By: Bryan Banner
July 7, 2020
X-Men is more than a bunch of people with weird abilities running around and fighting crime. It’s about being able to do what you want and help all living creatures respectfully and responsibly. It’s about doing something that is meaningful, and will last forever. I’m going to break down and explain why the X-Men franchise has some of the most underrated superhero movies.
We can all acknowledge that superhero movies have been around for almost as long as we have had superheroes in pop culture. When X-Men was released in 2000, it took the superhero film and turned it into a genre. Some people would argue Batman did this in the late 80’s/early 90’s, but I disagree. Batman had two good movies and then went downhill fast. It also wasn’t treated in a way where Hollywood said, “You know what Batman, You might be onto something. Let’s try to make more great superhero movies!” Instead they just said, “Great work Tim!. Just keep making boring shitty ones.”
When X-Men hit screens it changed the world of the superhero movie, and the following two movies in it’s franchise only helped to reinforce that. They took big budgets, great scripts, used CGI and stunt work to perfection, and casted some of the best actors going as well as giving others the chance to show what they are made of. They told a story of self struggle, battling for what you believe in, and dealing with repercussions of others actions. They showed us that even if your end game looks the same, the journey to get there can be quite different. These are deeper and heavier storylines that previously were not believed to be successful, or accessible in an action movie. They showed that you can put multiple movies together with a through-line that is cohesive and based on hundreds of short stories all building and working together. They were able to get actors to buy into this methodology and stay signed on for multiple movies (some for multiple decades).
I would admit the trilogy lost its way some by the time they got to X3 in 2006, but let’s be honest, in every trilogy there is a point where we all scratch our heads and say “WTF?”. They created a blueprint that Sam Raimi and Sony followed with the Spider-Man films to near perfection. This marked two consecutive successful superhero trilogies. Granted, we a scratched our heads and said WTF at the 3rd and final installment. Now before either of these trilogies were complete we had a little independent filmmaker named Christopher Nolan (heard of him?) already looking at these movies saying, “I can do that, but probably better.” and he did. In doing so he gave birth to the Dark Knight trilogy. Now by 2005 we were in the midst of a nice run of Superhero movies ranging from Disney Pixar’s animated classic The Incredibles, to the politically driven V for Vendetta. None of this would be possible if X-men did not break down those barriers in the early 2000’s. With the rise of the genre, we were going to see the start of one of the greatest accomplishments in cinema history with what the MCU began in 2008 with Ironman which created and interwove a connected universe that concluded with Endgame. I know that the MCU is far from finished, and technically Spider-Man Far Far From Home concludes phase three after Endgame, but I think in time we will see that we are on the back nine of the genre.
If X-men, Spiderman, and The Dark Knight were unsuccessful at stringing multiple movies together with deeper stories than just a villain of the day we would have never gotten the desperate hail mary of what Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios attempted to do with essentially creating live action comic books. X-men paved the way for all of this. X-Men’s success opened the door for more obscure characters’ stories to be told, and for us as a society to start to discuss social issues in a light that doesn’t necessarily pit us against each other. It helped us see the other side of the coin a little easier. X-men showed how we can take hot button issues and repurpose them into a setting that everyone can understand and relate to regardless of what side you are on.
Despite Fox’s best efforts to undo everything that they built, they actually proved what Marvel and the MCU was doing will work. We need to remember that after X3 Fox wanted to shut the franchise down, but Fox also loves money and at the end of the day when that film made $250 million they said “AHHHHH wait a minute, we might have fucked up”…..Enter a “soft reboot”. I hate this term and what it is, but again X-Men showed that it can do something unprecedented. They decided to show the origin story of the X-men which we never actually got on screen in their original trilogy. We were given a new cast using the same blueprint. It began with X-Men:First Class in 2011 making nearly $200 million. Fox now had a great problem on their hands with two successful franchises featuring the same characters that share the same stories. The beauty of this was they were in different era’s. Now Fox was able to adapt one of the coolest stories ever from the X-Men comics: Days of Future Past. Because they took their time and were able to get all the actors back from the original film in 2000, they were able to mold the two franchises into one. This I think was intended as more of a passing of the torch from one generation to another, but that is for a different day. It was evident that with good writing and some foresight, studios can seamlessly connect multiple movies.
Now we all know Marvel already had the plans to do this with the Avengers which released in 2012, but we need to remember that X-men did get there first and proved in a small case study that what Marvel was hoping to accomplish would work and more than likely be successful. At first glance, it looks like the X-Men franchise is a big mess, and I don’t necessarily disagree. I look at it more like a junk drawer. Is it a mess? Of course it is, but there are a-lot of things that are useful in it. The past two decades would look very different in the film industry if X-Men was a flop or didn’t get created at all. We should all raise our beers and have a toast to the very confusing dumpster fire that is the X-Men franchise and remember, at least they are still doing better than DC.
With Love from the Lab,
Bryan “the mad scientist” Banner