After 20 Years, The 'X-Men' Film Series Added Up To Nothing
On August 28, the long-gestating final film in Fox's X-Men film series, New Mutants, will be released in theaters, where I assume that someone might watch it at some point. It's the 13th film in a franchise that has lasted 20 years, one that started all the way back in 2000 with X-Men. That's eight years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe took over the world and changed how we make superhero films (and their many, many sequels) forever. That's also eight years before The Dark Knight came out, and we decided, as a culture, that some of these mask n' cape adventures were maybe worthy of some big awards. Hell, it was two years before Spider-Man, which was the first film to make over $100 million in a single weekend, a record that ensured that no year would ever go by again without at least one spandex-clad hero on the big screen.
And yet, it's hard to feel sad or even nostalgic about it. The X-Men franchise had a weird habit of fading in and out of relevance, usually relying on Hugh Jackman to consume an insane amount of chicken and rice and return as an even more shredded Wolverine than before to revitalize interest.
In hindsight, it's staying power seems less like the ironclad determination of creative visionaries to keep it afloat and exciting and more like Fox's lucky ability to hang onto the characters' movie rights. But now Twentieth Century Fox has been absorbed, as all things will be, by Disney and New Mutants, a film that was supposed to come out about a half a dozen times already is finally being quietly dumped into existence.
But let's look back at the beginning. The first film is a blend of Matrix-era action scenes and self-aware "If you think this comic book stuff is silly, then we also think it's silly, but if you think it's cool, then we also think it's kinda cool, too" humor that you can still find strands of in the MCU. X2 is legitimately quite good, with its opening sequence of Nightcrawler attacking the White House ...
... being maybe the best thing the franchise has ever done. And in 2006, the trilogy was rounded off with X-Men: The Last Stand, a big, dumb flick that is never quite sure if it's ending the series or pausing the series or just has "The Last Stand" in the title in the same way that Friday the 13th Part 4 has "The Final Chapter" in its.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine would follow, cashing in on the franchise's most notable (and marketable) aspect -- Just how goddamn charming Hugh Jackman is. However, any of the originality found in other "This is how the superhero got all super and shit" tales like Batman Begins is missing here, and Origins mostly serves as a parade of mutants that Fox could never really find a place for in their other movies.
Except for this version of Deadpool, who they knew to place right into the trash.
It's even more underwhelming when you consider that, just two years later, Fox made ANOTHER "This is how the superhero got all super and shit" movie with X-Men: First Class, which really benefited from a dedicated, talented cast and Matthew Vaughn's energetic direction.
Next up was The Wolverine, which might be the most underrated film in the series, if only because I'm writing this sentence after I've already written the next one since I forgot it was a movie for a second. However, by this point, the MCU was running at full steam, so of course, the sequel would be a crossover. X-Men: Days of Future Past isn't terrible, but it doesn't feel as grand as it should. That said, it did introduce us to something that would make it and its terrible sequel Apocalypse worth watching (or at least worth looking up on YouTube): Quicksilver doin' stuff.
Between them, we got Deadpool, a film built off Ryan Reynold's consistent pleas to get an actual Deadpool movie made, and then, as if to thank Hugh Jackman for spending the best years of his life weightlifting and dieting, Logan was released to give him a grand, sad role to chew on. Then, finally, Deadpool 2 and Dark Phoenix, with the former seemingly indicating that the X-Men series had a lot of fresh new places to go, while the latter, being a remake of a film in the same series as it (written and directed by the guy that co-wrote the awful original), shut that notion down wholly.
And now we're here, with a film named New Mutants being the last entry in what can best be described as a mixed bag. But regardless of quality, it's been quite a ride. Hugh Jackman, please eat a slice of pie or something. Or maybe a carb with dinner. You've earned it, my dude.
Daniel Dockery is a writer for the internet. You can follow him on Twitter.