4 February 2018

The Legacy of the X-Men Cinematic Universe

I do not own any of these images.

The first ever X-Men film hit our screens 18 years ago this summer and a new Dark Phoenix trilogy is on the horizon, wouldn't now be the best time to reflect on the iconic franchise? The X-Men trilogy was the first Superhero franchise in modern cinema, with X-Men released in 2000, followed by X-Men 2 & X-Men : Last Stand. In 2011, we saw a successful prequel with a fresh cast in First Class, followed by the bold Days Of Future Past which saw past and present come together to reboot-without-really-rebooting the entire X-Men cinematic universe, and several solo Wolverine films including the critically acclaimed Logan.


The X-Men comics mirror our society, and the films successfully depicted these social-political allegories over the course of the trilogies. Both the original & prequel trilogy allude to the struggle for the LGBT community, with the mutants feeling like they need to keep their true selves hidden from the world. One of the most poignant scenes regarding this is in X-Men 2, when Bobby returns home with Rogue & Wolverine after the school was attacked. We have a coming-out scene, as in Bobby revealing to his family that he is a mutant: straight away his Dad refers to it as an illness, and his Mum asks Have you ever tried...not being a mutant? Magneto has repeatedly encouraged his fellow mutants to come out of hiding, and Days Of Future Past was without a doubt paralleling the civil rights movement. Yet, despite all of this, the X-Men franchise fails to diversify itself.

The POC characters have little to no lines in the films, the exception being Halle Berry's Storm who eventually gets a bigger role in the X-Men 2 & 3. The prequel trilogy in 2011 sought to be more inclusive and diverse, with the introduction of mutants such as Angel & Darwin - however they failed to give them many lines or character depth, with Darwin swiftly killed & Angel given very little to work with. Days Of Future Past sought to improve this once again, by introducing non-white mutants such as Blink, Bishop & Warpath. Despite having impressive mutant powers, sadly these characters were given very few lines and their purpose in the plot was to keep the other mutants (Wolverine, Kitty, Professor X & Magneto) alive long enough for Wolverine to complete his mission in the 1970s. With Wolverine resetting the timeline, we have yet to see Blink, Warpath & Bishop's younger selves in the prequel trilogy. The X-Men comics have numerous diverse characters, yet the films always seem to fall short of diversity - the storyline rests with the all white characters, whereas the POC are left as mere background figures - a sad truth for a franchise based on characters of an oppressed class.

Another issue that the X-Men franchise must tackle is the treatment of the its female characters. The X-Men films have a habit of using the women as love interests and plot devices: Jean as an unrequited love interest for Wolverine, a love triangle between Rogue, Kitty & Bobby, Moira & Xavier. In the prequels, Mystique is torn between Xavier & Magneto, and romantically torn between Magneto & Hank. Very few of the female characters have independent story arcs, away from their male counterparts. Even when Jean Grey became Phoenix in The Last Stand, she was reduced to a secondary 'background' character to Magneto. There is also a lot of unnecessary sexualisation of the women in all of the films (you really don't have to look far to see this) hopefully something that will change with the upcoming Dark Phoenix. With all that being said, these characters continue to inspire me now as they did back then - despite their poor treatment, I'm grateful to have had them to look up to in the first place.


So far it seems that Dark Phoenix will be the most female-led X-Men film to date. With Jean Grey, Mystique, Storm, and Jessica Chastain's mysterious unnamed alien character, we can only hope this new franchise will finally give the female characters the representation they deserve - hopefully with more diversity, including LGBT & trans characters.

The first ever X-Men film hit our screens in 2000, and the cinematic universe is still going strong today, with several tv shows and a new franchise on the horizon. It's safe to say that the X-Men films have witnessed a lot of changes since it's first film: action & superhero franchises now dominate Hollywood, with Marvel (of whom they are now a part of thanks to Fox selling them back to Disney, woo!) and DC bringing out multiple films each year: there is undoubtedly still an audience for superhero films.

Although the original trilogy has aged considerably well (in the film-making aspect & plot), technology has finally caught up and is able to fully translate the mutants power on screen. The advancements in special effects has allowed its cinematic quality to improve drastically, with Days Of Future Past being without a doubt the most visually & awe-inspiring X-Men film yet. The special effects open of lot of doors in terms of creativity & visuals, and the 1st look at Dark Phoenix teases just that. Hopefully the new visual opportunities won't overshadow dialogue. One of the reasons why First Class & Days Of Future Past were so successful was because of this good balance between talking & fighting.

With Fox now having sold the rights to Disney, it will be interesting to see what changes we may see in the future of the X-Men cinematic universe: technically, now that all these characters are owned by the same studio, we could see a X-Men & Avengers team up (or battle, who knows?) I'm sure a lot of fans, myself included, would love to see the original cast interact with The Avengers. Needless to say these are exciting times for Marvel, with Infinity War looming and now owning the X-Men characters, it's possible a new dawn is on the horizon.

Did you grow up watching the X-Men films? What about the recent trilogies? I re-watched all of them in order of release and was pleasantly surprised at how well they had aged, even the original costumes still hold up. The music in First Class & DOFP is well worth a mention too: Xavier's theme 'Hope' by John Ottman & 'Magneto' by Henry Jackman. I have high hopes for the upcoming Dark Phoenix trilogy, it has recently been revealed that genius Hans Zimmer who scored The Dark Knight, Man Of Steel, Batman vs Superman will be scoring the film, despite 'retiring' from the Superhero genre 2 years ago. Very exciting indeed!


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