Why I Love Fox’s Much-Maligned X-Men Franchise

In 1963, Marvel’s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby launched a new comic book series: X-Men. The series focuses on a fictional subspecies of humans named mutants, who possess the X-Gene in their DNA which causes them to develop superhuman abilities which generally manifest during adolescence. The stories traditionally focus on a particular group of mutants – the X-Men – in their fight for acceptance and equality in a world where hate, discrimination and bigotry towards mutants are rife. The X-Men are traditionally led by Professor Charles Xavier, alias Professor X, who strives for peace and understanding between mutants and humans. They are often antagonised by Max Eisenhardt, alias Erik Lehnsherr or Magneto. He has felt the wrath of humanity all his life and, as a result, has a more extreme ideology. He sees humans as a threat to mutants’ very existence and is willing to use whatever force possible to fight back. In the mid-’90s, 20th Century Fox obtained the film rights to the franchise from a financially-struggling Marvel. On 14th July 2000, the first film enjoyed its public release, changing the landscape of superhero movies forever.

Some of the characters from the 1992 X-Men cartoon standing in a line looking up at the sky.
The final shot from the 1992 animated series. Now with improved animation.

If I’m frank, I never took much notice of the X-Men franchise as a youngster. I had no active interest in comic books and didn’t go out of my way to watch the ’92 animated series. I could name the main characters and tell you their abilities, but further details were beyond me. I would be going into the films with a clean slate and none of the expectations that die-hard comic book fans would naturally have developed. When I saw the trailer for the first film – simply titled X-Men – I was in awe, and my interest was piqued. However, I wasn’t a frequent cinema-goer, so I had to wait until it was released on home video. In March 2001, that moment finally came; I excitedly went to the local Tesco and spent my saved up pocket money on the VHS. I vividly recall it having a silver-coloured clamshell case and shiny artwork. I couldn’t wait to get home and watch it on the 14″ portable TV in my bedroom… for a truly cinematic experience(!).

A young Erik Lehnsherr is distressed as he is pulled away from his parents at Auschwitz.
In one of the first scenes in the franchise, a young Jewish boy becomes forcibly separated from his family.

Mutation: it is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward…

Professor Charles Xavier

The film begins with the above narration from the Professor – played by the ever-wonderful Sir Patrick Stewart – describing the basic premise of mutation, accompanied by some pretty visuals. These visuals then transition into the opening titles whilst the theme tune plays – a theme that never fails to recapture that initial feeling of excitement. The first proper scene is genuinely horrifying, and it instantly removes any doubt that this is a kids’ film. The film begins in 1944 Poland. The Nazis are herding the Jews to their deaths at Auschwitz. We focus on a young boy who becomes forcibly separated from his parents. His distress causes him to lose control of his power, and it becomes clear to the viewer that he can control metal by manipulating magnetic fields. He uses his ability to rip and bend the camp gates and fences just before a worker knocks him out. This boy will become the antagonist in the film – Magneto. I found this scene incredibly difficult to watch, and it still affects me every time I rewatch it. Still, it’s hugely important as it creates the required empathy for the character to help you understand his backstory and the events that have shaped his extreme views. He isn’t your average moustache-twirling villain seeking world domination – he’s just experienced the worst of humanity. He wants to make the world a safer place for his fellow mutants. Stances like this are something I truly love about these films – characters aren’t simply black or white – they feel like real people with layers. I am fond of that morally ambiguous grey area between black and white in other stories. Once I’d had my premiere viewing of the first film, I was a convert. I wanted more. I even started watching the various animated adaptations regularly to learn more about the franchise.

While I didn’t fully understand the link when I was younger, I felt like I could relate and connect with these films. I think this is because I was somebody who had to grow up being mistreated just for being different. Stan Lee has previously stated that he conceived the X-Men as a metaphor for the Civil Rights Movement – and it makes perfect sense. Everyone who has ever been treated differently for their skin colour, race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, neurotype, ability or otherwise will be able to relate emotionally to the underlying battle in the X-Men franchise. It’s a powerful link and an interesting take on the superhero genre.

Matilda uses her powers to have some fun in the living room as playing cards and poker chips fly around her.
Matilda having some fun with her powers.

The addition of superpowers is a bonus for me – I’ve always been drawn to anything where people have special abilities, such as Matilda or Escape to Witch Mountain. What child hasn’t dreamed of being able to fly, walk through walls or lift objects with their mind? As a child, I vividly remember sitting in my bedroom, trying desperately hard to move a small item with my eyes. Sadly, I had to give up on that pipe dream.

I was grateful that the films toned down the colourful superhero costumes worn in the comic books. I feel it would have clashed with the vibe they were going for – that these characters were supposed to be regular people just trying to survive.

Something I particularly admire in this franchise (somewhat controversially, because I’m aware many die-hard comic fans strongly detest this aspect) is that the films appear to lean more towards being inspired by the comics rather than being adaptations of them. It means a lot of the unrealistic or cheesy elements are removed, changed or toned down so that the films don’t risk pushing away wider audiences with themes they perhaps weren’t ready for. The things that are now more widely accepted thanks to the modern Marvel films, such as aliens, outer space, supervillains, colourful costumes and cheese. It resulted in films that felt much more realistic – with the powers (and perhaps slightly advanced technology) being the only discernible difference between their world and ours. Unfortunately, it does mean that those comic fans who loved a particular comic story and dreamed of a faithful live-action adaptation end up disappointed (more than once, in some cases). Hopefully, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will satisfy their wishes better than Fox ever did. The realism in some films was further enhanced by the decision to base some of the plots around real-world events such as the Three Mile Island accident, the Cuban missile crisis, the Paris Peace Accords and the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s first launch.

I love that the films chose to tell stories about people with different ideologies rather than big evil supervillains invading from outer space (although later films in the franchise do begin to dabble with this, to be fair). It means that the antagonist in one film can become the protagonist in another film without any change of personality or stance. To me, that’s a powerful thing.

Charles Xavier's identical twin brother lies comatose in the bed of what appears to be some kind of care facility.
Secret, never-before-mentioned, identical twin siblings whose bodies you can possess when you die are all the rage.

Okay, I need to acknowledge the elephant in the room: the flaws. These films are heavily flawed, and 90% of comic book fans will be quick to tell you that (and would probably be much less constructive about it). I’m very much aware of the problems with these films, and although I wish things were different, I try not to let it dampen my affection for them. Some of the flaws were caused by studio interference, some by individual directors wanting to do their own thing and not be limited by existing canon. Others simply because nobody behind the scenes was paying attention to detail – either by choice or by accident. It doesn’t help that the crew had limited foresight for many films. They may not have known if a sequel has been green-lit until after production has finished. Perhaps they could have planned better with a guarantee of future films. Instead, they had to keep adding to the story bit-by-bit and making choices they hoped the average movie viewer wouldn’t notice. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for instance, has the luxury of a long-term plan and phases that they can take advantage of.

I have to say, while there are flaws aplenty, I’ve also seen some scenarios discussed as flaws when they aren’t flaws at all. I can accept the gaps in the narrative between films where we’re only given the essential information to enjoy the following story. It makes the world feel bigger when adventures occur off-screen that we will never get to see. Although, it would have been great to have some other canon media (novels, comics or animations) to fill some of these gaps between the films. I prefer to be privy to all of the details in an ideal world, but I don’t consider it a flaw when there are blanks to fill that don’t relate to the stories being told. Given the limited time to tell the story and keep up the pace, it must mean filmmakers have tough decisions to make. Sometimes, those irrelevant details must be sacrificed.

Three timelines displayed alongside each other, highlighting the years 1962, 1973, 1979, 1983, 1992, early 2000s, 2013, 2023 and 2029. The relevant films are linked to each year.
Timelines and timelines and timelines, oh my!

The majority of flaws didn’t surface until after 2011. Following a couple of underperforming and poorly received entries, the studio decided to take the franchise in a new direction by making prequels that followed the familiar characters in their younger days, played by younger actors. At the time, I was furious to learn of these plans and felt like boycotting the franchise in protest. I couldn’t see anyone other than Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen playing Charles and Erik. I’m so grateful we got James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender in hindsight. They are both just as good, if not better, than their predecessors (or should that be successors?).

In 2011’s X-Men: First Class, the story takes us back to 1962 from the original trilogy’s assumed early 2000s setting. I say “assumed” because we are never given an absolute time reference. The problems here are primarily dialogue-based, with certain lines contradicting what has already been established in canon. For instance, in X2, Magneto states that he helped Charles build Cerebro – but here we see that Hank built it at the covert CIA research base. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, we later learn that Magneto would have been incarcerated for the duration of the timeframe when Cerebro could have been moved and rebuilt underneath the mansion. Another example is where Charles had stated in the original trilogy that he and Erik met when they were 17. However, in X-Men: First Class, they are much older upon first meeting. Charles has at least graduated from university and is of legal drinking age in the United Kingdom (18 at the time). Erik seems closer to his thirties if we assume he was a very young teenager in the 1944 flashback at the film’s start, which is intended to be the same flashback from the beginning of X-Men. The original plan for the prequel had been a Magneto origin story in the same vein as X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It would be reasonable to assume the working title of X-Men Origins: Magneto was used in the early planning stages. Whilst the film did still cover the origin of Magneto, the story also expanded to focus on the origin of the first X-Men team too (the “G-Men”). When the film performed well at the box office and received positive reviews, much-needed new life was breathed into the franchise. It seemed apparent that the way forward was to continue with a similar setup.

A plot of Lorenz's strange attractor for values ρ=28, σ = 10, β = 8/3.
By User:Wikimol, User:Dschwen – Own work based on images Image:Lorenz system r28 s10 b2-6666.png by User:Wikimol and Image:Lorenz attractor.svg by User:Dschwen, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=495592

butterfly effect (noun)
a property of chaotic systems (such as the atmosphere) by which small changes in initial conditions can lead to large-scale and unpredictable variation in the future state of the system

Merriam-Webster

When the sequel to the prequel was released – X-Men: Days of Future Past – I was initially quite frustrated that they had planned to branch off the timeline in a new direction. Some assumed this was mainly to ‘retcon’ X-Men: The Last Stand out of existence (I’m not sure why people thought this as the theory never made any sense). In reality, that’s not how it works; there was no need for them to do that, as they seemed to have no plans to revisit that part of the timeline anyway. In truth, it was a creative decision. How do you put characters like Magneto, Mystique and Charles in life-threatening peril when the audience already knows they survive because they’re featured alive and well in films set in the future? Diverging the timeline from 1973 onwards gave them the freedom to make unrestricted creative choices. Both timelines are still canon in the franchise. Now they were free to make choices such as killing off Mystique, using characters like Nightcrawler or triggering Jean’s inner-Phoenix much earlier. The timeline changes are essentially the butterfly effect, part of chaos theory. A “Turn Left” situation if you’re a Doctor Who fan. How one small action being altered – such as deciding not to kill somebody or turning your car left instead of right – can have a knock-on effect on many other events in the future. It took me a long time to feel at peace with the multiple timelines situation. A single continuous one is preferable and easier to explain to casual viewers. I also like being able to marathon all of the films in one constant chronologically-ordered sitting, but that’s not technically possible anymore.

A side-by-side comparison. On the left, the character of Angel in 1983. On the right, the character of Angel in the early 2000s.
Left to right: Angel in 1983, and Angel roughly twenty years later. Every anti-ageing serum manufacturer wants to know his secret.

Sadly, the creative team didn’t always understand chaos theory laws. Some of the resultant changes were seemingly made before the butterfly effect was triggered in the story’s 1973. For instance, Angel appeared as a character in the original trilogy’s X-Men: The Last Stand, assumedly set in the early 2000s, where he seemed to be in his mid-20s – putting his birth circa 1980. The character then made his new timeline debut in X-Men: Apocalypse‘s 1983, again appearing in his mid-20s – putting his birth circa 1960. How can the changes triggered in 1973 affect events ten years prior?

It’s problems like this that led me to develop a project to keep track of the many flaws (and cope with the neurosis it causes me). I call it Fixing X-Men. It’s very much a work-in-progress with no target completion date. The goal is not to criticise the franchise and call out its failures. Instead, I aim to gather a list of potential flaws and then work on offering suggestions that can explain the flaws. Other fans have attempted to edit the actual movies to solve various problems, but this does not feel like an acceptable solution to me. I don’t aim to provide concrete answers, only suggestions, as I don’t have the authority to decide on an official explanation. My thinking was that if there is just one possible solution for a flaw, then it might not need to be classed as a flaw at all – it’s just something we haven’t been spoon-fed the answer to yet.

In the Angel example mentioned above, I offer a rather complicated soap-opera-style explanation – which could be a side story in itself. In a nutshell, the two Angels would be (biological) father and son, in a way that ties in with the established narrative of both characters. It’s helpful for my suggestion that 1983 Angel was never actually stated to be named “Warren Worthington III” on-screen or in the credits. Pulling inspiration from the comics, I’d suggest 1983 Angel was actually “Werner”. In the Marvel 1602 comic series, Werner was an alternate version of Warren Worthington III from England in 1602. Coincidentally, Ben Hardy – the actor for 1983 Angel – is from England. I wish they had been stricter with characters like Angel, Jubilee, Cyclops and other things that caused issues pre-1973. I’m sure a few minor details being changed could have saved a lot of headaches, backlash and humiliation.

Fixing X-Men also allows me to engage with my oft-neglected creative side and my interest in storylining by picking up on existing plot points and using them to explain other plot points. Beast’s serum is a handy one, for instance – I can suggest his research eventually led to The Cure from X-Men: The Last Stand, and that in the old timeline, Wolverine never intervened in Charles’ addiction/abuse of the serum which allowed him to walk, which if we assume Beast continued developing and improving it, could explain why he was able to walk and use his powers at the same time in his X-Men Origins: Wolverine cameo.

The four new timeline films span 30 years – 1962 through 1992 – but the actors only visibly age about 7-8 years throughout (for obvious real-time reasons, as the films were shot between 2010 and 2018). Many people consider this inconsistency a massive flaw because none of the characters age appropriately. Personally, whilst this is irritating, I am at peace with it. I think of it as I do recasts. Suppose a character is recast in a TV show or film. Other characters are none-the-wiser, and the recast character only looks different to the viewing audience. That’s what is happening here – the actors look young to us viewers, but they look an appropriate age to other characters. It’s a minor detail in the grand scheme of things. To me, it’s much more preferable than artificially ageing the actors, faking grey hairs or recasting them for each film. With the latter option, you risk losing the star power that much of the audience invests in. It just means that we have to accept that from the perspective of the other characters in, e.g. Dark Phoenix, Charles and Erik look like they’re in their sixties. Only we viewers see that they’re being played by actors in their forties. The only other reasonable explanation is a comic book-inspired floating timeline, where characters do not age despite time passing.

Rogue and Logan are sitting in a train. Rogue looks to Logan as she listens to his words of wisdom.
Logan loves playing the surrogate father role, really.

The ‘original trilogy’ consists of 2000’s X-Men, 2003’s X2 and 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. I loved the cast, the look, the vibe, the kind of stories they told, the music and more. As I mentioned earlier, I liked how it was inspired by the comics, rather than adapting them, to better engage with adult audiences who might have been put off by creative choices such as yellow spandex. I liked the black leather uniforms they wore when on missions. It felt appropriate to the era when the world had recently enjoyed films like The Matrix and Blade. I accepted how the traditional roles of Rogue and Jubilee were combined into one character. Rogue in the movies is much younger than she is often portrayed but sadly lost her comic book counterpart’s strong personality. This choice lets us see how a teenage girl who discovers she can no longer touch another human being without harming them comes to adapt to this struggle. Jean was also a hybrid character, taking on the scientist role meant for Beast in the planning stages. It made sense to keep the pool of main characters relatively small to prevent overwhelming audiences unfamiliar with the franchise. I loved how Magneto’s mindset was utterly believable, and he wasn’t just antagonising for something cliché like world domination. If you’d been treated the way he had by humans, it would affect your view of humanity.

We see John from behind as he reaches his hand out to control the fire and explosions as police officers are blown off their feet.
John’s Spotify playlist is sure to feature “F*ck tha Police”.

Despite not thinking a sequel could beat the first film, I could barely contain my excitement in the run-up to X2‘s release. It helped that my friend Lex was also invested, so I had somebody to share the buzz with. The day after its release we went to the cinema and watched it in awe, and then two days later, I went to see it again with my family. I couldn’t get enough of it. When I got home from the second viewing, I downloaded a pirate copy and made a VCD of it, which I then watched every day for at least three months until I knew it word-for-word. I was having a tough time in my personal life, and this film became my escape from that. Two-and-a-bit hours where I could fully immerse myself in another world. Teenage Sam had to grasp on to anything that gave him that feeling (so does adult Sam, to be fair…!). I was so happy to replace my VCD with a better quality DVD when that came out. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve paid for this film in various formats. This film made the first outing feel like a basic introduction to the main characters, and now they were ready to get serious. I felt Cyclops got the short straw here, though, portrayed as a boyband loving teammate rather than the strict and loyal leader he is usually known as.

A distressed Jean faces Logan, surrounded by light.
Jean rocking the backlit hair.

After the masterpiece that was X2, I was naturally hyped to hear that another sequel was in production. After seemingly building up to a Phoenix story with Jean, I was excited to see how they’d do this on the big screen. I was hoping for some breathtaking and fiery cinematography. As each new trailer for X-Men: The Last Stand dropped, I’d wait until I got to college so my friend Caroline and I could watch it together. Then we’d talk about it for the duration of whatever class it was disrupting. On release day, we skipped college to meet at the Trafford Centre cinema for an 11 am showing with our partners. I enjoyed the film at the time, although it didn’t elicit quite as strong a response from me as its predecessor. I wasn’t in any rush to watch this one again every day. It left me with many questions about the future of the franchise. This film felt quite final with the deaths of multiple main characters and closure for many others, and I figured it was unlikely there would be a fourth film. I held out hope regardless. The studio wanted to take the franchise in a new direction from here, such as spin-offs – more on those later.

Erik embraces an injured Charles on a beach in Cuba.
Charles and Erik, besties 4eva.

I wasn’t in good health around X-Men: First Class‘s release in 2011. As a side effect, I sadly lost interest in many things that previously brought me joy – including X-Men. I also wasn’t too thrilled at the time about how this film was changing all of the cast I held so dear, which meant I felt no urgency to see the movie. I eventually bought it on Blu-ray and watched it with a Saturday night takeaway. I initially found it difficult to adjust to this film’s ‘period’ vibe as I prefer modern-day settings. Still, the more I rewatched it, the more I felt invested in the journey of this version of the characters, which became the most crucial aspect for me. These days I’d say I prefer the newer films to the original ones. I like the younger, feistier, more naive and innocent Mystique here. Much more engaging than in the original trilogy, where she was a bland henchwoman with little attitude or personality, nothing like her comic counterpart. I liked that they used Darwin – whose power is that he could adapt to survive – to show how much of a threat Sebastian Shaw was by having him kill the invincible guy straight up. His death could be explained by him being young, untrained or not having learned to adapt to infinite power. Still, it’s a real shame. I would have loved to see him in the sequels, having ‘adapted to survive’ by becoming dust and rebuilding himself. It would have been fun to see the different and creative ways of using his powers. In truth, an almost-invincible character on the team might have limited the story somewhat. It feels like there should be an extra film between this and the next, given how much changes between them. I can only speculate that the original plans were scrapped.

Magneto looks towards the camera with a raised hand, indicating he is using his power. The backdrop contains the remains of the RFK stadium and some stars-and-stripes theme banners.
Erik says hi.

Ahh, X-Men: Days of Future Past. This one remains my favourite of them all – it has everything. The original cast. The new cast. Past and future. A gripping story. Beautiful action sequences. Real jeopardy and threat. The emotion. The journey all the characters go on. The scale and stakes are so high. Impressive visually, and the score is excellent too. It’s a lovely treat for fans of the original films and a chance to say goodbye to some of those original characters and actors. I like that they ensured Kitty still had a crucial role in the story as she did in the comics. She developed a secondary mutation to “phase” through time. I feel like it worked, as crazy as it all was. I wish we could have seen more from some of the future team – Bishop and Blink in particular, two characters I am already fond of. Mystique’s two paths and the explanation of her captivity in the original timeline are handy to retroactively explain her personality differences between the original trilogy and the new films. I also liked that we got an alternate cut – The Rogue Cut. This cut was essentially the film’s original cut before it had to be condensed with replacement scenes shot to make up for cutting out almost all of Anna Paquin’s scenes. I prefer this cut because I think the additional scenes add to the story rather than make it feel bloated.

Peter flies through the air whilst holding a student under each arm as they escape from an exploding building.
Peter saves the students from an exploding mansion to the soundtrack of “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics.

And then there was X-Men: Apocalypse. By the time this was in production, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was well underway and performing well. Audiences were responding positively to the things that the Fox films had traditionally avoided – brightly coloured uniforms, alien-looking villains and epic fight scenes. Fox decided to take some risks and try something new, constructing a movie that I feel is the most similar to an MCU outing than any other Fox X-Men project. Unfortunately, it was poorly received, despite upping the stakes in scale and action following the previous outing. I think a lot of the problem was the film’s pacing – it was pretty long and took some time to get going. It also introduced us to a few new characters – and some would get more character development than others (looking at you, Angel and Psylocke). It gave us some stunning Magneto scenes as we learn that he has settled down in Poland and has a beautiful little family, a home and a job. Naturally, bigoted humans had to take it from him. The recently awakened Apocalypse decided to take advantage of his grief, depression and lack of belonging to recruit him. My heart breaks for the poor guy – he has rotten luck. I liked that Apocalypse did not use mind control. All four of the ‘horsemen’ he selected had volunteered to help him in his mission, either because they were vulnerable, lost or angry – like a cult. The nuke launch followed by the mansion rescue scene was fantastically epic – and now, every time I hear “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics, I think of this scene. Not a bad thing to be reminded of!

A cosmic-amplified Jean holds her hand up towards a victim as they disintegrate.
Jean commits genocide by obliterating the surviving members of the D’Bari race.

Then we have Dark Phoenix – later retroactively retitled X-Men: Dark Phoenix – as the final outing in the main X-Men series. This one suffered majorly due to the Fox-Disney merger. The original plan to be a two-parter featuring a much more comics-accurate story had to be abandoned to condense it sensibly into one film running less than 2 hours. There were also delays as the entire third act needed to be scrapped and reshot – rumours indicating that it was too similar to another Marvel film releasing around the same time or that it wasn’t well-received by a test audience. Critics widely panned this film for various reasons. Some even wrote negative reviews based solely on the trailer before the film was released for press previews. It’s like they wanted to sabotage any chance of its success. Honestly – I like it. I get a lot from it, and it’s probably the film I’ve rewatched the most times in recent years. I can acknowledge both its strengths and weaknesses, and I don’t consider it a flaw that it isn’t as close to the source material as it could be. I can understand why some fans dislike it – although I feel many criticisms are extreme and lean towards bias. The score by Hans Zimmer is fantastic – some of the best film score I’ve ever heard, and it frequently accompanies me on my travels. I think this film works best as a character-focused spin-off rather than a grand finale to the whole franchise. This is entirely appropriate, given it initially didn’t feature the X-Men prefix in the title, so perhaps that was the plan.

From left to right, Charles, Ariki, Kurt, Scott, Hank, Selene, Erik and Ororo face the camera in a train carriage as they are about to take down their enemy.
The Mutant Containment Unit (haha, MCU, geddit?) has taken the mutants hostage!

I appreciate the closure it brings to a few of the characters. It does wrap things up nicely whilst also leaving things open for future adventures. I particularly like the psychological aspects of this film, as I am bored by typical good-vs-evil stories – the grey area in between is much more interesting to explore. Seeing Charles presented as the villain was an interesting take. Speaking of the villain, I have seen a lot of criticism saying, “I didn’t know who the villain was supposed to be in this film” as if that’s a negative point. To me, that ambiguity was a considerable part of the plot. Perhaps many people simply prefer a clean-cut, good versus evil story? I wish this film were as long as the two previous outings so that it had more time to breathe. I loved seeing things like Jean crying by the dumpster, reverting to a child-like state, broken, alone and vulnerable. However, it would have been helpful to have more time to get to know Jean before she dominated an entire film. I enjoyed Mystique’s journey. Her continued romance with Hank felt realistic, along with her unhappiness with the direction Charles was heading in. It was great to see Genosha in the films, with Magneto living it up with a new family of mutants and how he felt threatened when he had to protect them from Jean. I especially loved the action sequences in this film. The fact that the characters wore their civilian clothes for the latter half added to the film’s intimate vibe.

I wish they hadn’t been so vague about the origins of “Phoenix” and the cosmic force. My understanding is that Jean herself has always been the embodiment of a phoenix, which ties in with its presentation in other films. The cosmic force (implied to be some kind of deity that created the universe) is what unlocked her full power, rather than the cosmic force and the Phoenix Force being one and the same, like in the comics. It unleashed her potential and broke down Charles’s psychic walls in Jean’s mind, triggering her major mental health crisis and making her vulnerable to manipulation.

As for the negatives, there was occasional poor line delivery and some clunky dialogue which was disappointing. Sadly, that includes my favourite – Michael Fassbender – who is usually on top form. Honestly, I could have done without the extra-terrestrial aspect of the Skrulls D’Bari chasing the cosmic force. However, I acknowledge this was an indirect nod to the space element of the famous comic story. I was not a fan of “Jean Grey School” at the end – I think “Raven Darkholme School” would have been miles more appropriate if Beast was running the place. Many people seem to assume Jean is dead at the end. It seems clear to me that she is very much alive, not just so that she can be present for the epilogue of X-Men: Days of Future Past, but the fact that phoenixes in folklore are immortal and can be reborn, as hinted at by the phoenix flying through space in the final shot.

Logan and Laura sit in a car looking out of the driver's side window.
Daddy Logan and Laura in Logan.

The spin-offs for the franchise were always a bit hit-and-miss for me. The character of Wolverine received three spin-off films. I didn’t particularly enjoy the first one – X-Men Origins: Wolverine – and it offers little in rewatching value. I liked Wolverine and Kayla’s happy little life together – although the moon story felt a bit cheesy and forced. I respect that they attempted to create a backstory for the Wolverine name he’d go on to use post-memory loss. I truly believe she loved him all along but had no choice but to choose her little sister over him – everyone has their price. The fake death was a risk, though – what if Logan had buried her alive before anyone could intervene? I also enjoyed Wolverine’s constant cycle of trauma, the concept behind Weapon XI, and Logan’s relationship with Victor. However, the film’s vibe was terrible – targeting the action film-loving male audience with showy action sequences such as walking away from explosions and looking badass. That was off-putting. I prefer my X-Men films to feel more grounded with a hint of realism (or as realistic as possible with superpowers). The Wolverine was an improvement on its predecessor, and I liked that they linked his grief to the death of Jean Grey from X-Men: The Last Stand. Unfortunately, the Japanese elements felt too stereotyped, and I found it hard to engage with most characters, especially as their personalities felt very one-dimensional. The Silver Samurai robot at the end was particularly cringeworthy. The third and final Wolverine film – Logan – is simply beautiful. Professor X’s dementia affecting his powers and Logan bonding with his ‘offspring’ feel like they shouldn’t fit in a violent, western-inspired film, but it worked so well. We saw an entirely new side to Logan, and I’m so grateful for that.

The character of Deadpool received two solo outings, although seemingly unconnected to his appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I’ve never been convinced that these spin-offs occur in the same universe or timeline as the other films. They’re too meta and too different. The only actual links are a blink-and-you’d-miss-it meta-humour cameo from some of the X-Men: Apocalypse cast, post-credits scenes that are open to interpretation and the re-use of some set pieces/CGI models. Perhaps this lack of concrete links will prove helpful for when Deadpool transitions over to the MCU?

There’s also The New Mutants. There was so much potential here, and there were aspects I genuinely really liked, but ultimately it fell flat. The acting from some stars let it down, and the final battle was over too quickly and felt anti-climactic. The boys were useless. The seeds planted for a planned trilogy leave me wanting to see what could have been. The character of Illyana was fascinating, though, and I would have loved to see more of this almost psychotic version of her. They recycled some footage from Logan in this, and I’d love to know whether it is supposed to be the same footage or just a simple case of recycling footage. There were rumours that some of the X-Men would cameo here, but it never happened. The New Mutants effectively stands alone, with no links to any other films in the franchise bar a few mentions of the X-Men.

There were also a couple of live-action TV outings. I liked The Gifted and was sad when that was axed – although the Inner Circle stuff in the second season did begin to bore me. I love that they featured Blink prominently, and her portal power was done so well. I love that we got to meet Polaris, although it’s a shame they only seemed able to hint at her parentage. Technically this series hasn’t been made to fit in with the films. Still, I think it could work nicely set between X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days of Future Past in the original timeline. It feels like the show’s original plan was to try and build on some of the new mutant characters introduced in the latter film. Perhaps they weren’t given permission, so substitutes had to be made? For example, Thunderbird replaced Warpath and Eclipse replaced Sunspot. Other likely substitutes appear in the show: Max felt like they wanted to use Gambit but were denied permission, and the same goes for Erg with Bishop. There is some weight to the theory that an early plan for the series could have been to follow those film characters’ journey before they met up with Kitty, Bobby and Peter. That probably would have limited the show’s direction, so perhaps it’s for the best they kept things open.

As for Legion, the first season was fantastic and felt utterly unlike anything else I’d ever seen. Then they tried to out-trip themselves with season two, which dragged and felt like pointless filler. It didn’t help that I watched long after the initial airing, but it took me four months to get through season 2, compared to the two days of bingeing season 1. The third and final season was a return to form and introduced some funky new concepts. The cast was excellent, the cinematography and VFX were beautiful, and as a standalone series, it leaves me wanting more. I would have loved Dan Stevens’ Legion to cross over to the films, but they made it clear this is a separate continuity.

Michael Fassbender full of emotion, as tears begin to form in his eyes.
Fassy tells stories with his eyes.

My all-time favourite character from this franchise is Fassbender’s Magneto. I never had much love for Magneto as a character before he took over the role, but he won me over within minutes of his first scene. I empathised with his version of the character, to the point where I refuse to call him a villain. That man has the power to bring a tear to my eye with just a look. It must be witchcraft or something.

Outside of the films, I’ve always been drawn to the character of Gambit. I’m not sure why. I think it’s just his aesthetic and power that I like. Sadly, Gambit was never really treated right in the films. We saw a young version of him in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but I didn’t connect. There were rumours that Channing Tatum was signed up to take on the role in a spin-off movie for years, but that never came to light. I feel Gambit could be one of the MCU’s more popular mutants in a few years.

Storm is another of my favourite characters – I am drawn to her ferocity, compassion and abilities. She always makes my top 5 in those “Create your X-Team” posts. Halle Berry did a great job but always seemed like a side character to help things along. I believe she felt this, too, so she demanded a more prominent role in X-Men: The Last Stand. I’m disappointed that she dropped her Kenyan-ish accent after the first film. I think Alexandra Shipp did a fantastic job playing a young Storm, but she wasn’t given enough focus again. She deserved better. I fully expect the MCU to push Storm to the forefront where she belongs.

I have other favourites such as Bishop, Colossus and Blink – however, they had such minor roles in the films that there isn’t much to say.

Perhaps controversially, I’m not a massive fan of Wolverine, so maybe this is one reason why I prefer the newer films that don’t revolve around him. I think Hugh Jackman is fantastic; I just don’t care for the character of Wolverine, as cool as he is. Contrary to popular fan opinion, I liked Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique; Mystique was a background sidekick and a plot device in the original trilogy. The character deserved so much more prominence. By making her as vital as Charles and Erik, the new direction worked for me. I felt empathy for her, understanding her psychology and reasoning. I even love the tragedy of how choosing the ‘right’ path led to her premature death. I don’t feel that Mystique ever lost her feistiness or strong morals. However, if I had to offer any critique, it would be that Jennifer Lawrence’s acting could have used more energy at times.

A man (played by Bryan Singer) using a Super 8 camera.
Director Bryan Singer cameos in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Like much in Hollywood, the X-Men franchise isn’t without controversy. One example is Bryan Singer – who directed four films and contributed to others. He has received numerous harmful accusations. Whilst I don’t believe any charges have ever been made or any guilty verdicts were given, the idea of the accusations being true has always left a nasty taste in my mouth. I know it’s not fair to judge an entire project based on the actions of one person when thousands of people have contributed their time and effort, so I think drawing a line between the two things is the best way forward.

Jean unleashes her fiery inner power to help defeat Apocalypse.
Jean’s “Phoenix”-inspired power in X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t wholly unexplainable, but it certainly creates some confusion for the subsequent outing…

There are things I wish 20th Century Fox had done differently. I wish they had a better long-term plan, even if they didn’t have the luxury of following it through (planning for multiple eventualities would have solved this). I think the franchise needed one person at the helm to keep everything consistent and build up their universe so that nobody can easily pick holes in it.

I haven’t given up hope that 20th Century Studios (the new name for the studio now that Disney owns it) will want to cash in on the archive. I’d love to see things like the original Dark Phoenix cut. I’d love to see footage left on the cutting room floor that never made it to the deleted scenes bonus features. I want to see interviews about all the plans that never came to fruition or why some choices were made. I would happily purchase a massive 4K boxset containing absolutely everything, including soundtracks and a few exclusive bonus discs. That would be the holy grail for me, and I’d even be willing to break my own rule about buying Blu-rays/DVDs in gimmick-shaped boxes that won’t fit on my shelves. I thought this might have happened during the pandemic when theatrical releases were limited. It could have been easy money for the studios. Sadly nothing came of that – perhaps they don’t want to step on Marvel Studios’ toes?

Wanda answers the front door to find her brother Pietro - only he is played by Evan Peters instead.
Peter? Pietro? Wanda recast her brother?!

The Fox X-Men franchise is over. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe will eventually introduce mutants, it leaves us wondering how they will proceed. My preference would be to draw a line under the Fox era rather than attempt to retcon it into the same universe. Don’t get me wrong; I would love for them to maintain and further develop the Fox lore, trying to fix some of the issues in the process. Realistically, they need to start fresh with their approach to how mutants fit in with the world they have already built. It would also be costly to secure the existing actors for further films.

On the other hand, I’d be delighted to see cheeky cameos along the way. For instance, I’d love a scene where Hugh Jackman plays the MCU Wolverine’s bartender – similar to how Evan Peters played a fake Pietro in WandaVision, as a metaphorical wink to the audience. There’s always the chance that the MCU will use the multiverse to introduce mutants. You’d have expected Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness to have made the first move towards that if that was the case, and it had a prime opportunity to do so. I’m not sure how I feel about crossing the universes yet, but I’m open to seeing how they do it. I would like the MCU to introduce mutant characters as secondary cast members or cameos in other MCU films before bringing them together in an X-Men film. For instance, Rogue could be featured in a Captain Marvel outing, Storm in a Black Panther sequel, Gambit as a thief in Deadpool 3, or Wolverine in a Captain America spin-off. Concerning Deadpool, I see no issue with bringing that over in its entirety. They could cover it with something as simple as a fourth-wall-breaking throwaway line of “Ssssh, timelines!” or something multiverse-related, which would be very on-brand. Thankfully there isn’t anything significant in the Deadpool films that creates issues, as references to the X-Men films were mainly meta.

A composition of the final scene in Dark Phoenix. Erik on the left, Charles on the right. They are playing chess outside a café in Paris.
The besties chill out with a chess game outside a Parisian café before heading to Genosha to live happily ever after.

My passion for these films knows no bounds – and I am so utterly grateful that they exist. As I hinted above, they have gotten me through some challenging times and provided essential escapism. They are one of the few things left in my life that mental health hasn’t yet sucked all the joy. I will always defend these films to critics whilst making it clear that I’m not blind to the flaws like they are to the merits. I like to think I can still show some love for the positive points whilst simultaneously acknowledging that nothing is perfect. I want to thank everyone involved in bringing these films to fruition, and I will enjoy watching them repeatedly for years to come.

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