I promised to come back to the subject of copycatting the Marvel Cinematic Universe, aka the Avenger films. The most obvious competitor, DC and Warner Bros, came first. This was partially to buy time for me to become better acquainted with other such efforts.
Example, and today’s subject: Fox’s endeavors with their X-Men franchise.
Before the Avengers phenomenon, Fox had already produced five X-Men movies, including the X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and X-Men: First Class. Since Avengers came out and took the box office by storm, they’ve produced The Wolverine and X-Men: Days of Future Past, complete with the Marvel-esque post-credits scenes, and have plans for several more films.
From an outside view, it looks like Fox was simply caught flat-footed by Marvel’s success and is scrambling to pull their own “Avenger films” out their ass as quickly as possible. They do have a cast which is automatically wide and varied. Many such characters are long since well-established, and any new and/or minor cast members can be very easily explained, so Fox can move much faster on this than DC. However, I could see at least two particular points against them.
1) I decided not to see Days of Future Past because the previous four X-Men films (all the films produced after United) were extremely sub-par. They had plenty of fireworks, lots of conflict, but that is not the same as having lots of plot, a high-quality story, with lovable, developing characters we can relate to. So many things just felt contrived, just thrown in there to look neat, my expectations (after four disappointments) were just far too low. I had no motivation to see it.
2) Outside the original trilogy, there was no clear, visible connection between any of these latest movies. It is my understanding that there is some explanation for this provided in Days of Future Past, but I wasn’t really interested in hearing it. Marvel has had a plan from the beginning, but Fox has not, so throwing some random connection into the mix in a desperate attempt to jump on the Avengers bandwagon, particularly in light of most of these films being so sub-par, just did not appeal to me.
However, with the good things I heard about Days of Future Past, I began to wonder. Perhaps I was completely wrong. Perhaps the MCU is giving us an unexpected gift, pushing Fox to step their game up. So, I watched it.
And I was wrong.
And I am very happy about it!
Well, ok, I am wrong insomuch as they actually produced a high-quality story, with more than just fireworks, more than conflict, more than “stuff that looks neat.” They had an actual plot in this movie. It was like going back to the first two movies again! Yay!
The validity of this movie as part of an overarching Avenger-inspired franchise can still be debated, quite thoroughly.
While Avengers launched the MCU as a whole, Days of Future Past is more like hastily-applied bandages, or emergency repairs, or something along those lines. The starship X-Men has taken great damage, not the least of them in battling starship Avengers, and is now being held together by duct tape and bubblegum.
For one thing, the X-Men movies still have so many continuity errors when compared with each other, it gets difficult to keep track. They cannot all take place in the same universe. It simply can’t be done. Days of Future Past took these and tried to make them all fit together, but see above analogy regarding duct tape. We now have movies with virtually no connection to one another all jammed together in a massive, tangled jumble of chaos, one that puts the worst mass of tangle cords to absolute shame.
For another, while those movies apparently (somehow) all happened, they now have not happened. At the end of Days of Future Past, we see the establishment of a new timeline, after visiting the events of all the previous films, which completely overwrites everything that has happened, everything that has been “established.” Everyone who we saw die, or can infer died, in a the years following 1973, is alive again. Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, etc. So they took the time to tie all the movies together, and then wipe them out. New timeline. It’s another universe, distinct from all the others that were already distinct from each other.
They took a page out of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek book, using time travel to create an entirely new universe in which they can do anything they want.
Granted, they already were doing exactly that, but as this was the first X-Men movie since United to make me enjoy it (and against some fairly stacked odds, too), I find myself finally looking forward to the next one.
Just for that one small accomplishment alone, I am impressed. Particularly since Fox was caught flat-footed in the middle of their ongoing mutant-based franchise and essentially pulled this out of thin air. There may yet be some hope. Certainly, with the slate “wiped clean,” they now have the freedom they need to take on the MCU directly, and have a chance of not losing terribly.
So, Fox started out strong, then tumbled and got pretty beaten up, but now they have rocketed back into the running. There are still some projects they are pursuing I have reservations about, primarily another Wolverine movie (loners are cool, but they can hardly carry an entire movie alone), and movies for Deadpool (crazy villain) and Gambit (who has not been allowed to shine as of yet). Now, at least, I have been reminded that they can do a good job. I have particular hope for X-Men: Apocalypse and an X-Force movie (bringing in fresh faces to carry the franchise forward).
Also, kudos for pulling Apocalypse out of their hat, as Marvel pulled out Thanos.
So, as they say, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over… Bub.”