We need to talk about the X-Men Cinematic Universe because, as of this moment, it has no legs to stand on.
The X-Men matter in the grand scheme of things because they essentially lit the match that became the current superhero explosion. Before the first X-Men film, no one took superheroes seriously. They were derided for being colourful, fluffy, and irrelevant.
But then Bryan Singer came along and changed everything. He threw the bright costumes aside in favour of dark leather. Then he added a bit of grit to the storytelling, infused heart into the characters and availed a well-paced narrative that challenged the sensibilities of even the most stuck-up of movie critics.
Today, Singer is a controversial figure. Sexual harassment allegations brought his career to a startling close. But the legacy of his efforts endures. Sure, superheroes today have embraced their colourful comic book roots, the very opposite of the trend Singer started. But the X-Men franchise is still expected to continue playing an undiminished role in popular culture for decades to come.
That said, things don’t look particularly bright for the X-Men today. You can probably trace the root of their dissolution back to the first Deadpool movie. Now, Deadpool is technically an X-Men movie, so any triumphs it achieves should rationally count as an X-Men victory.
But I don’t think that reasoning stands today. The X-Men movies are, unfortunately, very safe. Maybe that was not the case at the start but it is very true today. They all feature the same muted colours, the same concepts of conflict between mutant and humankind, the same general approach to action, and the same philosophical tropes.
And that was fine back when comic book movies were massive risks. Today, these projects cross the billion dollar mark on a regular basis, a feat the X-Men franchise has never even come close to achieving.
Fox Studios spends hundreds of millions of dollars making them and yet, for all their popularity, the X-Men movies are actually just mild financial successes. So what does that mean? Deadpool’s overwhelming success raised a lot of questions about the future of the X-Men franchise.
The first Deadpool movie was R-Rated, so it was anything but safe. Additionally, they made it for only a fraction of what they normally spend on the average X-Men movie and yet, today, Deadpool is the most financially successful X-Men movie ever made.
That unexpected response to Deadpool got a lot of people thinking. Some voices began to suggest that the X-Men movie-making approach had finally run its course and that it was finally time to take the franchise in a new direction.
Initially, Fox Studios seemed deaf to these calls. But the crack that Deadpool had revealed became a flood. X-Men Apocalypse, their most ambitious X-Men movie at the time, crashed and burned, both critically and financially.
Rather than reworking their formula, though, the studio immediately announced the advent of a whole slew of X-Men projects, most of which were slated to reach the public in 2017.
But what should have been the year of a franchise that gave us the current superhero age only hammered the final nail in the X-Men coffin. X-Men Dark Phoenix and New Mutants, two new additions to the film series, projects that were supposed to dramatically transform the X-Men landscape, saw their release dates postponed again and again.
Today, few people expect either film to see the light of day. Even with massive reshoots, word on the street suggests that both films are horrible failures.
Deadpool 2 also stumbled, sating some fans but massively disappointing others. Maybe it is a little too early to pronounce the death of the X-Men Cinematic universe but they are definitely on their final legs.