It’s the franchise that kickstarted the modern trend for superhero movies, and it’s still going strong: after almost 20 years of heroes, villains, spandex and superpowers, the X-Men have endured. Dark Phoenix represents the end of the line for the X-Men saga (one that spans 10 movies, two cast lists and one ridiculously convoluted timeline), and although Deadpool lives to snark another day and The New Mutants will eventually come out of hiding, it’s expected that the X-Men franchise will be rebooted by Marvel Studios after Disney secured the rights with the Fox acquisition.
The X-Men have survived reboots before – most notably when Professor Xavier and his talented chums had a fresh-faced 1960s makeover – but this time it’s likely to be a true tap of the reset button. How will the X-Men be rebooted? What form will they take next? Who will survive and what will be left of them? Let’s explore the options currently on the table for Marvel Studios and imagine the potential scenarios which might lead to their return. With input from outgoing X-Men producer, Hutch Parker, who reveals what he thinks they’ll do, and what he believes they should do.
Start a Separate X-Men Cinematic Universe
We know what you’re thinking: why would Marvel spend all that time and money creating one expansive and connected cinematic universe, only to start another, entirely separate universe for their new properties? Well, because the world of the current MCU is already well established, with its own rules, science, timeline and characters, and adding the X-Men to it — with all their outlandish powers, origins and storylines — makes an already complex organism practically impenetrable for newcomers.
In short, the MCU is doing just fine last time we checked — it doesn’t need a whole new cast of characters to continue being successful. A clean slate could work wonders for the X-Men: no baggage, no expectation, no problem.
Hutch Parker says: “My hope is that they do something radically different … I’d be surprised if they didn’t strike out for entirely new territory and free themselves from any obligation or any baggage they might feel they inherit with what we’ve done well or not done well.”
Wait, What? Introduce the X-Men to the MCU Already!
The counterpoint to the above argument: $$$. The golden rule in Hollywood is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — and Marvel ain’t exactly broke. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is 11 years and 22 movies old: if head honcho Kevin Feige really wanted to make room for the X-Men then he could, and let’s face it, none of his Disney paymasters are going to object.
X-Men characters and storylines could be gradually introduced via cameos, Easter Eggs and post-credits scenes, with standalone movies eventually added to the slate and the endgame positioned on the horizon: the Avengers vs X-Men crossover tentpole blockbuster series. We’re salivating just thinking about it. Why spend billions of dollars on a bunch of shiny new action figures if you’re not going to let them play with your existing toys?
Hutch Parker says: “My guess is they’ll incorporate certain characters from the X-Men into that larger universe, be it in an Avengers film or be it in some other configuration, and slowly feed them in as we’ve seen them do otherwise.”
Have Individual Streaming Series for Key Characters
The entertainment industry is forever evolving and conventional wisdom is being challenged all the time. Once upon a time, movies and TV were considered opposite ends of the quality spectrum, with movies the premium format and television the poorer cousin; nowadays, with high-end subscription services and video on demand, the playing field has been levelled — and with the quality no longer so disparate, you can’t even draw a hard line between the two mediums.
No longer is it assumed that a character must be able to score a big opening weekend in theatres to justify its own existence — episodic mini-series, like the forthcoming Disney+ Marvel shows, are a much better way to test the waters and get a feel for what’s hot. Slow-burn streaming series would be the perfect way to get to know the X-Men without the pressure of box-office performance, and with more screen time and individuality, long-form shows would surely be preferable to viewers over an all-or-nothing 120 minutes.
Hutch Parker says: “It’s such an embarrassment of riches with all those storylines and characters that [Disney now have under the same umbrella]. For years, we’d want to pursue something and not be able to because ‘Oops! It’s not in our group of characters that we have to rights to’. I envy Kevin and his ability to play so freely and so well in this space.”
Jump Straight Into an Awesome X-Men Ensemble Movie
Marvel could take their time to get the balance right. They could take their time and play it safe. They could. Or… they could burst straight out of the gate with a brand new, multi-layered, all-star X-Men movie, the first of many. One thing that’s for sure is that Kevin Feige has been watching the Fox X-Men movies for decades, thinking to himself ‘That’s not how I’d do it’.
This would be the chance to make the X-Men movie he’s always dreamed of, ever since he was an associate producer on the first movie back in 2000. There will be a time for nuance and character-driven stories and five-year plans. This is the X-Men! Marvel have finally got all of their ducks in a row – they’d be quackers not to make the best X-Men movie they could possibly make right off the bat. And maybe they’d even look into some of the ideas Fox had begun exploring before the takeover…
Hutch Parker says: “We had a lot of ideas and a lot of things we were playing with [beyond Dark Phoenix ahead of the Disney acquisition] — individual storylines for certain characters and we also had begun to play with another movie for the whole cast.”
Forget the Universe: Start with Standalone ‘Elseworld’ Movies
DC Studios’ tactic – if you can call it that – with their superhero properties is an intriguing one. They tried to follow in Marvel’s footsteps and create their own cinematic universe, but they skipped to the last page first with the disappointing Justice League team-up, and now the continuity across movies lies in tatters – Wonder Woman is hopping through time, Aquaman is now the unlikely lead singer and Batman… well, the less said about him the better.
The result? More interesting standalone movies like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, and the Suicide Squad redo. Projects that don’t rely on the alignment of six other timelines that are propped up by cameos. The bottom line is compelling stories created by exciting talents. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a good mission statement for the X-Men? Imagine an off-the-leash Wolverine movie, unconstrained — like Logan – by conventional timelines. Imagine rich and exciting movies for characters like Legion, Rogue, Magneto, Cable, each as unique as the last, without the need to be anchored by the familiar. Cor. Just imagine.
Hutch Parker says: “Part of what I have come to love and part of what I was getting excited about — partly because of what Deadpool did, partly because of what Logan did, and now New Mutants in a way — [is that] there’s so many different tones and genres to be explored with these characters. And different genres have invited different kinds of filmmakers. I wanted to see the suspense thriller, which we’ve kind of done in [Dark Phoenix], or a political thriller. I look forward to a kind of romantic comedy … there’s no reason you couldn’t take the best genres and tones of Hollywood’s film history and apply that to these characters, and the world. And I think it would invite an even broader range of films that appeal to an even broader range of potential audience members. So I hope they’ll do that. And I’ve really enjoyed both Dark Phoenix and Logan getting to go deeper into the psychologies and the complex emotional make-up of these characters, so I hope they continue that too.”
Dive into the comic-books and settle on a saga
Making Marvel movies must be the easiest job in the world – some poor schmuck back in the 20th century already did all the heavy lifting, you just need to convert page to screen. The X-Men have decades of comic-book history, with more special events, sagas and crossovers than you can shake a stick at – throw a rock and you’ll hit a storyline beloved by fans.
So, which is it? Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men” run? “The Mutant Genesis” story by Jim Lee and Chris Claremont? The ’60s-style “X-Men: Season One” reboot from Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKelvie? Take your pick – just for heaven’s sake, let’s leave the third Dark Phoenix saga on the shelf for a little longer.
Screw the comics! Go original!
How dare you disrespect the pen and ink forebears, who walked so we could run? True, slagging off the comic books is no way to endear yourself to X-Men fans, but if we’re exploring all options, then surely carte blanche when it comes to story has to be a bold, if unlikely choice?
Think about it: with sagas like “Dark Phoenix”, or the Avengers’ “Infinity Gauntlet” storyline, half the butts in those cinema seats probably already know how it’s going to end – and where’s the fun in that? What price a truly original X-Men movie series, one built on the solid character foundations created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but given the licence to explore all-new, original storylines and adventures?
Maybe Cyclops and Jean Grey don’t really click. Maybe Professor Xavier never needs his chair. Maybe Wolverine is… the bad guy? Woah, okay, okay, put down the flaming torch my man, these are just suggestions, geez…
Hutch Parker says: “I’m definitely of the school that gives a little bit of license and flexibility [to the storyteller], because it’s more about the internal intent than it is about the math, so to speak.”
Dark Phoenix hits screens in the UK on June 5, Australia on June 6 and the US on June 7.