As noted by Katharine Trendacosta in a recent article, Fox has lost their way with the lucrative X-Men franchise. If they ever really knew what to do with this team, they’ve obviously lost the thread now. But what should they do to recover? How can our heroes triumph in the face of this new threat?!?!
As TK suggested, they need to take a break - for as long as they need to recuperate. In the meantime, Fox can still release smaller projects with individual characters to keep their license alive and make a little cash.
But in order to not strangle their golden goose, Fox needs to spend every year of that break working hard at a concerted plan for rebooting the primary team. Get a great script for the first film, adapted to the X-Men’s primary themes of discrimination and found family. Clearly outline the arc of the first three X-Men films thematically, and recast from the ground up emphasising character fidelity, not star power. They can use whatever story and characters they want as long as they do this before they shoot a frame.
But of course, I have an idea for how they should return The X-Men to the screen:
The first film starts with Charles Xavier recruiting a new team to save his students, who’ve gone missing after operating in secret for years to counter any mutants who use their power for personal gain in ways that inflame anti-mutant sentiment.
This new group isn’t composed of the team players Xavier has molded from their youth, though, but of mutants that he never brought into the fold because they were too volatile in one way or another;
- Ororo Munroe: a young woman living on the Serengeti without meaning or connection to others as equals, but as an object of worship that the Massai call simply ɛn-dárátá ɛ́nkai: “Storm.”
- Kurt Wagner: a star in Cirque de Soleil under the name “Nightcrawler,” who has to hide that his demonic appearance is more than a character created with makeup and effects. The lynch mob that Xavier offers escape from isn’t literal, but a mob of paparazzi and reporters who’ve cracked his secret.
- Logan: a man without a past who’s fed up with living as the Canadian government’s secret weapon codenamed “Wolverine.”
- Piotr Rasputin: a young Russian who agrees to leave his parents when Xavier offers to provide for his sister’s education in exchange for the sensitive farm-boy’s help.
- Yoshida Shiro: An arrogant and jingoistic Japanese mutant who, in order to not shame his politically powerful family, hides his ability to initiate solar plasma through nuclear fusion.
- Scott Summers: Cyclops, the only member of the original team to have escaped from an island called Krakoa on which they discovered a terrible threat that Scott can now remember only hazily.
The new team returns to the island and, despite interpersonal conflict and chafing under the leadership of the younger Cyclops, frees the original team- but the real challenge is getting off the island! This is when the audience meets Jean Grey, Bobby Drake, Warren Worthington, and Lorna Dane, and the new recruits see what a team that’s trained together can really do.
The film ends with everybody just glad to have escaped with their skins, but none the wiser about what was really going on at Krakoa. After their escape, we see each member of both teams in different parts of Xavier’s School for the Gifted, each trying to decide whether or not to stay on as children go about life unperturbed around them.
Sound cool? It should, because it’s how the modern era of successful X-Men comics kicked of in Giant-Size X-Men #1.
This ending allows the film-makers to gauge the popularity of each character for inclusion in the next installment and make course corrections. If the actor, script, and effects make Sunfire a hit, he can stay on, unlike in the comic. If this iteration of Wolverine doesn’t stick, that’s fine, too- the character will still be out there to try again later.
In my movie version, the secret of Krakoa isn’t that it’s a mutant, but a shadowy operation of horrific genetic experimentation on mutants- the first sign in this world that bigotry against Homo Superior has reached effective genocidal scale. The mystery of who’s capturing and studying mutants is gradually unspooled in the following two movies (hint: don’t even TRy to ASK). Perhaps the second movie introduces a competing ideology, Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants; and the third pits both teams against their common foe as Sentinels are unleashed- hey, it was never actually a bad idea.
The clothes in my version make sense: We’ll see “Xavier Academy” letter jackets, etc. in the school colors of blue and gold with the X-logo.
Xavier offers the new team similar matching outfits in the school colors, but...
- Kurt is most comfortable in his circus outfit, which gives him perfect mobility.
- Logan’s custom paramilitary gear is also focused on mobility rather than protection; in tan, brown, and black.
- Ororo wears the simple but dramatically flowing wraps of her own Maasai people, but in stark black and white with silver embellishments.
- Shiro does accept a formfitting red jumpsuit of “unstable molecules” (Fox has the rights to those, too) that won’t ignite when he does. Characteristically unhappy with the simple look, though, he asks for such fabric in white, and swiftly fashions himself a simple over-tunic with sun rays cut from it. He also refuses to join without a mask to conceal his identity, and to not be outdone adopts a pseudonym as flashy as his teammates.
- Colossus grows substantially when he transforms, and needs no protection, so Xavier provides minimal garments of the same material that are tight enough to wear under street clothes, but will stretch to accommodate his armored form.
Of course, when we discover the original team, they’re all wearing Xavier’s matching outfits, something much like in First Class: flight suits... in the school colors. Logan groans and Shiro salutes them on team pride.
I ditched Thunderbird, Banshee, and Havok to keep the roster more manageable and because all their powers are basically duplicated by more integral X-Men- which is also why I didn’t restore Hank to the original team.
Reworking Nightcrawler’s origin keeps the same theme, but modernizes it and casts his life in the circus as less tawdry and exploitative so Kurt has more reason to remember it fondly as a simpler time.
Everybody else is largely the same here as when we meet them in the comics, because it ain’t broke.
Jean Grey starts out with the code name Phoenix, though, and the Phoenix Force will eventually be named after her, not vice-versa. This allows her powers to grow more naturally into the incalculable, though self-sacrifice should still trigger their ultimate reveal. I know lots of fans want the Shi’ar and all that comes with it. Maybe that’ll be sensible by the time this movie would roll out (in my mind) sometime after 2030, but for now I think it makes sense to keep this a largely earth-bound series in which Jean’s immense power attracts a previously unknown interstellar force that uses her as its vessel.
I’d have her functioning as Omega-level by the end of the third movie, and do the Dark Phoenix Saga as a second trilogy- the first movie starts with her sacrificing herself for the team, but returning at the end. The second one has her operating at full Phoenix power in the green costume, but struggling with her power as she turns darker and more violent until she goes full Dark Phoenix - a threat to be dealt with in the third installment. And that can only end one way.