films has not been great. Sure, they released the classic Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, which won the Academy Award for best animated film and Venom was a far bigger success than it had a right to be. But their last three live-action Spider-Man films have not enthralled the world and the studio was seeing diminishing returns for their efforts, which prompted them to make a deal with Marvel Studios.

dancing emo peter parker

The arrangement to share Spider-Man between the two studios worked beautifully for everyone. Marvel and MCU fans got to see comic book company’s most popular hero be a part in the MCU. Marvel Studios used their topnotch talent to create a Spider-Man that felt more faithful to his comic book source while being updated. This led to a revitalized interest in the hero as audiences responded positively to the MCU reboot of the Web-slinger. His presence in the last two Avengers films and Captain America: Civil War were delightful highlights and he gelled nicely with the larger MCU. Meanwhile, Sony was able to reap the financial rewards of the two Spider-Man MCU solo films, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Far From Home. One would think that the two studios would want to continue this relationship.

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Celebrating The MCU 10th Anniversary

marvel studios ten years

Marvel Studios is certainly on a roll. For the past couple of years their films have been well received by fans and critics and the success just keeps building. After delivering three epics last year, Marvel Studios expanded on that success with the unbelievable reception to this year’s Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.

To think, it all began when a B-list Marvel Comics superhero made his big-screen debut ten years ago.

That character, of course, is Iron Man. Back in May 2008, the Golden Age of Superhero Films had arrived with the premiere of Iron Man. Superhero films had gained prominence in the first years of the 21st century with explosive adaptations of Marvel Comics characters like the X-Men and Spider-Man and DC properties like Superman and Batman. When Iron Man was announced, many thought it would be another fun and entertaining big-budget film. What few realized was that it would spark a phenomenal interconnected film universe that became known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). From that moment, the MCU exploded and captured our imaginations (and wallets). Which is why we are here celebrating the MCU 10th anniversary.

Many know by now the history of the MCU and how it came to be. Marvel Comics in the 1990s was bankrupt and sold the film rights of  many of its characters to various film studios. While this saved the comic book company in the short term, this act left Marvel’s beloved characters in the hands of others who made their own changes when it came to the films. When Marvel formed Marvel Studios to have creative control over its characters the company had a dilemma in that their A-list characters weren’t available. In fact, the initial characters in the MCU where in the hands of other film studios. However, Marvel Studios was able to regain the film rights for all except a few like the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. This forced the studio to rely on their less popular characters and this allowed them to fully realize their potential on film.

Birth Of A Film Universe

When Iron Man premiered, many saw how special it was since it focused on the flawed main character. Whereas, the main draw of the DC films at that time were the villains, such as in The Dark Knight, the first MCU film set a standard where the title character was the primary focus, not the foe. This led to a common problem with MCU films which had weak villains, but fortunately, the heroes were so endearing that audiences forgave the films.

Avengers

There was one thing that enabled Iron Man to stand out from the other blockbuster superhero films. Those who stuck around through the film’s ending credits found out what it was when they were tantalized with the idea of interconnected films. The hero Tony Stark was greeted by the mysterious Nick Fury who informed him he was not the only superhero around. Fury presented Stark with the idea of the Avengers Initiative, thus the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born. This budding film universe was given a boost a month later when The Incredible Hulk premiered. While it is kind of dismissed these days, the second Hulk film was a vast improvement over Ang Lee’s pretentious and over-the-top Hulk, but it cemented the MCU. Aside from its many Marvel Easter eggs, at the end of The Incredible Hulk, Tony Stark appeared, which connected the two films. From there, the MCU continued growing. A few short years later, Iron Man had a sequel and two more MCU films came out (Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger) that helped lay the groundwork for the culmination of the MCU at that time: The Avengers. Needless to say films were never the same.

Here we are at the MCU 10-year anniversary, celebrating it with their newest smash hit Avengers: Infinity War. Many film studios tried and failed to copy the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These include Warner Bros. and DC’s DCEU, Universal’s Dark Universe, and Sony’s Spider-Man film universe. 20th Century Fox came close with their X-Men films but their films were hit or miss.

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The State Of Two Cinematic Universes: MCU & DCEU

This past week the news involving the two big superhero film universes perfectly illustrated their states. For the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) it seems clear that they can do no wrong. This is based solely on the astronomic success of its latest film Black Panther. Meanwhile, over at the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), the woes continues with the latest news that Joss Whedon is no longer involved with a proposed Batgirl film.

So why are the states of both cinematic universes so vastly different? Both have popular superheroes and their films have tremendous talent creating the films. But why is the MCU so popular while the DCEU is looking more and more like the JV squad? Well, it’s not easy to pinpoint the success and failures of both universes but there are some factors. Let’s go over them.

MCU

One advantage Marvel Studios and the MCU had over Warner Bros. and DC was simply a head start. The MCU began in earnest ten years ago with Iron Man. That film featured a well known, but not very popular, superhero. Marvel Studios did not have the luxury of having their early films star Marvel Comics’ headliners like Spider-Man and the X-Men. With this handicap, Marvel Studios was forced to focus on the character of Iron Man and it worked. But that was not all, at the end of the film, there was the famous Nick Fury tease that signaled the existence in the film of a larger universe. This excited fans and set the groundwork for a viable cinematic universe.

Each film in the MCU has organic (usually) references to other Marvel properties that helped create excitement for future films even if the current one was a disappointment. It also helped that each film in the MCU is distinctly different (for the most part) from the other. They ranged from standard science-based superhero yarns (the Iron Man films, The Incredible Hulk), political thrillers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), period pieces (Captain America: The First Avenger), Star Wars-like space adventures (Guardians of the Galaxy), quirky, comical heist capers (Ant-Man), supernatural tales (Doctor Strange), stories set in fantastic locations (the Thor films), cultural milestones (Black Panther), and good ol’ superhero epics (the Avengers films). By being so versatile the MCU never seems to run out steam or stories to tell. Granted, the films have their faults like subpar villains, which are just dark versions of the main heroes, but the focus on character and stories made the MCU so successful.

Black Panther and MCU

There is also one other important factor that the MCU has and that is Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios and the filmmaking version of Phil Jackson. He masterfully and carefully guided each film to tremendous success. His vision for the MCU and ability to carry it out is a big reason for the upbeat state of the MCU. Will they falter? Of course, in fact, the MCU has had some genuine stinkers like Iron Man 2, but it has been able to quickly recover. Right now, Marvel is on a hot streak that has been going on for several years now and the future looks terrific with upcoming and hotly awaited films like Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel and of course a sequel to Black Panther. Hopefully this streak will last for years to come.

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Sorry Folks, No X-Men Or FF In The MCU For A While

XMEN in MCU

Many of us were disappointed when we learned last week that there are not any immediate plans to integrate the X-Men or the Fantastic Four into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In an interview with Vulture, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige stated that it is too soon to stick the newly acquired properties into the MCU and that Marvel Studios is busy with their current slate of heroes.

As disappointing as that is, it should not come as a surprise. First of all, despite all the news in December 2017 about Disney buying most of 21st Century Fox’s intellectual assets, it is not a done deal yet. It will take at least a year for the deal to be finalized and approved by the government and, of course, there can be roadblocks, which would disrupt immediate plans for the Marvel mutants and the First Family of comic books. Coming right out and making that statement was the safest thing for Feige to admit. The statement is a good way of letting fans know to not get their hopes up that the X-Men or the Fantastic Four will somehow turn up in the next two Avengers films.

To shoehorn these new characters into carefully planned films and TV shows would be too disruptive and ruin the narrative flow. They have to be naturally introduced into the MCU because that universe is not set up for mutants and their baggage, although it will be easier with the Fantastic Four. The X-Men property is built on the premise that mutants are widely feared and disliked by normal humans. This would not gel with the MCU where for the most part, superhumans are better received. In the comic books, although both mutants and superheroes co-exist, the way they are treated does not make sense. If normal people distrust mutants because of their powers, shouldn’t they feel the same way about superheroes? Comic book events like Civil War addressed this but the dichotomy still exists. Besides the entire humans-fearing-superhumans motif has been addressed in the MCU with Inhumans as seen on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Inhumans. Last we heard both TV shows are nominally part of the MCU.

Look at the bright side, the time being given to integrate the properties allows Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios to have some breathing room. They can take their time to figure out how to integrate mutants and the Fantastic Four and just as important, who to cast in the roles. Despite what some may hope, it is likely that Marvel Studios will recast the iconic roles. This is a great opportunity for the Fantastic Four who’ve had terrible casting in the Fox films, but for the X-Men this can be traumatic for fans. Also, after the slated Fox X-Men films and TV shows run their course, it would be a good idea to give the properties a decent rest so when they make their comeback, the level of interest will be intense.

All we need is some patience and hope that at the very least some cryptic references about the X-Men and the Fantastic Four can be made in next year’s MCU films and beyond.

Lewis T. Grove