With the finalization of the Fox-Disney merger, there are a lot of changes on the horizon. For comic book fans, this means that we’ll finally have all the Marvel properties back together under one roof. Something that many have been anticipating almost since the start of the MCU. Whether you think it’s the worst development that could happen to X-Men, or something that’s long overdue, the fact remains that with respect to the Fox X-Men films, this is the end of an era.
And Fox deserves some credit, more perhaps than they’ve been getting in recent years. Their reputation has admittedly been tarnished by no small amount of factors; including poor reception to X-Men: Apocalypse, the loss of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, and the now-seedy factors of mainstay Bryan Singer coming to light. It’s been a rough few years for the X-Men brand, and it’s kind of disappointing to see things go out on such a low note.
While it’s true we still have Dark Phoenix (for better or worse), it will no doubt be the last in a successive series that started all the way back in 2000. True, Deadpool is likely still a thing, and Disney has more or less stated they’ll keep his corner intact. But New Mutants has been put on a shelf and may never see the light of day. Any number of other potential projects (including the Channing Tatum-Gambit film, and the Deadpool-driven X-Force) are probably dead. And the sole tv outing in The Gifted remains in limbo.
And it’s a shame to see it end this way. Because we wouldn’t be here right now – in the midst of a comic book film/tv renaissance – without X-Men. You really can’t overstate the importance that these films have played in starting it all off. Which is why it’s kind of sad to see it all end with something of a thud.
Almost 20 years on now, and it’s easy to forget what the landscape looked like when Bryan Singer’s first X-Men film debuted. Already something of a gambit, given that X-Men aren’t as well known in the mainstream as the likes of Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman. To say nothing of selling audiences on a concept that, in the comics, is built not just on mutant metaphor, but also colorful costumes, complicated powersets, and a whole host of aliens, time traveling renegades, cyborgs, clones, and more.
But it worked. And with the second film, Singer improved. The franchise solidified Jackman’s Wolverine as a bona fide hit (ranking him alongside the likes of Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Gal Gadot, and Christopher Reeve as on-point, character-defining casting). And it also warmed audiences even more up to the potential of all the comic book wackiness that invariably comes with these adaptations. X3 remains the highest-grossing domestic (non-Deadpool) X-Men film; though a haphazard, frustrating entry, it succeeded off the goodwill of the first two films. That positive reputation built faith for audiences in the X-Men brand. And Christopher Nolan has credited Singer’s films as paving the way for his own genre-defining Dark Knight Trilogy.
It’s sometimes too easy to remember these films for their low points rather than their successes. And to be fair, they have elicited some depressingly low points – including X3, the first solo Wolverine film, and the painfully mediocre Apocalypse.
But it is also the longest-enduring comic franchise. With a continuity established back in 2000 and lasting a full 19 years – beating the current MCU by 8 years. For all the (largely valid) criticisms about the franchise’s wonkiness with respect to that continuity, the fact still remains that Fox kept this going for an impressively long time. No small feat in an era where some of the easiest and most reliable sells still go to juggernauts like Star Wars and Harry Potter.
When X-Men films were good, they were amazing. Offering more creative freedom than MCU often has in the past, and the best of their directors in Bryan Singer, Matthew Vaughn, and James Mangold rising to the opportunity. They could be darker than the MCU, without reaching the drab lows of DC films, and offered many poignant character tales mixed in with the time travel, superpowers, and mutant metaphor. As it stands, Logan, Days of Future Past, First Class, and X2 still rank among the very best in the genre.
And though it might be exciting to think of X-Men fighting Avengers on-screen, we still know nothing of how these franchises are going to merge. While Marvel has a track record in quality and casting that could be a boon to this property, it’s also quite likely we’ll see much less of it all. When held separately by a single dedicated studio, we could reliably count on new X-Men films to release on their own with fair frequency. Now that they’re becoming a part of the mass, it’s not implausible to worry that most of the characters will get lost in the shuffle, and that the heritage and world will become a ‘once-every-few-years’ kind of experience.
So for better or worse, this is the curtain call. For all its ups and downs, its flaws and its strengths, it’s with great bittersweetness that we watch this reach its final moments. What the future will bring for the X-Men franchise is unknown. But even if there are great things to come, it’s still kind of sad to see it end.