The Future of the X-Men (Part Two)

The Auteur Approach to Logan and Legion

What Fox have done with Logan, and recently on FX’s Legion, is to allow for an auteur driven approach to their Marvel properties. Legion is lysergic, Lynchian and just a little bit brilliant but it’s also what happens when a director/showrunner is given complete creative control. Not only is that ballsy, it’s somewhat unique in the comic book adaptations landscape.

From the opening episode, Legion looks amazing but it distinguishes itself in other areas too as the central drama comes not from action set pieces but from moods and atmospheres.

That’s not to say action is missing, as the episode ends with an with a mixture of guns and psionic powers, but it also features a Bollywood-esque dance routine and a smattering of gender and repression issues.

And it is perhaps the most aesthetically extraordinary show currently on TV and recalls the daring used in Batman: The Animated Series in creating a fusion of styles. The look of how the characters dress says 70s at times but the technology would suggest a later time period and the music in the show ranges from Thomas Dolby’s Hyperactive (1984) to Radiohead’s The Daily Mail (2011).

It likely serves a thematic function as the main character, David Haller (played brilliantly by Dan Stevens), is diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic but it also shows the confidence Fox have in show-runner Noah Hawley’s bold vision for Legion. At its best, Legion is a mix of Inception and Lost Highway and I can’t pay it a higher compliment than that.

Where Legion also has another advantage over comic book films is that it has eight 60 minutes long (Well, 45-50 minutes) episodes to tell a story whereas a film is confined to a 90-120 minute narrative. And here’s where I make the pitch for the future of the X-Men and this first one, at least, is a fantasy, will probably never happen pitch.

More often than not I’ve come out of the cinema after a big budget film like Star Wars or the last fully fledged X-Men movie (X-Men Apocalypse) and felt like, “Man, I can’t wait to go home and get back to Peaky Blinders or the current best show on TV and my personal favourite, The Leftovers. TV, especially cable outlets like HBO, Showtime and FX, is where it’s at for great story-telling and we’ve seen the budgets for these type of shows increase exponentially over the years.

Stars too are flocking to television and it’s easy to see why: You can tell a more nuanced and in depth story, that has the look and feel of a big budget movie, much better if you have 8 hour long episodes instead of just 2 hours.

Where the X-Men should go next but probably won’t

A HBO or Netflix style X-Men show could be amazing -providing the right creative people were in place – and had the same auteur approach that we’ve seen in Logan and Legion. With these two adaptations, we have seen a shift in what comics adaptations can and should do. There is a certain segment of the population that is clearly tired of the world ending – I think at this stage in human history, we are all suffering from fear fatigue – and want something a little more personal and real.

But it’s unlikely to happen as the X-Men are coming back to TV soon thanks to Bryan Singer, Lauren Shuler Donner and Simon Kinberg (Matt Nix is showrunning the show provisionally titled “Gifted”) but it’s on network TV (no swearing or nudity but probably some violence) and unlike Logan and Legion is apparently connected to the X-Men cinematic universe. It will likely be as pointless as Agents of Shield on ABC however.

Far more probable, but still in the realm of fantasy, is an R-rated X-Men movie and before you scream X-Force (Basically the sweary and violent X-Men that should hit screens in a few years), it’s important to note that I don’t necessarily mean I want violence, sex and nudity but more a sense of weight and authenticity to proceedings.

I always point out to people that as critically and fan lauded as The Dark Knight is, I find it highly disturbing that in the scene where Batman beats the living daylights out of the Joker in the interrogation room, there is zero blood. The violence has absolutely no weight and presents an odd sort of remove from reality that the film presents.

The X-Men have never been more relevant than right now. Look at the world we live in and look at the world of the X-Men. In our world, people are being targeted for how they look, who they worship and where they come from: Certain people being targeted simply because they are different. That’s X-Men.

I’m not sure Fox really give a shit about X-Men being relevant in any way but after Logan there’s a huge opportunity to be more than just explosions and neutered gratuitous violence. The X-Men films before Logan have only ever really paid lip service to notions of people being different or discrimination; they’ve always been more interested in cool, visually ostentatious looking powers.

Where the X-Men will likely go next

The current plans for X-Men, besides Deadpool 2 and the inevitable Deadpool led X-Force, are for a retelling of the Phoenix Saga with Simon Kinberg – tentatively down to write and direct. There was talk of New Mutants coming to screen first but that looks like it’s either on hold or will happen at a later date.

The provisional title for the next X-Men is Supernova and it would seem to indicate that, after the success of Guardians of The Galaxy, we’re going to see the X-Men in space. Fans of the comic (and the excellent 90s animated X-Men) will know that the Shi’ar (an intergalactic empire) and the Starjammers (Space pirates plus a familial tie to a certain lazer eyed X-man) are heavily involved in that storyline. If this turns out to be true, then that’s a real shame. I like Kinberg and I really like what he’s had to say recently about the X-Men franchise.

There is a larger architecture to tell these stories in. I talk to the studio all the time about this and there is a plan for how these movies can connect and be a part of a larger narrative…But we go into making the best movie we can. It’s not just about a Colossus or Deadpool cameo. Connecting all of these movies will happen when it organically makes sense. These movies aren’t simply being built as stepping stones to a larger story. Each one is wholly enclosed and a movie worth seeing.

I especially like the veiled dig at Disney/Marvel’s model of essentially crafting 2 hour trailers for the all important, all character mash up (Avengers: Whatever ) film. But the X-Men going into space would be a real step back after the huge step forward that is Logan. A storyline involving Genosha (a fictional nation that served as an allegory for slavery and in other plotlines a play on South African apartheid and eventually a mutant safe-haven) would have far more cultural and societal relevance right now.

I’m just not sure the world needs “the X-Men go intergalactic” to be the next cinematic instalment. It needs an X-Men more interested in telling a story reflecting the world we live in than selling toys and merchandise. If Logan proves anything, it’s that the X-Men need to be telling stories that not only have emotional weight, but help us make sense of the turbulent and difficult times we live in. The world needs the X-Men now more than ever.

Review by Gavin Moriarty
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