WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS FOR ALL MOVIES IN THE FOX X-MEN FRANCHISE, most recently including DARK PHOENIX. If you prefer not to read, turn away now.
Remember when comic book movies were God awful? Shall I remind us of Daredevil (2003), Catwoman (2004), or Fantastic Four (2005)? Shall I take it a step further and remind us of Elektra (2005), Ghostrider (2007), and my personal pick for the undisputed worst one I have ever witnessed in my lifetime…Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003)? Despite the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in the 2010’s, we can’t deny that the medium as a whole has suffered its “dark ages”. However, even in that range, there were gems that critics, fans, and audiences paid good money to see multiple times. I’m talking about Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005), and when we have the conversation of early-mid 2000s comic book movies that paved the road, we absolutely have to include Fox’s X-Men Franchise.
It began in the year 2000. Y2K was proven wrong, America dealt with a controversial General Election which was eventually ruled in favor of the GOP (some things never change, huh?), Tiger Woods was still a relevant athlete, Eminem released “The Marshall Mathers LP” (which many listened to via Napster), Friends was still on the air…and Bryan Singer (big oof in 2019, I know) just directed X-Men.
The X-Men are known for being an ensemble, but they are typically led by Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto), portrayed by Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen respectively. Audiences were also introduced to Halle Berry’s Storm, Anna Paquin’s Rogue, and Hugh Jackman’s iconic Wolverine. The first movie received generally positive reviews, was followed by the critically acclaimed X2 (2003), and the infamously bad X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). Seeing as how the movies were indeed making money, and since Fox had the rights to the characters (a simpler time), going beyond the trilogy seemed to make the most sense. Unfortunately, this led to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), a “laughably bad movie” river that critics on the internet ran dry within weeks of its release. I actually also got a chance to review the movie and pitch my idea for it on The Doctor Script Podcast, which you can find here.
I would definitely not be surprised if you read that last paragraph and forgot about the existence of half of those movies. This is mostly because the “modern” X-Men franchise took off after the original trilogy and Wolverine spin-off, when Matthew Vaughn directed the phenomenal X-Men: First Class (2011). The younger versions of Professor X and Magneto, masterfully portrayed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively, kicked off more movies that eventually brought us to where we are today, the end of an era with Dark Phoenix absolutely bombing at the box office. As a fan of the franchise I saw the movie myself, and while I can’t say it was good, I don’t think it was unwatchable or terrible. I honestly just think the general audience forgot about or got bored of the X-Men. It’s pretty plain to see that the franchise wasn’t meticulously planned out like an MCU situation, and while there’s some semblance of a canon, audiences often find themselves having to overlook things and watch some of the later movies in a vacuum especially after the wildly successful branching-off of Logan and Deadpool.
Despite all of this, there was one part of Dark Phoenix that I noticed and actually wanted to explore, and that is what inspired this post. In a world where humanity was originally frightened and hostile towards mutants, Professor X has created a team that has become popular with the general public through acts of service, he even has a direct line to the White House that the President uses for emergencies. Raven, however, comments that a lot of this relationship for the mutants is giving and not getting anything in return, except for Xavier’s countless awards and accolades. Xavier retorts that this is the only way mutants will be accepted into society, and that messing with this relationship even once will result in mutants becoming public enemy number one again. Meanwhile, Magneto is far away in a government-approved shelter providing a home for lost mutants who would rather live isolationist lives.
In 2019’s political climate, where the treatment of minorities seems to be a constant talking point for elected officials, this aspect of the X-Men is absolutely perfect to explore. In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Marvel Comics architect Stan Lee used his medium of comic books to try and make a difference. He created the world of Wakanda, which almost everyone is familiar with today. “Those stories have room for everyone, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or color of their skin,” Lee said in this video published by Marvel in 2017. “The only things we don’t have room for are hatred, intolerance, and bigotry.” It is entirely true that the world of the X-Men was created to serve as a subtle nod to the struggles of minorities and to explain those struggles in the comic book medium (subtle in the sense that they replaced “minorities” with “mutants”).
We are unfortunately living in somewhat of a resurgence for outwardly bigoted behavior towards minorities. This includes unfair over-incarceration, outright murder by law enforcement, family separation laws, and attempts at banning entire countries from entering a nation that was built by immigrants (many of whom didn’t even come here by choice)…so literally everything Prince N’Jobu and Erik Killmonger were furious with in Black Panther. Make no mistake, my personal favorite and arguably most interesting part of any X-Men story is exploring this dynamic: The Government’s fear-mongering of mutants for political agendas, the mutant community’s inner-conflict on how to deal with their oppression, and the different methodology on how to achieve the same goal demonstrated by Professor X and Magneto.
Rumors are constantly spread about how Professor X was based on Martin Luther King Jr, making Magneto based on Malcolm X. While this has never been outright confirmed, the basic concept rings true. Professor X wants to work with humans and show that mutants have a lot to contribute to society. Magneto views this as being a glorified janitor for humanity’s screw-ups, and he doesn’t share the same hope that his counterpart does. This dynamic has a lot to say about the minority experience, and it is also a look into how modern day activists go about enacting social justice. Essentially, this single theme would enable a creator to bring audiences a movie that not only portrays the nuance of how minorities of various backgrounds feel (Professor X grew up quite privileged, whereas Magneto was a Holocaust survivor), but can also serve as an analysis of our modern protest culture and the political correctness movement itself.
Many are already aware that Fox no longer has the rights to these characters, as they have been bought by Disney to now fall under the MCU umbrella. While Marvel Studios has stated that fans will have to wait a while to see the X-Men on the big screen again, and while the purchase of Fox’s assets by Disney have caused a lot of unrest in the industry, I have high hopes that the same studio that brought us Black Panther and Captain Marvel can focus on this powerful dynamic between Charles and Erik. I will always fondly remember Stewart/McAvoy and McKellen/Fassbender as these characters, and I implore anyone reading this to take some time and do the same.
Of course, Marvel/Disney could always just choose to give us more of the Phoenix Force, more of Wolverine’s personal conflict, and more dick jokes with Deadpool. Or they could choose to use these characters to give us something real, thought provoking, and culturally relevant. One can only hope they give us the latter.
- X-Men: The Animated Series*
- X-Men: First Class
- X-Men: Evolution*
- X-Men: Days of Future Past
*Television series, available for purchase on Amazon Prime Video and iTunes.