Fox's X-Men franchise provided fans with 20 years of some of the best and worst superhero films of their era. Logan, after all, was nominated for an Oscar. However, as time went on, it became clear that Fox could only consistently entertain fans with three characters: Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto. Beyond that? It took Ryan Reynolds campaigning for years before they let him do Deadpool (to critical and financial success), Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique got less interesting in every subsequent film and they released some of the worst movies in superhero history (The Last Stand, Origins: Wolverine, Dark Phoenix).
With Disney now owning Fox's Marvel assets, plans are underway to incorporate the mutants into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite all the highs of the X-Men franchise, the bar is set very low.
What Did the Franchise Do Right?
The X-Men franchise under Fox was not all bad. In fact, many of the films were quite amazing. X2, First Class, Days of Future Past, the Deadpool films and Logan are all great superhero films. Many proved successful even in an era where superhero films were less than popular.
In regards to characters, the films brought several iconic mutants to life. To say that Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is one of the most iconic film characters of all time is an understatement. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen did a marvelous job as Professor X and Magneto, respectively, but James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender performed marvelously as younger versions of the same characters.
They weren't the only ones to turn in terrific performances. Ryan Reynolds, Kelsey Grammer, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Liev Schreiber, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult and Kevin Bacon all do a terrific job playing their characters, even when those characters are given little to work with.
Too Much in Too Little Time
The biggest issue with the X-Men franchise, however, is that the films have too much crammed into them, with no time to properly incorporate them all. Fox tried to include every fan-favorite mutant in their films, even when said characters had little to contribute to the plot. Fans of Gambit and Bishop were probably annoyed to see their favorite characters reduced to forgettable side roles.
Because the films center on only a few characters, the rest feel unnecessary. They contributed little and their stories don't matter. Because of this, the world and characters feel superficial.
Compare this to the MCU, where even small characters feel imbued with life. Shuri has a couple lines in Avengers: Infinity War and none in Avengers: Endgame, yet audiences feel emotionally connected to her thanks to her substantial role in Black Panther. Even then, in the two Avengers films, Shuri plays a small but memorable role, first by trying to remove Vision's Mind Stone, then by joining T'Challa and the rest in the final battle.
Compare Shuri to Gambit. Gambit appears more in X-Men Origins: Wolverine than Shuri does in either Avengers film combined, yet he has little presence. He has no character development and no stake in anything. He is dragged into the plot, pushed to the side whenever Wolverine needs to do something and really only serves as a vehicle to get Wolverine from Point A to Point B.
If you replaced Gambit with, say, Blob, would the story really be any different?
Loyalty to the Comics
It's ironic the Fox films tried so hard to use characters popular in the comics. After all, they seemed to shy away from the comics whenever possible. The leather suits were adopted because Singer didn't think the comic-accurate suits would look right on screen.
Some might excuse this. Singer directed X-Men in a different era, before comic-accurate suits became commonplace. After all, no one else was using comic-accurate suits in superhero films at the time. That is, of course, unless you were Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Swamp-Thing, Spawn or Wonder Woman. When people say that superhero films didn't use comic-accurate suits, it's hard to imagine which superhero films they're referring to. The only superhero movies to really detour from the comic book aesthetic were Steel, Blade and Batman & Robin.
But it isn't just the suits. The characters didn't act like they did in the source material. Save for a few, like Professor X or Magneto, many characters just shared the same name as their comic counterparts. Are Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Storm or even Jean Grey anything like their comic book counterparts? How about Mystique, especially once Jennifer Lawrence took the role? Moira MacTaggert goes from being a brilliant scientist with the mutant Proteus for a son to a CIA Agent. Is she anything like her original comic book counterpart? How about Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine?
Of course, it isn't always a bad thing to take liberties. Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is far more heroic in most of his films than the comic version of Logan. Stryker is barely like his comic counterpart. Yet these characters worked quite well on-screen. Fortunately, if Marvel wants to adapt the comic characters, they have a low bar to clear.
What's Fox's Legacy?
Fox helped pioneer the superhero genre in the early years; they made some really great films. However, with every passing year, it became increasingly clear that the genre they helped pioneer had moved past them. They remained, for the most part, a relic of the past. The later films in the franchise lost even the core pull of the mutants: They are hated and feared, yet defend mankind. Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix are just light shows featuring names we think sound familiar.
The series really should have ended with Logan. It offered a good cap on the whole saga by ending the stories of every character we cared for.
Marvel has the chance to really approach the mutants from a new angle. Let the various characters come to life in ways we've never seen before without the weight of yesteryear holding them back. Fox's X-Men left a low bar for Marvel to clear. This is very good news for the future of our favorite mutants.