Bryan Singer’s X-Men was a defining moment for comic book movies. It set the template for what they would become for almost the next two decades. Some aspects would later be seen as silly or a product of its time, but overall would be remembered fondly. The formula that most films would follow, however, was not truly perfected until Iron Man hit theaters in the spring of 2008. Ever since then, X-Men has been playing catchup.
A healthy dose of friendly competition is good for the soul. It makes one strive to best their competition without being petty or tipping the scales too far in one direction. Certainly, this is seen in the world of cinema, but very rarely do we see it under the same roof. Due to ridiculous contract dispute and film executives hanging on for dear life, such an occurrence has risen among our pop culture world. Arguably, the MCU has been beating Fox’s X-films in quality for nearly a decade. This doesn’t mean the X-Men are down and out. They’ve had their fare share of dynamic stories and amazing entries. Even if this back and forth is mostly fan perceived, it’s fan to compare where the X-film thrive and where they don’t.
15. BETTER: UNPREDICTABILITY
When you purchase a ticket to an X-Men film, you have no idea what you’re about to get into. Sure there are some givens: mutant powers, probably an upset man in military garb, a big battle, and so on, but who lives and who dies, what characters will be represented positively, and what characters will be utterly disappointing is completely up in the air.
For some viewers, a crapshoot such as this may not be considered a plus, but not having a franchise sanitized to its core in an effort to print money for the next twenty years of films is certainly admirable, even if it means we get garbage fires like X-Men Origins: Wolverine from time to time. It just makes the good times all the much sweeter, which is probably why Deadpool and X-Men: Day of Future Past resonated so well with fans.
14. WORSE: WORKING TOWARD SOMETHING
You could easily summarize the X-Men film franchise in one word: listless. While some films do link to one another, most of them share only loose connective tissue. There are no “event” films, like MCU’s Avenger entries. The X-Men films enjoy taking detours from creating something that feels like a fully-connected world and even though there quasi-trilogies to be found, they ultimately culminate to nothing.
Hopefully the upcoming “Dark Phoenix Saga” adaptation will help meld the new X-Timeline from X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past to something that feels like an exclamation point instead of a comma. It would be nice to see the love spread evenly among the established X-Men to give it more of a team-centric tone that we all want to see instead of just being a vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence or Hugh Jackman.
13. BETTER: TAKING BREAKS
Looking at the projected Marvel release schedule feels like going through a checkbook ledger. You’re staring at the titles and the frequency in which they are going to come out (two to three a year, in case you’re wondering), and start to calculate how much time and money you need to budget in order to see them all. Of course, for most fans, this is a trivial estimation, one that becomes less worrisome and exhausting the closer the release dates approach.
However, X-Men films take long breaks between installments. Sometimes this is due to revitalizing the franchise with fresh faces, and other times it’s at the will of the filmmakers. No matter the causality of delay, when an X-Men film premieres in theaters, it feels like an actual event instead of a nerdy obligation, making each snikt, optic blast and bamf feel special.
12. WORSE: AFTER CREDITS SCENES
Marvel has trained us with Pavlovian precision to sit and stay during film credits for a cinematic digestif in the form of an Easter egg, call back, or (if we’ve very lucky) a great cameo that teases things to come. It is strange behavior that has leaked into other film franchises and actually causes audiences to exit the theater somewhat unfulfilled without an end credits stinger. Luckily, the MCU’s mini gala between crediting their stars and who was a key grip are all pretty good if not absolutely great.
However, the X-Men films have not had the same luck. Every post-credit scene Fox has churned out (with the exception of the one at the end of Days of Future Past) has either been confusing, trite, or lead to nothing (so far). The X-Men films have not given us enough treats to make us stay longer than the runtime.
11. BETTER: SELF-DEPRECATION
It’s clear that Fox is quite aware of the fact they have not always made great X-Men films. This is abundantly clear with a jab to X-Men: The Last Stand in X-Men: Apocalypse when Jean Grey posits that the third movie in a franchise is always the crappiest. Considering what happened to her and Cyclops in the third installments of their own series of films, it’s hard to argue with the young lady (also, she might tear you apart at a molecular level).
But keep in mind, self-referential and self-deprecating humor is nothing new to the series. Who could forget the whole “yellow spandex” joke from Bryan Singer’s inaugural X-film? Or the fact that Days of Future Past literally erased a couple movies (the bad ones) from continuity. Meanwhile, the MCU won’t even own up to the fact that Iron Man 2 was pretty lackluster.
10. WORSE: FAN SERVICE
This one is a little tricky. If you give comic fans too much of what they want they can get bored. But if you don’t give them a taste of that old familiar comic booky goodness, they will cry foul and with good reason. Now, most reasonable fans will let changes to characters slide if they suite the silver screen better because of them (keep in mind, we said “reasonable” fans). The MCU does a fantastic job of this.
By and large, the MCU stays in the lines when it comes to the characters in their films. Sure, some origins get changed some, and a few lame characters get smashed into one tolerable one, but for the most part, their aim is true. The X-Men films, however, usually do not care about giving fans of the comics get what they want. Some characters appear in name only.
9. BETTER: THE FILMS STAND ON THEIR OWN
So, can you watch Deadpool without any knowledge of the X-Men film franchise or even who the characters are? Yeah. And the same can be said for most of the other movies that came before it. Since Fox has such a fractured time line and takes breaks between films that last years, each individual film needs to work as a solitary movie.
Now, one could argue that the first three films in the franchise do work as a trilogy (and on some level, they do), but very few events in 2000’s X-Men has any bearing on its follow up X2: X-Men United. There are so many new characters and plot elements that the two films feel damn near bereft of each other. Any callbacks are really nothing more than window dressing.
8. WORSE: STORY STRUCTURE
As much as the X-Men film franchise is listless, the individual entries are as bloated as a depressed recently-divorced dad slumped over in a booth at an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet while nursing a hangover. In short: things are sloppy. The idea of a tight three act structure is mostly devoid of X-Men films. Characters dart off in different directions, disappearing for half the film, while other characters, who should not be the anchor (*cough*Mystique*cough*), hop in the spotlight to propel the story.
Despite how safe and sanitary it is, the MCU has their hero story down to a science. It doesn’t matter that Iron Man and Doctor Strange are basically the same film. They both work in the mold they’ve been given. One might chalk The X-Men films failings to structure due to its enormous cast of characters, but Guardians of the Galaxy made it work.
7. BETTER: ALLOWING HEROES TO DIE
Yes, one could argue that most of the characters who have died in X-Men films make their way back to the screen (sometimes inexplicably), but that does not necessarily trivialize their demise. Fox has no scruples with giving a hero the ax and making it (presumably) final, al la Logan. While this may paint them in corners from time to time, killing beloved characters takes some chutzpa.
MCU’s only hero death was for a character whom, while likable, did not afford audiences enough screen time to really merit a deep emotional investment. In fact, this particular MCU death (it’s Quicksilver, by the way) felt obligatory, like the result of a studio note to help the franchise avoid legal ramifications in the future. Or maybe this character (again, it’s Quicksilver) wasn’t as good as Fox’s iteration…but more on that later.
6. WORSE: COSTUMES
This might be a controversial statement, but if you’re going to omit flashy costumes from your comic book movie and replace them with dull black leather jumpsuits (‘cause The Matrix), don’t do it for the sake of “grounding” the characters appearance if they’re still going to shoot beams from their eyes and control the weather. It’s an insulting trend that the X-Men films didn’t learn from until we got the cool black and yellow suites from the Grant Morrison era of New X-Men in X-Men: First Class.
The MCU has been embracing bright colors and “realistic” takes on superhero costumes since 2008’s Iron Man, which has us wondering why Fox could never muster the courage to parade Logan out in the classic brown and orange outfit even after teasing it in a deleted scene from The Wolverine.
5. BETTER: QUICKSILVER
You should have have seen this one coming. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver steals every scene he speeds across in both X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse. Despite the character’s background and appearance being radically different from the source material, Peters makes Quicksilver his own with humor, heart, and a heft dash of slacker charm. Fox’s own Pietro Peter Maximoff was so engrossing that his spotlight scenes from the aforementioned films are talked about fondly even if those engaged in conversation didn’t care for the films themselves.
Unfortunately, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron is widely not considered to be a stand out character despite the fact that he was much closer to his comic book counterpart. And to be fair, the MCU Quicksilver was drowned out by the other characters around him and was upstaged by his sister.
4. WORSE: COSMIC STORIES
The MCU embraced the idea of other worlds and the intergalactic threat they harbor very early on. From the Chitauri army damn-near leveling Manhattan in The Avengers to literally every single scene during and after the opening credits of Guardians of the Galaxy, outer space has been prevalent in Marvel’s storytelling. So much so that its biggest threat is cosmic elemental titan who will be the centerpiece of the next several MCU entries, or, at the very least, their catalyst.
But for some strange reason, Fox has decided to divert any and all cosmic elements from its X-Men films. Even The Phoenix has been treated as nothing more than subdued power within Jean Grey. There are no Star Jammers or Lilandra and the Shi’ar Empire. No Deathbird. No giant space whale containing Storm’s consciousness…okay, maybe that last one isn’t so bad. Hopefully X-Men: Dark Phoenix will change that.
3. BETTER: ALTERNATE TIMELINES
One of the great things about comic books is that if things aren’t going well or story arcs are getting stale, readers can always rely on a massive overhaul and/or alternate timeline jump to absolve the big two of any wrongdoing. This, however is a little more difficult to do in films. When an overhaul happens, we call it a “reboot” or a “reimagining.” The films before whatever is getting the face lift are often times not considered canon.
The X-Men films, however, not only embrace the idea of alternate timelines, they have used them as a major plot devise and to course correct their own franchise, making it so that if you squint hard enough you almost see all ten X-films almost click into place, anachronisms be damned. But with that being said…
2. WORSE: CONTINUITY
The X-Men films don’t care about continuity. Not really. There are efforts to make the films work as one cohesive story despite being so disjointed, but often the plot holes are big enough to fly the Blackbird through. A prime example would be Professor X appearing in the post credit scene in The Wolverine. What happened? Did the filmmakers completely forget Charles was torn about two movies ago? Did The Wolverine take place in the Days of Future Past timeline? If so, why is Jean Grey still dead?
There are some theories and leaps of logic that do fill in these gaps, but the average film-goer is probably not going to get them nor will they care to invest any amount of time in investigating. The MCU, on the other hand, is nothing but continuity. Each entry has been crafted to work as a part of a larger whole.
1. BETTER: TAKING RISKS
Marvel plays it pretty close to the vest when it comes to their films these days. Sure they will release a multimillion dollar film with the chubby guy from Parks & Recreations as the lead and featuring a talking raccoon to great financial and critical success, but despite how strange that all sounds, it fits the MCU mold perfectly.
The X-Men films don’t have a mold, which has given them a certain freedom that has never been afforded to the MCU. A film like Logan should not have worked as well as it did. The fact that Deadpool, a character that was by no means as ubiquitous as Hulk or Captain America, starred in the highest grossing R-rated film ever released is nothing short of a miracle. While not every risk pans out, they’re always admirable, which is why we’re excited for everything Fox has lined up for the X-Men.
Do you agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments!
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