There are seven superhero movies coming out this year. And another seven on the way for 2017. If you’re starting to feel like our current pop culture landscape is being dominated almost exclusively by dudes in capes slugging it out, you’d pretty much be right.
And if you’re looking for an origin story for how this all happened, how the superheroes took over Hollywood, you just have to go back to the year 2000. That’s when Bryan Singer’s X-Men came out, and showed mainstream audiences (and movie studios) just how fun — and profitable — watching super-powered mutants beat the crap out of each other for 90+ minutes could be.
Fast-forward 16 years, and the genre has exploded. Budgets are bigger, expectations are higher than ever, and the franchises never end: when X-Men: Apocalypse hits theaters this week, it’ll be the ninth movie in the series — a cinematic juggernaut of sequels, prequels, spin-offs and the current trilogy (which Singer has dubbed “in-between-quels”).
But now that we get a new superhero flick seemingly every other month, it’s getting tougher for the X-Men movies to stand out (and it’s not just because of those boring costumes). And after Singer triumphantly returned to the franchise with 2014’s Days of Future Past, his follow-up is getting the series’ worst reviews since X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Yeah, yikes.
So where did it all go wrong, and where can the movies go from here? Here’s a few of the most pressing problems facing the X-Men franchise after its latest lacklustre outing.
Apocalypse feels like a relic from the past
And we’re not just talking about the fact that the movie’s set in 1983 — opening 10 years after Michael Fassbender’s Magneto dropped a baseball stadium on the White House lawn. Starring Oscar Isaac as the world’s OG mutant who wakes up after a few centuries determined to destroy Earth and rebuild from the ashes, the plot of X-Men: Apocalypse could describe pretty much any big-budget comic book movie from the past 15 years: big, bad guy wants to blow up the planet for [insert reason here].
Problem is, watching the world’s most famous landmarks get obliterated via state-of-the-art CGI isn’t the same showstopper it used to be. And when you’re getting seven of these things a year, audiences are beginning to get burnt out on that same old superhero story. The three other comic book movies released so far in 2016 (Deadpool, Batman v. Superman, and Captain America: Civil War) all seemed to recognize that and shook up the formula a bit. That Apocalypse didn’t just makes it feel stuck in the past by comparison.
The franchise needs a new face
Wolverine may be ageless for all intents and purposes, but Hugh Jackman isn’t. And as hard as the Aussie actor works in the gym to defy Father Time, even he’s starting to admit that he can’t play the fan favourite Logan forever. The lone constant in the entire X-franchise, Jackman makes a brief, but memorable (and presumably contractually-obligated) cameo in Apocalypse, but there’s no denying that this series is in dire need of new blood.
By introducing GoT’s Sophie Turner as a young Jean Grey and Tye Sheridan as a young Scott Summers, Apocalypse attempts to pass the baton on to the next generation, but the movie’s true star is Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, who’s become a symbol for mutant-kind after playing the hero in Days of Future Past. And as hard as this current trilogy has tried to make Lawrence into their franchise savior — The Great Blue Hope — it’s just not a great fit. She may be front and centre on every movie poster, but Lawrence’s Mystique has always felt like a second-rate Katniss impersonation, and Lawrence herself feels like she’s got one foot out the door, on loan from her true career as a perennial Oscar contender. Now Lawrence says she isn’t even sure if she’ll be in the next movie. It might be time to see how well Deadpool plays with others…
What’s the plan?
Say what you will about Marvel’s insistence on building up to a pair of movies about a purple bad guy coveting a gem-encrusted glove (seriously, look it up), but at least the company has an endgame that they’re marching toward with every box office-busting new movie. Meanwhile, DC’s working on assembling their own Justice League team-up. And while the X-franchise cleverly traveled back in time to the ‘60s in First Class to correct their past mistakes (ahem, X3, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), they’ve also painted themselves into a corner by choosing to rewrite history instead of simply rebooting it, leaving them with nowhere to go.
It’s already been announced that after Apocalypse, the next movie (the first rule of franchise club: there’s always a “next one”) will take place in the ‘90s. But before you know it, this franchise is going to loop back around on itself, and be forced to deal with the consequences of a timeline that’s been shot to hell thanks to all the sequels, prequels and time travel. They can keep putting it off for another movie or two, but eventually, that bill is going to come due, and they’d better have a plan in place to pay it all off.
The bar has been raised
When the first X-Men movie came out in 2000, it’s not like the franchise had much in the way of competition; the only other comic book movie released that year was a direct-to-DVD sequel to The Crow. At the time, just not screwing up a superhero story was considered an unqualified accomplishment. But thanks to Singer’s success and the subsequent comic book gold rush he helped inspire, audiences have come to expect more out of their superhero movies. And Apocalypse suffers from those same raised expectations.
In 2000, the first X-Men ran an hour and 44 minutes. This new origin story for those same X-Men clocks in at almost two-and-a-half-hours, bigger, but not better, hampered by hokey dialogue and a clichéd villain, leaving Singer struggling to clear the same bar he helped raise some 16 years ago. In the world of X-Men: Apocalypse, mutants are no longer new or exciting— humanity’s gotten used to them. And the same goes at the movie theatre. The superhero genre has continued to evolve, and after Apocalypse, this franchise is left to play catch-up. Otherwise, this is the way the world of the X-Men ends. Not with a bang or a whimper, but with a yawn.