Hey folks, Phil Gee here with a brand new series of weekly articles for Think Mcfly Think called ‘memo to the executives’. Inspired by Gene Siskel & Rogert Ebert (as is so much of what Jamie and I do), these opinion pieces are designed to cast a look at the future of the blockbuster franchises of today (or maybe of yesteryear) and try to pitch the best direction to take them next. These musings are in no way what I believe WILL happen but simply what I would want to see.
We actually did this for a few weeks on our weekly pod cast ‘movie-moan’ but a) there’s way too much movie news to cover each week and b) by the time I’m done yakking about American films that have been given delayed UK release dates, I’m too tired to say anything coherent on the subject. So let me use the power of the written word to pitch to you and let me start this week with probably the best example of a franchise which defines ‘wasted potential’.
'The Uncanny X-Men'
To be fair, X-Men has definitely had a better run on the silver screen than some of the other Marvel Comics creations both in terms of quality and longitude. The first film validated the comic book movie as a legitimate genre, the second was the best wet dream you could have given to a comic book nerd, the third (if you ignore how it destroyed the potential of so many storylines that had been set up in the first two) was a big dumb but admittedly fun tub of popcorn. I despised the Wolverine spin-off film with every fibre of my being but the fact that it made over $80 million dollars in its opening weekend despite the biggest movie piracy breach I can remember just the month before is a testament to the popularity of this series.
But now we hear the constant rumours of a sequel to Wolverine, the Magneto prequel, and an outing for the younger generation of X-Men called ‘First Class’. I find it hard to actually say that the ‘X-Men’ franchise is still up and running when we’re not actually getting any official sequels here. I doubt we actually will. I do believe that one far off and happy day, Marvel Studios is going to retain the rights to fully produce and finance the X-Men films themselves and integrate them into the Marvel film universe it is currently building. But by the time we get to that point there will be little point making ‘X-Men Returns’. There will only be one logical choice:
REEEEEEEEEEEEEBOOOOOOOOOOOT (insert your own choice of a dramatic musical sting here)!
It is a word we are all sick of hearing but, in the case of X-Men, I feel it is the right thing to do and it could turn into something incredibly exciting. While Bryan Singer gave us the version of X-Men where everything had a logic, a reason for being and the reality of it felt just one small step beyond the world we know, there is another version out there. This version contains just as much allegory to the real world problems of race and prejudice, just as richly defined characters, just as much pathos, just as much fun but it is also an epic on a gigantic scale previously unobtainable given the limited budgets of the first few films.
I am talking about the literal translation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s ‘The Uncanny X-Men’ being brought to the screen.
This is the version where Magneto lives on an asteroid and hijacks nuclear weapons to throw right back at the human governments who persecute mutant kind. Where he is so unbelievably powerful that the X-Men, even functioning as a team, have never been able to defeat him in combat.
This is the version where Cyclops really is the leader, Storm is a Goddess and Wolverine is short, stumpy and ugly.
This is the version where, to tactfully deal with the mutant problem, giant robots are sent to capture and kill them.
This is the version where Jean Grey is possessed by a malevolent alien life form and brought to justice by an interstellar empire known as the Shi’ar for having already consumed a star and killed billions in the process.
And this is the version where the X-Men where those multi-coloured uniforms.
You probably think I’m crazy but in an effort, if nothing else, to get away from that tired old solution of putting comic book characters in insipid black leather outfits just because the filmmakers can’t figure out any other way to translate them to the screen (which even happened to the poor G.I.Joe’s this year), I say that you can make the original X-Men outfits work on screen. I admit that it is extremely challenging but our only point of reference for assuming it cannot work is the fan made costumes we see at comic conventions. I remember my heart almost jumping out of my chest the first time I saw an actual on-set image of Spider-man from the first Sam Raimi directed film and realising that they had actually brought that not too subtle costume to the screen and made it work. You can do it you know. You can make these things a little larger than life (maybe a lot larger than life) as long as you are true to what makes the piece work. It will take an extremely talented costume designer to pull it off but I think it is possible to create, not a literal translation, but something which really adheres to the colour and energy found in the panels of those Claremont stories.
And by God, if you pull those costumes off and the fans get a look on the internet, the anticipation for this new version of X-Men will immediately be on their radar. It seems to be one of those things proven by the history of the genre that nothing will get the fans foaming at the mouth more than a look which is 100% faithful to what they know and love. Iron Man, Sin City, and Hellboy are just some examples which prove that. The black leather costumes were fine for the first series of films but this reboot would be a completely different animal. A science fiction epic where the conflict for acceptance and tolerance is played out on the largest canvas possible.
If the original X-Men trilogy nailed anything it was the casting (pretty much, cough, Halle, cough, Berry, cough cough), assembling an ensemble of actors who not only nailed their characters individually but developed that rare kind of chemistry that makes the audience really care about what happens to them and be ever eager to catch their next outing (something which propelled the original Star Trek crew to the still incredible achievement of six films). That is going to be hard to replicate when starting from scratch but it does give us a chance to see an even truer version of the characters than we got.
For however good the actors were, we got a weak Storm, an underutilised Cyclops who gets taken out like a punk before the Phoenix story even kicks off, a Rogue who never really got the chance to blossom into a sassy Southern belle, a not very physically intimidating Magneto and a Wolverine that was just too damn handsome and tall.
This time around, Cyclops needs to be the tall, handsome, commanding one. He may clash with Wolverine but when he puts the boot in, the team should be under no illusion as to who is in charge (which you never believed in the films we got). They certainly nailed that Cyclopes loves Jean Grey unconditionally last time but she has to love him the same way back because there is no man in the world more awesome than him. Wolverine does not have a chance with her. He’s a hunched over, craggy faced, feral animal. He’s a loner till the end, completely closed off from others and he cannot ever possibly lead the X-Men. Wolverine may be the fan favourite but he is not the star of the show, it’s an ensemble piece, just like Watchmen. And just like Watchmen I think, lazy comparison though it is, a Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach is what we need from a Wolverine this time. Someone as far away from a hunky Australian as we can get.
As far as the actual line-up goes, I don’t think you can go wrong with Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Jean Grey, Beast, Gambit and Rogue. Maybe it is my conditioning having grown up with that particular ensemble on the 90’s animated series but those characters really do cover all the bases. You’ve got the leader, the renegade, the soul, the love, the intellect, the scoundrel and the hot chick that every guy wants to be with. I’d have a hard time seeing Nightcrawler in the team for the only reason that the character was done so perfectly in X2 that there would be no point having him here. It would just be a retread of what we’ve already seen.
Now why don’t I throw a few ideas about actual plots for this new series of films.
Obviously, the first film should be the X-Men versus Magneto but rather than a battle spread over a couple of movies, this should be the definitive cinematic representation of their conflict. As I mentioned before, in the comics I grew up reading, the X-Men never actually defeated Maggie as he was just too powerful for them. In one of my favourite stories called ‘I Magneto’, the mutant terrorist demands that the homosapien governments of the world turn total control of the planet over to him or he will destroy them. The X-Men head to Magneto’s private island fortress to stop him but find it surrounded by an inhibitor field which suppresses their mutant powers. Given that they have never been able to defeat him with their powers, they enter into a suicidal mission facing him without them. Of course, despite his many battles with them, Professor Xavier has always been the only one that could pose a threat to Magneto. For all his powers, he cannot protect his mind from the world’s most powerful telepath, his old and probably only friend who now finds himself on the extreme other side of the fence regarding how mutants can survive in a world of bigotry. That wonderful iconography of the world’s most deadly and powerful mutant meeting his match in a humble cripple is something we still are waiting to see on the big screen.
And in Magneto’s threat to the world, we see both exactly what the X-Men have trained for and why humanity fears mutants in the first place. Imagine that as the climate of fear and hostility grows, the Mutant Registration Act (which was little more than a footnote in the original Bryan Singer film) is about to be brought into fruition. Magneto retaliates in the only way he knows how, with violence, threats and repercussion and while he thinks he is the self appointed saviour of mutant kind, all he is doing is strengthening the argument that mutants are too dangerous and powerful to simply be accepted into society. In an ironic ending to the first film, the X-Men would defeat Magneto and save the world but thanks to his actions, the Mutant Registration Act is passed and the future of their race seems more tenuous than ever before.
If you can really emphasize the hatred of humans to mutants while at the same time emphasizing the incredible odds against the X-Men surviving their fight against Magneto then you will have something very moving on the screen I think. They could very well have sat back and let Magneto take over the world, perhaps make the world safer for mutants while enslaving the humans who despise them. That they choose to risk everything to stop him is what makes them the wonderful creations they are. Not to mention, on the surface, we’re talking about a team superhero movie on a scale we haven’t seen before. I can’t see anybody not being excited to see this in the theatre.
Now where do you go after that? Giant friggin robots of course.
After the registration act is passed, it is a practical certainty that a lot of mutants will not come quietly and will have to be hunted down, and since many posses unbelievable powers, only the mechanical might of the Sentinels can do the job. I also think the second film might be a great time to bring in Genosha, the fictional country off the coast of Africa whose economy depends on its enslaved mutant population and where the entire mutant race could be deposited. If you think that sounds far fetched then just remember that there are some retarded bigots out there in our world who do think the solution to purging homosexuality would be to round up all the gay people from across the world and dump them on their own private island where they can practise their immorality away from the sight of normal people. Maybe the second Uncanny X-Men film could be a clever metaphor for the insane solutions prejudice people come up with to deal with problems of race and sexuality both in the past and the present.
And then you do the Dark Phoenix Saga in film three. There is no way around this folks. We did not get the Phoenix Saga in X-Men: The Last Stand. We got some sequences where Jean goes crazy and blows shit up (and it looked very nice too) but did not feel the real implications of this team of friends going through the agony of trying to save someone they loved from an impossible situation, of the cosmic scale of it and the final tragedy of Jean accepting the terrible fate which she did not deserve and her love Cyclops being powerless to stop it. It’s the ultimate soap opera, one of the defining stories in comic books and deserves to be on the screen, Shi’ar Empire and all.
And coming right back down to Earth for film four, you can’t go wrong with ‘Days of Future Past’ where the sole surviving X-Men try to change history in order to prevent a nightmarish future which leaves both homosapien and homosuperior races virtually wiped out as a result of the assassination of a US senator by mutant terrorists. It would make a great story coming off the Dark Phoenix Saga, with the X-Men despondent over Jean Grey’s death and questioning what the point of continuing their mission is, to be thrust into a situation which shows them the consequences of giving up, of what the world will become if they fail.
I would throw a further twist in there at the end of the story by having the future be altered not only by stopping the assassination, but by having Professor Xavier take the bullet and die, moving the world a huge step forward to peaceful co-existence between humans and mutants and converting Magneto to the side of the X-Men. Claremont himself stated that the ultimate fulfilment of Xavier’s dream would be represented by someone as hardcore adversarial as Magneto being redeemed by it.
So there are four out of a hundred possible stories for a new X-Men franchise. I think the important thing is that each X-Men cinematic outing from here on take a cue from the Nolan Batman movies in that rather than being a simple continuation of the story of the previous film, stand as individual stories that work by themselves and deal with individual themes. You may think that I am being too faithful to the source material, refusing to acknowledge how adaptation works. I assure you that I am in no way a comic book purist who will only accept a literal translation of the comic books. I just believe, having been given the ‘adapted’ version, X-Men really is a property that could be transferred without a frame or line of comic book dialogue out of line and work wonderfully well.
And hey, if a literal translation of the costumes doesn’t work, we’ll just end up with this…
…and it will be hilarious and I’ll still go see it.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is my pitch for this evening. I will now graciously accept your feedback.