Matthew J.R. Kohler
The X-Men franchise has had its ups and downs. One of its major downs is that for some time the movies haven’t quite hit the mark with the mainstream audience. “X-Men” is one of Marvel’s most prolific comic book series, featuring some of the most popular characters in the Marvel universe. So why is that not reflecting in the box office anymore?
Back in 2000, the first live-action X-Men movie was released, and it was a smash hit with critics and at the box office. This film told not only the fans, but also the mainstream (and, of course, Hollywood) that superhero movies were here to stay (for a long time). X-Men and its sequel, X2, (along with competitors Spider-Man 1 and 2) comprised a major breakthrough in the superhero genre. These films captivated the comic book lovers by staying true to the source material, while also appealing to the everyday person. The first X-Men movie started the ball rolling, and X2 (again, with help from the first two Spider-Man movies) made that ball score some serious cash for Hollywood. In other words, X-Men was a viable franchise. Then came the letdown.
X-Men: The Last Stand might be more than a title, it might actually be Fox saying, “Hey, this is the last time these characters will be relevant.” It was bad enough that Bryan Singer (who directed the first two) did not direct this, but Fox really stuck it to the fans by hiring Brett Ratner as Singer’s replacement. You know him, right? He’s the guy who freely admitted to knowing nothing about X-Men. Not surprisingly, The Last Stand was a disappointingly bad film. At that time, I had never seen so many mistakes from a comic book film in my life. The biggest reason it is a letdown is for its lazy treatment of the source material, “The Dark Phoenix Saga”. This was a heinous crime.
Despite the trilogy (miserably) ending, Fox was intent on punishing us for giving us two great X-Men movies by also giving us X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The movie is, of course, about Wolverine, but who asked for this? The first three movies dealt with Wolverine’s past and present problems. I guess the main draw of Origins is that you get to actually see it, because Fox believed that the fans’ imagination is as blank as theirs. The movie looked like it had a budget that was half that of the first two X-Men movies, as evidenced by the infamous CG Wolverine claws, and pretty much every special effect looking like it got lost on its way to a PS2 game.
All momentum for X-Men was stifled thanks to two horrendous films, and it never came back. After taking a couple years off from killing their fan base, Fox decided to reground the series. Thus, we were given First Class. It is an excellent film, and might be my favorite of the entire series. But for how great this film was, sadly the box office didn’t reflect that. The movie made as much as Last Stand’s opening weekend. After two horrid films, was it any wonder to Fox that not enough people were interested in the franchise anymore? Alas, First Class was the start of bringing the fans back. So, the next logical step was to…erase The Last Stand?
We all know Last Stand sucks, but until I saw Days of Future Past, I had never seen a film that has the sole purpose of erasing a past film. Watching DOFP was like watching another prequel from George Lucas, whose intent was to erase the bad moments of the prequel trilogy. Say what you will about Lucas, but at least he knows they suck and is willing to admit it. Fox just said, “Please don’t buy the third one” and treated DOFP as the third one instead. Well, I guess that worked, but we really didn’t need it to. In a lot of fans’ minds, First Class was a fresh start that didn’t need any of the original cast in a sequel. In Fox’s mind, though, Wolverine needed to be a part of it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make money, because obviously his absence (save for a 5-second cameo) was the reason First Class failed, and his major presence is what made Last Stand and Wolverine such monumental successes. Days of Future Past was the first X-Men movie to receive a mixed response. A lot of people believed it to be a great film, but a lot of others, who were expecting to see the old and new X-Men unite, felt let down that it was just another Wolverine movie. One thing is for sure, though: the buzz didn’t reach the heights of the first two, nor did it innovate anything.
Flash forward to present day. Like Last Stand, the title X-Men: Apocalypse can be taken to mean the end of the franchise. If not, then the box office numbers for it sure do. Last Stand and Wolverine butchered this once-great franchise, and as long as each new movie affiliates with those, nobody will care.