Getting a comic book-based film franchise is a hard thing to do, and up until recently, it proved to be a near-impossible feat to accomplish. I’m talking about the time right before Marvel started releasing their phase plans and before DC was only popularly known for Nolan’s Batman trilogy. That awkward time called the 90’s where superhero films were arguably at their worst. Yes, I’m including the buried and failed Fantastic Four movie in that decade. Right now, we are enjoying an unprecedented Comic Book Film Golden Age where we get to enjoy our favorite stories on the big screen and the small one. For this, we have Bryan Singer to thank, but that in no way means we should continue to support him.
For the Renaissance, the father is commonly thought to be Giotto di Bondone, but most people are only familiar with the name of Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Raphael, etc. I’m sure having the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles named after them helped a little, but these are the household names of Renaissance artists. No mention at all of di Bondone, but that doesn’t discount his contributions to the movement, even is really only historians truly appreciate them. In order to fully appreciate a movement, you have to acknowledge the person that started it. In this case, Bryan Singer’s work with the original X-Men makes him the di Bondone of this new comic book film renaissance, but at a certain point, the “father” must relinquish the reins and let his “children” take what he has taught them and apply it to the future.
Bryan Singer proved to be the person we needed at both beginnings of this franchise. He successfully and satisfyingly brought the X-Men to life in a world that, at the time, had be repeatedly let down by comic book based films. One of the notable exceptions around this time was Blade, but that is because vampires are such an evergreen occurrence that they will always be ingrained in popular culture. Although Blade does deal with occult forces, it hardly contained some of the more fantastical elements that comic books like X-Men contain. Hell, even X-Men had vampires with Jubilee joining their ranks not too long ago. My point is that up to that point, in the cinematic universe, there were few examples of successful comic book film franchises that combined the breadth of powers and diverse characters X-Men introduced. It toed the line between reality and a believable enough world that never feels over-exaggerated. This was the eventual downfall of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin following the successful reintroduction of a cinematic Batman with Tim Burton’s run. In a way, Singer showed the world the potential of an entire universe that had only been fractionally explored on screen. All the saturation of comic book properties that we’re currently enjoying is all thanks to Bryan Singer and the way he showed movies how profitable these kinds of films could be.
Ok, enough singing Singer’s praises. He has given life to the X-Men franchise twice, most recently with X-Men: Days of Future Past, which is an impressive feat considering the Fantastic Four franchise has hasn’t been able to do it once. Like I said before, he’s a great starter and fixer, but the longer he stays on the project the more complacent and predictable his filming style becomes. Stagnation is a damaging condition and it really has no place with such an ideologically progressive world as that of X-Men.
In the comic books, X-Men would eventually grow past its cis heterosexual white male roots and become the beacon of diversity we know it as today. Singer has had several films to try and incorporate the true diversity and variety of the universe into film form but has instead opted to leave any character that would represent this as a background player used really only as token. You can only imagine my disgust after seeing what Singer did to characters like Jubilee in X-Men: Apocalypse and then hearing how he wants to create a stand-alone Mystique film. I have nothing against Jennifer Lawrence. If anything, I respect her and her work. Singer has perverted the X-Men’s message by having the film’s center around characters played by A-list celebrities. The most obvious example is the character of Mystique, played by the great Jennifer Lawrence.
In the past three films, Mystique’s role in the entire X-Men Cinematic Universe (XCU) has been over-inflated and giving her a much bigger role than she has ever had in the source material. Getting Lawrence for any film is a big deal, let alone getting her for several films in a comic book franchise. I would want to use her as much as possible, but in this case, her bloated importance in the XCU overshadows the chance for other, more diverse characters to take the forefront. Lawrence isn’t at all to blame, and her performances are always great, but it is Singer’s capacity to easily compromise the X-Men’s original vision and intention that is truly hurting the franchise. The remedy is simple: New blood.
To counteract the complacency in both technique and intention, the X-Men franchise needs an injection of new talent, especially from directors and writers that represent the same diversity the X-Men universe is built on. I’d love to see directors like Ava DuVernay, Bong Joon-ho, Neill Blomkamp, Edgar Wright, or even Duncan Jones once he finishes with that abominable Warcraft film. Writer Simon Kinberg has proven to deliver inconsistent work starting with arguably the worst X-Men film, X-Men: The Last Stand, but continuing on to do the retconning X-Men: Days of Future Part and the most recent mid-grade addition, X-Men: Apocalypse. There are more deserving characters, not including Mystique, that would make for a more compelling standalone film that actually highlights the X-Men’s original intention without sacrificing the stories message or canon. I would be happy with a Bishop, Psylocke, Emma Frost, X-23, Iceman (post-coming out), or especially a Storm standalone film, possibly done a la Marvel where they all unite in an Avengers-esque reunion.
I can’t stress how much there needs to be diversity in the XCU and I really shouldn’t have to because every fan knows that the X-Men have always been a metaphor for racial, gender and social outsiders deemed “different” by society. In all the films, there has yet to be an openly gay X-men character, which is odd considering Singer himself is an openly gay man. I’m not suggesting that because he’s gay he always needs to introduce gay characters in his films. I’m only suggesting that being a gay man, I would want to proudly introduce a character that could represent my sexual orientation rather than trying to pretend that all heroes are heterosexuals. A kid growing up should be able to see that there are gay heroes out there and not just the stereotyped, effeminate villains that still continue to saturate the screens. Heroes and villains like Iceman, Karma, Northstar, Daken already exist in the X-Men universe and could easily be introduced at some point in the films. Instead, we get characters like Mystique who are given an overinflated amount of importance and screen time, yet not even a single passing mention of her character’s bisexuality.
If the films don’t have any of their original content’s connotations or significance, can you really continue to call them X-Men? No. Bryan Singer seems to think that focusing on bringing to life their costumes over their intended context is the best approach. I think it’s time for a (mutant) revolution.