Spencer’s Soapbox: What’s the Future of the X-Men Franchise?

(Author’s note: Spencer’s Soapbox is a weekly column here on SHH where yours truly tries to spur a conversation on specific topics. Dive in to the latest installment below and check out the previous ones by clicking here.)

The past few weeks have been filled with big news regarding 20th Century Fox’s X-Men films. Hugh Jackman revealed that he’ll take on the role of Wolverine “one last time” for Wolverine 3, production has begun on Deadpool, and X-Men: Apocalypse has added Jubilee. 2016 is the year of the X-Men as far as Fox is concerned, because they’ve got three films planned for release. So what is it they’re planning? Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. have revealed they have a plan with movies dated off into 2019 and 2020 and one would assume that with this much riding on the future of the franchises, Fox has something up their sleeve for its future, but what is it? Let’s examine the films in development/production and see if we can figure it out. For the record, all of this is speculation and not based on information I actually have.

Deadpool is the first release, coming in February 2016. After the clean slate that X-Men: Days of Future Past provided, Deadpool won’t be acknowledging the events of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which is for the best. What gets me interested in this movie is the collection of characters they’ve included. The Merc with a Mouth would have been enough, but Colossus, Angel Dust, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, and Copycat will all be in for the ride. What this says is that Fox has finally embraced doing the truly outlandish and wacky characters from the X-Men pantheon. Most of the other films are filled to the brim with vanilla mutants who we’ve seen countless times, finally we have at least some variety. Should Deadpool not be well received though, expect more of the same.

Following Deadpool is X-Men: Apocalypse, which is the closing chapter on the “First Class” crew, but the film has assembled a team of new younger mutants. Professor X, Magneto, Mystique, Beast and Quicksilver are all set to return with Cyclops, Storm, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Angel, and Jubilee all getting in on the action. Those six young cast members? They’re your X-Men moving forward. As contracts wrap up for the likes of Fassbender, Lawrence, and McAvoy (Nicholas Hoult has previously expressed interest in returning), they won’t be around, so Singer is stacking the deck in favor of future X-Men movies with an all-star roster of characters played by young actors. The big lingering question in my mind, not only about the future but this film in particular, is how do you get bigger than “Days of Future Past?” The titular villain no doubt will lead to buildings toppling and the like, but once you do that, how do you get bigger? I’d guess space since many X-Men story lines hinge on the mutants traversing in the stars, and after the success of Guardians of the Galaxy it’s a no brainer.

Here’s another big question mark, a solo Gambit film, an X-Man whose popularity almost eclipses that of Wolverine for some reason, is set for October of 2016. There’s no writer or director attached to the film at the time, but Channing Tatum has been cast in the role and he clearly wanted it for some time. What is this movie? Is putting a flag on a date and saying, “Here comes the Gambit movie,” Fox’s way of letting us know that they’re gonna at least attempt the “Marvel Method” with solo films leading up to event movies? Or they could be going the opposite route as rumors suggest Tatum will appear in “Apocalypse,” so will his solo movie be set in the ’80s like that one? Beats me, but it seems like there’s a puzzle here that the instructions have been lost to.

After that comes another solo movie in Wolverine 3 in 2017. Jackman is back, James Mangold is back, and they’re busting at the seams to get started on this one. We all know the reputation that “Origins’ has, and “The Wolverine” definitely won back some faith from the fans, but what’s next? As cool as “Old Man Logan” would be, it’s not exactly possible in its purest form without tons of other Marvel characters as the plot hinges on the inclusion of Red Skull, Mysterio, Hawkeye, Iron Man, The Hulk, Venom, and others, though arguably none of the “X-Men” movies have adapted their stories in the purest form. Also for years Jackman was singing the praises of the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller “Japan” storyline which he was finally able to adapt, but now what? Patrick Stewart recently said that the film could be a team-up movie pitting Professor X and Wolverine together, which would be interesting since it could actually offer us a sequel to “Days of Future Past.” Whatever Wolverine 3 becomes, it’s seemingly the curtain call for Jackman, and I’d wager they’re banking on Gambit and Deadpool to be the cornerstone of the franchise going forward.

A non-film question to consider is the proposed “X-Men” TV series. There’s still no word on whether this will actually happen though, as Fox is still in negotiations with Marvel to make it a reality, but it’s in the cards. With all of the other successful comic-based shows on television it’s a no brainer to put X-Men on TV, but how is it tied to the movies? Or is it? It’s possible that this show could be based on a more focused concept in the X-world like “X-Factor,” because I can’t imagine them expanding the stories from the films on TV. If anything this will serve like “Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D.” a weekly jaunt for the fans that want it which will tie-in to the larger picture, but isn’t required viewing. Don’t expect it until 2016 at the very earliest though, provided it actually gets made. 

There are two more question marks on the calendar, one with a release date and one without, but perhaps they’re the same thing. Fox has a release date for an “Untitled Marvel Movie” set for July 13, 2018. The guessing game tells us this is another X-Men movie since that keeps up the two-year pattern of release that “DOFP” and “Apocalypse” have maintained, but what if it’s something else? A question long thrown at writer/producer Simon Kinberg, due to his involvement in both, is whether or not the new “Fantastic Four” films will crossover with the “X-Men.” To me this seems like wanting the “RoboCop” and “Terminator” franchise to crossover. Sure it sounds cool, and it’s worked before in other mediums, but one of them has so much going on that adding another string of continuity would be dangerous. Another reason being a frequent question from comic book fans – why are the likes of the Fantastic Four praised by the public yet the X-Men are hated? Maybe they’ll answer that question in a movie one day, but I don’t think it’s this one.

The final question, which could in fact be that “Untitled Marvel Movie,” is X-Force. There’s a script for it out there, penned by Kick-Ass 2 director Jeff Wadlow, and I’m sure multiple drafts of it at that. I imagine that since the X-Men were already turned into this bizarre militaristic group in the Singer movies, that X-Force seems redundant, except that it (like Deadpool) allows the studio and filmmakers to introduce more characters and broaden the world of the X-Men. We know that many of the cast members in Deadpool had to sign a “three series option,” not sequel, series, so are some characters in Deadpool being groomed for a future appearance in other movies? Perhaps X-Force? We’ll see.

I like the X-Men a lot, and I enjoy most of the movies, I just don’t want Fox to bite off more than they can chew with the franchise. The whole thing seemed dead in the water after the one, two punch of “Last Stand” and “Origins,” but they brought it back to life. Filmmakers came in and turned the series around, expanded its horizons, and made us realize why we care about these characters again. I’ve got faith that Singer, Kinberg, and Lauren Shuler Donner can keep this ship afloat. I just want to make sure they’re keeping their eyes open for icebergs and not assuming it can’t sink.