Most film franchises have a list of standard ingredients that, when combined properly, create a sequel or prequel that fits in right along with the other entries. We as fans expect a level of continuity and attention to detail that will make franchise entries feel smoothly contiguous, and we expect the people making them to know what we love about these films, and (more importantly) why.
That’s not to say that franchises can’t tinker with the formula (or throw it out) to deliver innovative and diverse entries. We should encourage that, but we all know that sequels are popular because we want more of the things we like.
But the X-Men franchise is diversifying. It says a lot when Deadpool, a Valentine’s Day release, was a critically acclaimed megahit and next week’s X-Men “summer event movie” is getting very mixed reviews. I suspect there’s a sea change afoot for this franchise. James Mangold’s solid but forgettable The Wolverine was the first, tentative wave of change. The astonishing success of Deadpool, a mid-budget film that scored a bigger box office return than the mega-budgeted Days of Future Past, is the second, stronger wave. Rest assured — change is coming. It’s no coincidence that the Gambit solo movie was delayed for rewrites and now has no official release date.
But as the franchise moves forward, Fox is going to need a few things to retain the essence of what made the X-Men film franchise such a colossus.
In a time when continuity and serialization are imperatives in the Marvel and DC cinematic universes, the X-Men franchise has found a groove in simply not worrying about the specifics of continuity or the effects of time across its nine movies. The timeline is a broken mess, and there’s nothing to do about it but shrug (which is a fine option) or reboot the franchise and establish a new continuity. Personally, I think it’s more interesting to have the films blatantly disregard a solid continuity, so future entries are not beholden to picking up the detritus left by previous entries. (I’m looking at you, Batman v. Superman.)
The addition of new mutants and the inclusion of old favorites is a given. But team members come and go, and yet all of the X-Men movies have either featured Wolverine or acknowledged him in some way. Even Deadpool had a few jokes about him. But with Hugh Jackman’s supposed swan song for the character in production right now, future entries will need to find a way to compensate for his complete absence. He’s been the pillar around which this franchise is built, and it’ll never be the same without him. Jennifer Lawrence has become another sturdy pillar as Mystique, but the character is no Wolverine, and I’m not certain Lawrence wants to stick around for another outing. The same goes for James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.
Given the series’ cavalier attitude toward continuity, casting another actor in the role isn’t out of the question. But we’re hearing rumors that X-23, the female clone of Wolverine, will be making her big screen debut in a future installment. If they play their cards right, X-23 could be more than just a clone. She could be the new Wolverine.
Like it or not, Singer’s direction and guidance have defined the way this franchise looks and feels. He is, in no small part, responsible for its proliferation. But he didn’t direct the best X-Men movie (the infinitely rewatchable First Class), and after the divided critical reaction to Apocalypse, I’m not sure he should continue to be a primary guiding force in this franchise. Nevertheless, Singer is part of the formula, and without a “clean slate” reboot, he will continue to be.
So regardless of any misgivings about this summer’s new entry, I think the X-Men franchise is heading in the right direction. And they’re doing it by breaking the formula. What Deadpool tells us is that X-fans are likely eager for more variety in the franchise. If Fox can keep giving us uncanny new mutants, great casting, and thoughtfully-written solo films with fan favorite mutants, then things are looking up. We’ll just have to make it through an Apocalypse first.