I gotta give props to Fox. While Marvel continues to crank out insipid, formulaic comic book movies, and Warners continues to struggle to get their Justice League universe off the ground (which, for the record I really want to enjoy – but so far, so disappointing), Fox is taking bold risks. And they’re paying off big time.
You may have heard of a little move called Logan which came out earlier this year. But not so early that there wasn’t already talk of a possible Oscar run, not least for the performance by Patrick Stewart for his incredible turn as a dying Professor X – a role he originated 17 years previous in the original X-Men film – a film which, at the time, was groundbreaking in its own way.
Of course, since Fox are still playing in the same X-Men sandbox they’ve enjoyed for a decade and a half, they’ve earned the right to take some risks. TV shows get to do this all the time. The X-Files, for example, did it all the time: one five-episode run went from a grim tale of adolescent angst and abuse, to a Stephen King horror, to a William Gibson sci-fi, to an out-and-out comedy, to a quintessential conspiracy episode. But it’s rare that films – especially Hollywood films with their big budgets and intellectual property rights – dare try such unconventional approaches. It’s precisely because of this aversion to risk that we’ll never see what Quentin Tarantino might do with James Bond.
But Fox have dared try it with their X-Men movies. First with the smashing together of both their original X-Men series and the rebooted 70’s era version in X-Men: Days of Future Past, the R-rated fourth-wall-breaking Deadpool, and most recently with Logan; a bleak, character-driven western that takes place in a dystopian future, but which sings with all the soul of any classic noir tragedy.
I’ll be honest, I loved Logan. I’d heard good things about it, but then one tends to hear unfailingly positive word of almost every blockbuster superhero movie these days (he says as a grumpy old man in distrust of the kids now writing for film magazines who grew up not remembering a time when there weren’t a handful of such films released each year). I actually watched it on a plane, and I really enjoyed it. I didn’t go in with any great expectations. It’s not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but for what it is, I really enjoyed it. It is a good film. And I’m hopeful that come Awards Season, it’ll still be part of the conversation to a degree, because when a studio takes a risk like this – and it works – it deserves to be recognized, and not just by critics or the box office.
Happily, Fox promises to continue this trend of sort-of-experimenting with those comic book properties they have the rights to. Just last week, they released the trailer to their new X-Men spin-off franchise, The New Mutants, and it caught pretty much everyone off-guard in that the trailer did not look like a typical comic book movie trailer. Oh no, it was very much a horror movie trailer. With X-Men characters in it. Which I, for one, find pretty damn exciting.
Now, it’s emerged, courtesy of The New Mutants’ co-writer/director Josh Boone, that the film was conceived and pitched as the first of a trilogy of films (but, of course!) with each of the three films taking on a different yet distinct subgenre of horror movies. Damn exciting and fascinating indeed!
I’m sure I’m not alone (or even in the minority) when I admit that when it comes to movies, I have superhero fatigue. Big time. But at least one studio is trying to keep things interesting. And I’m still crossing all my fingers and toes that the DC universe turns the corner and becomes good too.