May 9, 2016

Why the "X-Men" Movies are My Least Favorite Superhero Franchise

Scene from X-Men: Apocalypse
As is the case with almost every summer release over the past few years, reviews have poured in for director Bryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse, the latest in the Marvel series that pits the beloved mutants against a killer named Apocalypse. With the film set for release in a few weeks and the reviews trickling in, the acclaim is as big as things will get, especially in the middle of a superhero release extravaganza following Deadpool, Batman v. Superman, and last weekend's Captain America: Civil War. While each of these films all share the middling reviews, X-Men looks to be getting hit pretty hard with one unfortunate opinion: Singer's now made the same film for the fourth time. While this isn't my biggest issue with the X-Men as a movie franchise, it does begin to explain an opinion that I feel is uncommon: among the current superhero movie franchises, X-Men are my least favorite.
There is a general reasoning as to why I don't like Charles Xavier's gang, and it's kind of a dumb one when you consider the gist of a superhero. To me, the X-Men films have largely been too convenient. Whether it's Cyclops shooting lasers, Storm controlling weather, or Wolverine healing himself, there's always been this underlying sense that the entire series is nothing but a deus ex machina. Every character is somehow too convenient for the stories that they exist within. If they don't have the powers to win, they merely call upon their brethren to fit the corners. For what it's worth, most other characters outside of leagues are capable of having compelling stories due to their limitations. It's why Batman has remains such a compelling force for closer to a century now.  There's not much to the X-Men that works if one goes in lacking the general empathy for its many protagonists.
The one quirk that I will admit that they have is that the X-Men have something that is greatly lacking from modern films: camaraderie. In an age where Batman mauls down Superman, and Captain America hates Iron Man; it almost feels like a relief to have a group of characters who get along well enough to save the day. Even if there's mutants that inevitably want to do the world a disservice, there's enough of a mixture of personalities that make up the heroes that it becomes a rallying cry. There's a specific unity that is missing elsewhere, and while there's been known to be rogue mutants like Wolverine, there's a certain appeal to seeing a team work together. It's generally why The Avengers has remained a high mark in modern superhero cinema.
Yet here is the thing: I think that there's such thing as having too much convenience. In 2015, Inside Out was a film that was boiled down to four characters representing emotions. Why is this important? It's because it was revealed that there were a lot more emotions that could've been used, but the writers felt that it would be too distracting. That is how the X-Men movies should approach stories like this. As much as it's cool to see a team with freakish powers, it would also be nice to have different films branch off and only focus on a composite. Give us a story revolving around four or five on a journey. Sure, we may lose the increasingly aggressive and obnoxious Wolverine (not a great use of Hugh Jackman's time, sans money), but we'll get far more interesting stories than having a whole hive mind collaborating on how to save the world. After a few films, there's no real reason to have these characters make more than cameos. It's potentially why people were so excited to see X-Men: First Class present a new group of characters. It needs fresh blood.
However, a giant reason that the franchise in general tends to be so loathsome is because of its approach to canon. There's no denying that the first two X-Men movies presented something exciting, and that choosing to switch Singer for Brett Ratner for X-Men: The Last Stand inevitably was a bad call. The third entry is considered the worst in the entire franchise to that point despite introducing several long term characters such as Kitty Pryde. Up next was the misguided and terribly named X-Men: Origins - Wolverine, which seemed to promise that everyone would get their own origin story in a time where those were fashionable. It was even so bad that many cried foul how it ruined the character of Deadpool. It was a long standing opinion that sustained, with many wondering if there ever would be a legitimate Deadpool movie.
Scene from Deadpool
To say the least, even Ryan Reynolds got on that and made the meta comedy Deadpool from February of this year. Depending on your taste for juvenile humor, it was a delightful romp that finally gave Reynolds a good superhero franchise and even reflected what was lacking with the X-Men movies. Considering that it featured third rate X-Men characters Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus, the film technically services as one of the few in the franchise to veer into something resembling the ideal story. While it was more revered for its lowbrow humor and pop culture references, it also serviced as a commentary on the lack of creativity in superhero movies. Sure, its budget made it at times hypocritical to take seriously, but it explained a deeper problem with modern culture. We were tired of the conventional nature and wanted something fresh. It's why Deadpool became the highest grossing R-Rated film and got an immediate sequel.
Of course, this is on the heels of X-Men: Days of Future Past, which combined the old with the new. The film sought to add characters from the original X-Men with the new kids from X-Men: First Class. The one catch is that it was a time travelling film that featured a lackluster espionage tale as well as serving almost as an apology. This was Singer's first time back in the director's chair since X2: X-Men United, and it almost felt like he was bitter about the entire franchise during his absence. What Days of Future Past seemed to do was rewrite canon by removing certain plots (notably on the much maligned third entry). While it pleased fans, there was something that was inevitably telling about the whole thing: the series admits that half of it is pretty bad.
As someone who can honestly say that I haven't seen X-Men: Apocalypse, I have no comment on how much better or worse the film actually is. However, I have generally found little interest in what these films have offered. It could be the broader sense that I just rarely cared. However, I think that it becomes harder because of how singular and unable to evolve into more compelling stories that X-Men tends to be. Considering that the Marvel Cinematic Universe at least attempts to go to different genres, you can sense that maybe the wide diversity that has made up the X-Men movies could have done with a little more branching out. Instead, they are all the same group getting together to fight evil. After a certain point, it becomes a little soulless.
However, it also becomes problematic when there have been two films now that have praise almost exclusively as an apology for X-Men's many problems. Maybe Deadpool isn't necessarily the best story, but it works because it reflects what is absent from the other films: passion. Even with a cast that has Oscar-nominated talent like Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michael Fassbender; it somehow manages to feel more phoned in than the regular blockbuster normally does. I don't know if the films will ever work themselves out, or merely just keep making apology movies like X-Men: Days of Future Past to somehow appease for wasting fans' time. All I know is that this is one of the most problematic superhero franchises currently running, and it needs a serious intervention if it wants to live much longer.

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