While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has produced consistently strong films, Fox’s “X-Men” series has had a far weaker hitting average. For every “X2” and “First Class,” there’s a “Last Stand” or an “Origins: Wolverine.” With “X-Men: Apocalypse” getting a decidedly mixed reception since it opened May 27, it’s time to look closer at Marvel’s team of mutants and examine what isn’t working. Here’s our suggestions for what’s wrong with “X-Men.”
Let’s start with a continuity problem. There are decade-long gaps between the events of “First Class,” “Days of Future Past,” and “Apocalypse,” but there’s no indication in any of these films that the characters are aging. Professor X looks just as boyishly handsome in 1983 as he does in 1962. While “First Class” tied its plot into the Cuban Missile Crisis, “Apocalypse” doesn’t use the ’80s for anything but cultural cues.
Reduced Plot Impact:
More importantly, these timeline jumps decrease the stakes for the films. Yes, Xavier is a pacifist, but shouldn’t it have taken more than two decades and an apocalyptic threat for the X-Men to be formed? Shouldn’t these characters have been affected more by being involved in the human-mutant conflict for so long? The time jumps in recent “X-Men” films feel arbitrary and eliminate the feeling that human-mutant relations are so strained they could break out into disaster at any given moment.
The thematic core of the “X-Men” series is the philosophical conflict between Professor X and Magneto. It has been mined to great success since the series began, but now it’s starting to become a crutch. How many times can Magneto’s anguish and Xavier’s futile attempts to save him be rehashed?
Magneto Death Toll:
“Apocalypse” pushes it too far by having Magneto be responsible for the deaths of countless people. He’s never held responsible for it because, once again, the X-Men “redeem” him so he can be available for future plots. By constantly going back to Magneto for pathos, the films have caused his once compelling tragic arc to go stale.
Rather than focus solely on being good on their own, “X-Men” films are now going out of their way to set up future films at the expense of a tight plot. For all its strengths, “Days of Future Past” has irrevocably messed up the timeline, retconning “bad” films like “Origins” and “The Last Stand” from continuity while creating huge plot holes in the good ones. It’s part of an attempt to create a cinematic universe with all these films akin to what Disney has done with Marvel. Instead, the attempts to thread the Stewart/McKellen era with the McAvoy/Fassbender era has created a confusing overarching storyline that causes the films to clash instead of blend.
Pointless Wolverine Cameo:
Another example of franchise building over plot is Wolverine’s cameo in “Apocalypse.” It advances the plot slightly, but is mainly there to get people hyped for Hugh Jackman‘s final film in the role due out next year. Wolverine is there because people expect him to be in an “X-Men” film, not because the story needs him.
Why are you even here?:
At least Wolverine had some sort of purpose. Sometimes, these films include mutants simply for the sake of showing off their powers. Storm, once a prominent member of the series when played by Halle Berry, just takes up space in “Apocalypse.” Deadpool’s appearance in “Origins” was only for hype and ended up betraying that character’s appeal by sealing his mouth shut midway through the film.
Speaking of Deadpool, the success of his spinoff film lampoons the tone that the main “X-Men” films still tend to adhere by. Long speeches about heroism and brooding, serious characters are so played out that films like “Deadpool” are satirizing them. Yet “X-Men” keeps plowing forward with that tone, only occasionally stopping to lighten the mood with characters like Quicksilver. “X-Men” has yet to consistently find the balance between light comedy and serious drama that the Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps managing to hit.
Getting left behind:
When “X-Men” came out in 2000, it achieved success by being the first film to show a huge team of superheroes in live-action on a scale never seen before. Now that novelty has worn off, but “X-Men” hasn’t done enough to keep up with the times.
While films like “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man” ruminated on the dangers of power and the struggle between hope and nihilism, “X-Men” kept banking on Wolverine’s visceral appeal with “Origins.”
While “Captain America: Civil War” drew attention to the unintended consequences of superhero fights and to the innocent people caught in the crossfire, recent X-Men films “Apocalypse” showed widespread destruction of cities, casually showing the deaths of millions of people from far away and only bringing the camera back down to Earth to show the mutants do battle after normal people got buried in the rubble.
Hollow Action Scenes:
When “X-Men” focuses on the impact the events in their films affect individuals, we get great films like “First Class.” When it tries to raise the stakes with hollow action scenes, widespread destruction, and promises of timeline-shaking consequences, it fails. Fox needs to abort the attempts to have a “cinematic universe” and simply focus on creating great stories that give meaning to every mutant that appears in an “X-Men” film.