When Hugh Jackman announced he would be hanging up the claws for good after Logan, Fox lost more than just the face of its X-Men franchise. With the actor’s departure, the series also lost its heart and soul.
In a perfect world, Logan could operate not only as a send-off for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart (who also announced that the sequel would be his final appearance as Charles Xavier), but as a beautiful goodbye to the entire X-Men cinematic universe. Unfortunately, the world we live in is far from perfect.
Fox is a business first and foremost. While they have shown a willingness recently to step outside the box when it comes to bigger superhero films (Deadpool and Logan’s R-ratings) and insanely creative small screen adaptations (Legion), they aren’t going to stop churning out movies just because a fitting end arose from a story perspective.
While X-Men isn’t currently as renowned as The Avengers, it is still a massive franchise that lends itself well to the contemporary state of the entertainment industry. Almost everyone in Hollywood is hell-bent on following Marvel’s mold of connected universes. Some projects have potential (Kong and Godzilla), while others have left many fans scratching their heads (the proposed Men in Black and 21 Jump Street crossover). X-Men works perfectly for interconnected content, and Marvel proved it with the success of the property’s source material.
When Chris Claremont transformed the title into the juggernaut (I’ll see myself out) of the comic scene during the ‘80s and ‘90s, Marvel put as many X-related books on the racks as possible. Many of the spinoff titles and characters created during that time are still in print to this day. Fox has the toybox at their disposal to keep this franchise alive, but everything lies in the execution. And the company must be silently panicking as they consider the solution to the biggest problem lying ahead:
How do you continue X-Men without its (adamantium-laced) backbone?
First, Fox needs to take the time to evaluate and understand what has or hasn’t been working, particularly in the time since the company attempted to soft reboot the franchise with X-Men: First Class. While they made some smart choices with its casting and the finished product was solid, First Class showed that the studio struggled when it came to maintaining a cohesive continuity.
By comparison, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was built organically from the ground up and is constantly moving forward. With X-Men, however, the series went backwards, both literally and figuratively. The path proved treacherous as plot holes and poorly conceived retcons littered the way.
Occasionally, the result was a great film regardless of any inconsistencies (Days of Future Past). At other times, the stories suffered as later movies failed in simply finding their place within the overall X-Men framework (X-Men Origins: Wolverine).
Instead of attempting soft reboots and half-measures, Fox needs to pick a launching point and never look back.
The strongest asset going forward for the series is the success of its latest installments. Besides both being big box office hits, one aspect that Deadpool and Logan both share is the fact that X-Men is nowhere to be found in their titles. Their giant box office returns proved that fans aren’t as brand-focused as most companies would lead you to believe.
Audiences didn’t go out in droves to watch Deadpool and Logan because they were X-Men movies. They sought them out because they were good movies filled with great characters, and it is the potential of these characters that gives the franchise hope.
It is time for these newer faces to shine, but they must be characters like Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine who resonate with the audience. They must be fully developed from a writing perspective and not just names on a page. For instance, even though Cyclops and Jean Grey are much more recognizable characters, fans have gravitated much more towards X-23 in Logan than they did either of the two leads of X-Men: Apocalypse. This is because the script takes more time to flesh out Laura as a character, and she connects with the viewer as a result.
It’s time for a paradigm shift. X-Men needs to take a step back as a new team comes to the forefront. Instead of a traditional team up, perhaps a Legends of Tomorrow vibe might better suit the franchise as it reinvents itself. Pick the side characters that fans have grown to love and let their colorful personalities clash together in the best way possible.
Maybe Deadpool could headline an X-Force movie populated with a ragtag assortment of the likes of Cable, Colossus, Quicksilver, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead? Perhaps they can even find a way to get X-23 involved? Cable does time travel, after all…
One thing is certain, however. If X-Men is going to survive, it must take a page from its own books:
It’s time to evolve.