I love The Avengers. I’ve seen that movie more than a dozen times, four of which were in a theater. In the era of the superhero film, The Avengers stood above the rest as not only the most entertaining of the bunch, but also as a revelation of what could be possible with the genre. Is it the greatest? Maybe so. What Marvel did to get to The Avengers is a miracle. But after seeing X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Avengers seems like seeing Jesus’ face on a piece of toast compared to the X franchise’s resurrection.

X-Men and the Reinvention of the Franchise Reboot


Sure, The Avengers laid the groundwork for what is possible with a cinematic superhero franchise. The character introductions. The narrative build up. The final execution. It was as risky as it was visionary. More importantly, it made all other studios with superhero properties stand at attention. Marvel had made the idea of a cinematic universe possible, something that was once limited to comics and animated TV series. And the folks at Fox and X-Men recognized this— and took action.

Fourteen years into the age of the superhero film, the franchise that really started it all, X-Men, did something even more incredible than The Avengers. Something unheard of not only in the superhero film genre, but in franchise filmmaking itself. With X-Men: Days of Future Past and First Class before it, the team at Fox, including Matthew Vaughn, Simon Kinberg, Brian Singer and Lauren Shuler Donner, have hit the hard reset button on a waning franchise while integrating and reconfiguring what came before.

For comics, this isn’t a new thing. Every couple decades timelines are reset and new histories created. X-Men: Days of Future Past took this idea and ran with it in the cinema. But rather than your classic reboot, like Batman Begins or The Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men thrust two different worlds together, the original franchise and the rebooted one, completely wiped the original trilogy from the timeline and set up the younger cast as the future of the franchise.

We’ve had moments like this in the past, with Leonard Nimoy showing up in Star Trek or Q in the James Bond movies remaining the same as Bond changed. But here, Fox officially said something we’ve all wanted to say about a movie or two in the past: Those films never happened. Even The Avengers franchise, with its Iron Man 2s and Incredible Hulks isn’t that bold.

Rethinking What’s Possible in the Superhero Genre


If The Avengers made the cinematic universe a possibility, then X-Men: Days of Future Past did the same for multiverses. Again, if we look at comics, the multiverse is the norm, with DC’s Infinite Crisis and New 52, along with Ultimate Marvel, among so many others. In film, it’s tough for audiences to make sense of it all. Generally speaking, we’re used to continuity no matter how terrible franchise films become. (e.g. Die Hard, Indiana Jones, Star Wars.)  And the continuity discussions in the wake of X-Men: Days of Future Past have taken over many a movie blog. But does it matter?

The first three X-Men films, and presumably parts or all of the Wolverine movies, are now their own entities. X-Men: First Class and anything post 1973 in the new X-Men world is another timeline to itself. (Wildly enough, Fantastic Four and Rise of the Silver Surfer may very well have been logically whipped out, too, allowing for the new Fantastic Four, which comes out next year, to be integrated into the new X-Universe more easily.)

The mulitverse changes everything. We’ve already seen hints of this with the Raimi Spider-Man films and the Nolan Batman movies being self-contained trilogies. But The Amazing Spider-Man seems to be failing because it plays more like a traditional franchise reboot than it does a new Spidey-verse, no matter how much Sony is trying to make it so. DC’s with it’s own cinematic universe seems to be heading in the same direction. But could it be possible for these and other franchises to have semi-concurrent multiverses to see which vision becomes a long-term success?

DC is on its way to this in a way already. The Arrow-verse will feature the Flash starting next fall and one must presume that the Flash will also appear in the DC Cinematic Universe as a member of the Justice League. Plus next fall, Gotham, a separate Batman storyline, will debut on FOX. Throw in Smallville and Superman Returns and you can see the last decade decade and a half have been dominated by variations on the same characters.

But X-Men is different. It’s the first time, we’ve seen a complete 180 from a studio on how it handles a major franchise. Fox isn’t just creating another cinematic universe here. It’s created a scenario where its characters and storylines are not beholden to anything that came before. From a business standpoint, and the movies are a business first, it makes sense to have this flexibility. If Fantastic Four or Deadpool or Gambit or whatever doesn’t work out, there’s a way to change it. And the success of both First Class and Days of Future Past are proof it will work.

So while Marvel spends it’s time creating a deeper more intricate universe, including TV series on both ABC and Netflix, X-Men has room to pivot. What happens when Robert Downey, Jr., can’t play Iron Man anymore? In a universe it could be a disaster. As Hugh Jackman admitted, he’s most likely done as Logan after the next Wolverine movie. In the multiverse, it’s less of a concern. And given Marvel’s troubles holding its universe together, we may look back at X-Men: Days of Future Past as the film that set the stage for the next evolution in a genre that’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *