In the wake of the tepid reaction to Dark Phoenix being released this month, it is fairly obvious that the movie franchise that undoubtedly paved the way for the hugely ambitious Marvel Cinematic Universe has reached an end, leaving on a whimper instead of a bang.
I am a huge fan of the X-Men. I have read key story arcs from the comics, plus enjoyed the myriad video games and the multiple cartoon series. Yet, I have found that the movies have failed to capture the same spark and energy that the cartoons and the original comics have. The future of the X-Men does not lie on film – for now – but it might fare better as a TV show instead.
Number of adventures
Comic books are sold in issues, sometimes weekly or monthly. Regardless, this means that with the original team of X-Men (Beast, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Angel and Cyclops) we enjoyed 59 adventures before there was any sort of change in the team, with the arrival of Havok and Polaris. Though there were some storylines that would stretch over multiple issues, we were still treated to distinct chapters within the story. This allowed for us to grow to love these characters and continue to read as a result of the enduring premise.
This is lost on film. When you see these characters on film, they are bound to one storyline for the entire two hours. There are gaps of years between when you see characters and there is inevitably a change in the superhero roster before the next time that you see them. This means that you develop less of a connection to the characters and how they function as a team. Within a TV programme, however, like the hugely popular 90s cartoon of X-Men, you get treated to multiple episodes with the same team and seeing them work in different combinations and function effectively to defeat multiple foes. If there is a big enemy, it makes it all the more powerful when you get to experience a multi-part story, which is almost more dramatic and epic than a film version.
Within the film community, there has been a parting away from the more fluffy and camp ideas of superhero movies towards more serious and dramatic fare. While it is nice to inject some realism into the storyline, X-Men was never especially light hearted, considering the huge amounts of persecution that the superheroes suffer at the hands of humanity because of their status as mutants. As a trope of this genre, each X-Men film inevitably results in the team being divided, either by some twist of fate to keep them away from their enemy, or because there are divisions within the team as they disagree. This means we only get a handful of moments when the entire team is together, generally at the film’s climax. This simply is not enough to create the same sort of excitement as often as with a TV show where this can be paced better and more frequently.
It is unrealistic for a comicbook superhero team with a history as complex and rich as the X-Men to expect it all to be covered within the course of a film. It is simply impossible to give the correct amount of screen time and development to all of the heroes that the audience love, especially when there is no guarantee that the actors will be available for sequels and further developments. On a TV show, this is more certain and, over the course of the episodes, characters can undergo a meaningful development and transformation that has been planned out by the writing team, instead of dramatic shifts in characterisation between movies. Especially when there are so many X-Men to introduce and delve into, it makes sense to make it a longer form storytelling where we learn more about the characters than just what superpowers they have, which is often the focus within the films.
This is something that I feel is lacking generally within the superhero TV programmes at the moment – largely, I believe due to budgetary constraints upon how many superpowers a character can show within an episode. However, in the films, the characters spend a lot of their time not using their powers. Similarly to as I pointed out earlier with the divisions within the team, there could be many more moments where the X-Men come together to fight a common foe.
With Disney’s own streaming service, Disney+, coming this Autumn, with a host of MCU-related content, I am confident that having an X-Men programme that focusses upon the core X-Men team (or even a group like X-Factor), allowing a proper development and battling of different enemies. It would allow for the writers to explore lesser-known comic book storylines, or even to invent their own. Were budget to be a consideration, then a cartoon version could be made instead, which would allow for any number of ambitious stunts and conflicts. Having a television programme to introduce the X-Men would also allow for a better integration into the MCU, when that time comes.
Fingers crossed that the MCU signals a new wave for the X-Men, and also the Fantastic Four. The tone has yet to be nailed, as all of the film instalments seem to take the characters far too seriously and forget the bright and fun nature of the comics, featuring bright and energetic teenagers facing new foes on a weekly basis. The future looks bright.