Before its acquisition by Disney, Fox’s X-Men series saw dizzying heights with X2 (2002), First Class (2011) and Logan (2017), as well as falling into the suffocating depths of entries such as The Last Stand (2006) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). With the Deadpool side of things being so far left in stasis – after all, its iconic R-Rated demeanour isn’t the best match for Disney’s family-friendly branding – the primary X-Men team is the most likely to see the light of day through entries in the MCU’s upcoming phases.
So, what can Disney do to revitalise this franchise? For a start, I’d continue keeping the X-Men relatively separate from the Avengers side of their corporate behemoth. Continuity has been the blessing and bane of the MCU’s existence but establishing a pocket as complex as the X-Men while trying to connect it to the rest of the world would turn out cumbersome at best. Even in the comics, the X-Men don’t crossover all that much – their whole thing is being outcasts in a society that hypocritically worships mutated idols.
As far as tone is concerned, X-Men has always lent itself to a darker edge. Although violent spectacles such as Logan are an impossibility for Disney’s brand image, something along the lines of First Class and X2 seems about right for these superhero outcasts. Between the camaraderie shown in First Class, and the jovial antics of the student mutants in X2, a balance can be found that satiates the need for levity in the MCU and the troubling social-realism that’s inherent in the X-Men’s core.
Now for the fun bit: building a team. Everyone has their favourite characters and there are far too many to fit into a single film. Despite some pitfalls, Fox did a fine job in showcasing the comic book’s wealthy catalogue, even providing multiple incarnations across the long-running series. For the most part I’m fairly flexible in these decisions, but I’m unwilling to compromise on two things: (1) Storm has to be the leader and (2) Iceman has to be part of the team.
Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine was undoubtedly the all-star player in Fox’s rendition, and they wouldn’t let any of their audience forget it. In spite of the fact that Cyclops was the team’s field leader in the original trilogy, except for… erm… The Last Stand, it was Wolverine that always felt in charge. In the inevitable reboot, as much as I’d like to see Cyclops get a better treatment, Storm needs to lead the way. In fact, for a considerable period during Chris Claremont’s classic run on Uncanny X-Men, Storm led a formidable team. It would be a great opportunity not just for diversity, but to showcase Storm’s character beyond jokes revolving around frogs and lightning.
As for Iceman, despite being heavily featured in the aforementioned trilogy, it wasn’t the character that we know now in the comics. Well, that’s maybe a little dramatic. Bobby Drake is still the same man, but in the last few years he has made the transition into one of the most famous LGBTQ+ superhero. The transitional period was a little rough at first, given the fact that he’s bluntly outed by a telepathic Jean Grey, but Drake’s slow acceptance of his homosexuality, and the difficulties of this as an older man, made for some moving conversations with his literal younger self (it’s a displaced-time storyline).
Disney needs to properly service the comic books that continue to be more progressive and forth-growing than their cinematic counterparts, and a revived X-Men series is an excellent place to start. Also, no more Dark Phoenix. It’s a brilliant storyline and I don’t doubt someone could make it work, but please, just no.