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Reber Gets Real – Can Fox Right Their X-Men Universe Ship?

Marvel Television/20th Century Fox

Hot off the news that Simon Kinberg would both write and direct X-Men: Dark Phoenix and Josh Boone’s reveal that New Mutants would be a flat out horror film, I got to thinking. You know, I’ve been an admirer of what Fox has done with the X-Men characters. Some of the films have had an incredibly wow factor about them. I mean, you could easily say that X2: X-Men United set the bar in terms of what a sequel should embody – raise the stakes, ramp up the action, build your characters, leave a lasting impact. However, Bryan Singer can’t save every single property himself. Everything hinges on casting, creative, writing, and vision. While watching the franchise unfold for the last seventeen years has been a turbulent roller coaster, the track seems to finally be stabilizing.

Or is it? With Boone clarifying his statements on his vision, some fans found themselves underwhelmed. Including the likes of Magik, tying Illyana and Piotr Rasputin together for the first time outside the seminal 1992 X-Men animated series, and Wolfsbane is important to the history of Bill Sienkiewicz’s classic run. Hell, for Kinberg to tackle the fabled Dark Phoenix Saga is a big deal in itself, as the event still stands at a timeless X-Men tale that’s already been adapted by the 1992 animated series, telling the story across multiple episodes instead of trying to rush along the genesis of Chris Claremont’s tale. Adapting for the big screen means less devoted time to actually get into the fat of a long-winded narrative, and some of what made both the New Mutants and Dark Phoenix stellar could easily be eroded for simple storytelling.

So, if we were to take a chalkboard and piece together what ingredients 20th Century Fox needs to follow to make the X-Men a thrilling experience instead of a wildly unstable journey, what would the biggest suggestions be to keep this puzzle affixed instead of falling apart? Well, for starters…

Don’t Try To Reinvent The Wheel

20th Century Fox

First of all, as the saying goes – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Using a different formula to form a successful movie has worked wonders for 20th Century Fox. Logan was more of a spin of the 1960’s spaghetti Western genre pioneered by Sergio Leone. Deadpool was more a comedy, unafraid to break the fourth wall and remain true to the character’s comic book run. While using a John Hughes spin may work for Marvel Studios/Sony’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, that doesn’t necessary mean a movie like New Mutants should follow that mold too. No costumes, no villains? Okay, that’s different, and Boone went on record saying his movie will be based on the Sienkiewicz’s run, which felt like “Stephen King meets John Hughes.” Boone is already tied to both The Stand and Revival, and I’m all for doing something different. Just don’t lose focus on what the New Mutants are about at their core. The offshoot of the X-Men were in training, students of Professor Xaiver as they blossomed into adulthood and into their own groove. One source in the Entertainment Weekly reports that Boone’s story will be this;

“Held in a secret facility against their will, five new mutants have to battle the dangers of their powers, as well as the sins of their past. They aren’t out to save the world — they’re just trying to save themselves.”

Haven’t we seen that before? Being held against their wishes and banding together not just to save themselves but the world? Yeah, sounds like Hulu’s Runaways to me, at least to a degree. There’s nothing wrong with keeping somewhat true to the source material just a little bit. At the end of X-Men: Apocalypse keen viewers could tell there was scores of young mutants enrolled at Xaiver’s School For Gifted Youngsters. What’s the harm in making the April 2018 release a wink to this? Have the five young adults find themselves off to stop a threat when no one else will listen to them? Then the squad grows into their own branch of the X-Men. Makes more sense to me than taking a riff from FX’s Legion. I could be erroneous in pitching in my two cents. I want his film to do well, like any other non-Marvel Studios film (that also includes DC), but don’t go wandering off the beaten path too far. That brings me to my next point…

‘Days Of Future Past’ Created A Blank Slate – So Don’t Forget That Fact

20th Century Fox

One thing that the franchise needed was a fresh start to undo some bigger character deaths and create a comprehensible timeline that didn’t have multiple origin stories. (How many times did we need to see Wolverine’s origin at the Arkali Lake Facility again? I lost count.) Brett Ratner veered X-Men: The Last Stand off a cliff, killing off important characters without considering the repercussions down the line. The best method to do complete this cold reboot was time travel. In what so far stands as the best team entry, X-Men: Days Of Future Past found Logan being the individual traveling back to ensure Bolivar Traskwas murdered by Mystique. Sure, there were many liberties taken with the overall plotline. In the Chris Clarmeont/John Byrne 1981 two-parter, Kitty Pryde was the one whose mind was dispatched back in time. Also, Kitty needed to ensure Senator Robert Kelly, a proponent for mutant rights, wasn’t murdered by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. (The change to Trask made as much sense.)

And at the end of Days Of Future Past, the timeline was fully restored to undo all of the events that had occurred from 2000 onward. Scott Summers, Jean Grey, and Professor Xaiver were alive, well, and kicking. Everything that happened after 1973 never happened. Fans were free of that horrible ending of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. (Rest in peace, Weapon XI. We hardly knew ye and never wanted to know more either.) The black leather suits? Gone and gone. With a blank slate the franchise could really go anywhere with no limitations. The stories that could be told with the team intact were endless. What happened in the 80’s, 90’s? Even the 2000’s? The characters we could meet. Most franchises aren’t afforded the luxury of wiping the chalkboard clean with limitless possibilities to explore.

Instead, the franchise paraded right back into familiar territory. X-Men: Apocalypse was an unmitigated disaster in my eyes, a sloppy excuse of a sequel that someone (coughSimonKinbergcough) ruined. Sure, we finally got to meet the younger versions of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, each role cast wisely for future sequels, and viewers finally introduced to new mutants. But that’s where the positives end. Olivia Munn nailed the personality and image of Psylocke (minus that saucy British accent) – but how do you bungle Apocalypse and Caliban? Moreover, you do wonders with introducing audiences to Storm, but you opt to craft a story wherein Magneto has his his wife – and son! – murdered, thus making him fit to be one of the Four Horsemen? You wander the narrative back to Canada just for two nonsensical minutes of Logan hacking-and-slashing his way to freedom – then have Jean Grey be the force that makes him forget everything? Come on. And the necessity of another Quicksilver piece set to popular music is unnecessary, and we’ve seen it before.

But at least you kind of nailed the mid-1980’s costumes, alright. Did Kinberg phone that script in, thinking his “creative genius” that piloted Fantastic Four to glory – sorry, all-out ruin – would help this time? If you have a clean slate, yet you’ve already get other properties connecting to audiences because of their ability to stand out among the genre, then perhaps try following that path and make a X-Men movie that stands out with pride. The need to kill off cookie-cutter villains grows old. The inability to pen a sound narrative gets infuriating. Sure, we got the right characters in the fray, but went back to clutter this world up again. Kinberg isn’t the savant destined to lead the franchise to greatness. Oh, and speaking of which…

Don’t Let Simon Kinberg Become The Next Avi Arad

Happy Sad Confused Podcast

Every great franchise has its overlord that either weaves gold to please the masses – or drops a steaming turd that turns fans absolutely cold. For example, let’s look at the bigger giants. Kevin Feige? Worked with Marvel productions at Fox and Sony in his early years, branched out  and went out to lead Marvel to greatness with Marvel Studios. He’s very much quite employed and allowing filmmakers to come in to complete films all through both originality and partnership. (Okay, so the whole Edgar Wright/Ant-Man debacle hurt Feige a bit, but he’s clearly learned his lesson if you look at what James Gunn, Scott Derrickson, and Taika Waititi have been allowed to lens.) David Goyer? Crafted the reliably entertaining trilogy of Blade films for New Line Cinema, developed an ego that rivals a certain world leader’s, then moved on to wreck havoc with the DCCU at Warner Brothers. Currently out of that position while Geoff Johns tries to tidy that mess with a small broom. Then there’s Avi Arad. He helped Sony propel Spider-Man through a trilogy that many envy to replicate but have failed miserably. Granted, he and Sony executives are responsible for the hot mess that is Spider-Man 3 (it’s okay Raimi – we know that wasn’t your fault). Arad also went dark and gritty and real for Andrew Garfield’s films. First one wasn’t so bad, but Amazing Spider-Man…well…at least we got a faithful version of Spidey on the screen! Arad is still very much involved with the character though, but not with Marvel – only with Sony. He’s currently off subjugating Venom, Silver Sable, and Black Cat to movies that aren’t necessary at Sony. (They’d be best with Marvel at his backing but hey, he’s a “visionary.”)

Simon Kinberg though, he could be so much better if he didn’t attempt to be omnipresent over every production he either writes or produces. Sure, he produced both Logan and Deadpool but he had little ripple effect on either production, both movies of which were commercial and creative successes independently run by each respective director. I’m not sure what Fox sees exactly in the auteur. His successes? Well, erm, well, he’s a writer and producer on Star Wars Rebels on Disney XD and produces one of television’s sweetest and biggest surprises, Designated Survivor. I suppose Jumper wasn’t a bad little action romp either, aided by a brisk pace and wall-to-wall action with little plot or character development. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is passable on a rainy afternoon. But his misfires? Well, he was responsible for writing X-Men: The Last StandxXx: State of the Union was a lethargic predictable bummer. Oh, and let’s not discuss the biggest slight on his career – the bleak, dismal, and unpleasant Fantastic Four. You know a movie is absolutely atrocious when Marvel Comics seemingly does away with Marvel’s first family – and hasn’t even dared to bring them back yet. Josh Trank’s movie was so inferior that the clamor to relinquish the rights to Marvel Studios persists to today. (Fox hasn’t budged yet, and Kevin Feige recently confirmed he isn’t looking to get the rights back. So he says anyway.)

Listen, Simon. Huddle up. You were able to write a satisfactory script for Days Of Future Past because you had talent like Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman around you. Hell, Bryan Singer has been a guiding light for the X-Men franchise for a long time. Don’t go off thinking your crap doesn’t emit any type of scent. Everyone’s crap stinks. You’ve shown a flash of promise and brilliance across your career but if you meander off the Yellow Brick Road you’ll discover a very dismal place that isn’t friendly. Collaborate with those who have the experience and the know-how to please both casual theater-goers and the die-hard fans. You can do your own thing but don’t recycle material or plot points. Don’t kill off characters just because you want shock value in your films. Arad jumped off the deep end into murky waters with his last Spider-Man movie – and, yes, the movie made some bank but at the effect of alienating audiences. Changing the entire backstory of the Osborne family? That was the start. Kinberg, you still have time to prosper and shine, but maybe some collusion won’t dampen your vision in the long run. The elementary solution starts with a partnership that blossomed only months ago…

Grow The Partnership Between Fox and Marvel

That’s right – Marvel and Fox are working together. To a degree anyway. Marvel Entertainment, the television arm of the studio that includes Jeph Loeb and Jim Chory, already have a very large measure of success. The line-up of shows on Netflix, initially set for 63 episodes across five television series, continues to expand without an end in sight. (The Defenders debuts on August 18th with The Punisher dropping sometime in November – with new seasons of Jessica JonesLuke CageIron Fist, and Daredevil all on the horizon in various stages of production.) The arm also has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Inhumans on ABC currently, though the former won’t return till at least October. That’s a crime in itself but I’ll save that for another time. No one actually thought the day would come but, over a year and a half ago, Marvel and Fox hopped into the same bed together.

20th Century Fox and Marvel Entertainment agreed to work together to produce two new television series set in the X-Men universe. The first was about the Hellfire Club and would air primetime on Fox. The other was Legion, which currently airs on FX. Now, Legion was a blast to watch and was one of the most visually stunning epics I’ve ever watched on a cable channel. The show, developed and ran by Noah Hawley (currently the mastermind behind Fargo), was an acid trip washed in vibrant colors, with killer acting that left audiences staring in awe at the chaos erupting on the screen. The eight episodes went by too quick but my God, if someone was going to nail a character as crazed as David Haller, Noah Hawley is that genius. Fox, who moved on from the idea behind the Hellfire Club, opted to go in a wholly different direction with X-Men fan Matt Nix. Nix, who spent seven seasons guiding Burn Notice on USA, will serve as showrunner to the second show as part of that deal. The Gifted will air on Fox – yes, broadcast television – with a pilot helmed by Bryan Singer and deal with the fallout as two human parents, one working against mutantkind, go on the run from their own government when their children are outed to be mutants.

Marvel may have really dropped a giant bomb when they sold off various property rights to emerge from Chapter 11 a couple decades ago. They were in dire straits, I can certainly understand. Had they known audience demand for small-and-big screen adaptations of their beloved characters, maybe things would have played out vastly different. Kevin Feige has turned out to be the greatest gift Marvel was ever blessed with. Jeph Loeb is finding better success running Marvel’s television appendage as he’s grown older. Clearly, twenty-plus years on, Marvel has learned their lesson and know what makes a winning formula. Though Tom Rothman was unwilling to work with Marvel in the past (because he was a total idiot), 20th Century Fox is now run by Jim Gianopulos, who is more keen to expand partnerships than isolate the studio from other creative fronts. The Sony/Marvel deal was a huge eye-opener, and I can foresee Gianopulos want to work more with Feige and Loeb. Though their initial agreement has been fulfilled, the two groups aren’t be going their separate ways. FXX announced during the TV Upfronts that the network would be developing an animated series based on the heroic shenanigans of the Merc With A Mouth, Deadpool. Donald Glover will serve as an executive producer…along with Jeph Loeb and Jim Chory.

Of course, now that he actually IS a director, Kinberg have to do what’s best for business for the franchise. 20th Century Fox’s official announcement that Simon Kinberg will make his directorial debut with X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a bit of a toss-up. Part of me is happy that the core cast is returning of the previous trilogy – you kind of need James MvAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence as the glue needed to keep the youthful X-Men together. At the same time I’m also frightened at what Kinberg could do for the franchise. Apocalypse only grossed $155 mil Stateside – Days Of Future Past finished with $233 million. Is the skid from fatigue? Lack of interest? Or something else? And with three X-Men movies releasing in 2018, only one of them so far is an absolute hit on launch. (Deadpool 2 – not even a question.) So, do the fans a favor, alright? You may know the properties like the back of your hand. You have been a creative force with the franchise for 11 years. You’ve got some decent talent when you produce projects. But for the love of God, look at your past mistakes. Keep an open ear. Be receptive of feedback. But, most importantly -don’t screw this the hell up. The fans are always ready to pounce.

Until next time Fan Fest fam you keep reading them – and I’ll keep writing them.