I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reboot City: X-Men

Everything is either a reboot or a sequel. Sequels for franchises that are still making money and still have remotely fresh ideas. Reboots for failing franchises who are losing viewers. This discussion is a discussion you've heard from every angle. But I'm not going to take what I would call the hard party line on this issue. I believe that reboots are a great idea. In much the same way that Marvel and DC comics have to start from scratch every so often in order to invite new readers to read their books, movies need to reboot every so often. Whereas Sam Raimi's Spider-man films were my Spider-man films, the upcoming Spider-man reboot will belong to the next group of viewers. They'll fill a row at the movie theater like we did and make Spider-jokes (Spider-ouch!) like we did.

While each artistic take has value, I sometimes wish that the films made by Marvel or DC would get it right. I've seen too many not-good superhero movies. "Reboot City" is my attempt to give my own two cents on how the next reboot ought to be done. And since I've been an X-Men fan for longer than I've been a fan of anything else, I think we ought to discuss the future of the X-Men franchise.

When it comes to rebooting comic book characters, I think that there are three names that always come to mind as champions: (1) Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-man, other Ultimate Marvel books), (2) Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, Aquaman, Justice League, Hawkman), and (3) Grant Morrison (Batman, Superman). What these three individuals have in common is that they innovate the characters while being incredibly reverent to the past. Geoff Johns, for example, took non-sensical elements of Green Lantern such as his entire history as Parallax and the Specter and Green Lantern, not to mention the weakness to the yellow element, and he wrote some of the most fantastic stories I've read to make sense of these things. I think that something like this has to happen with the X-Men films. (I think I ought to note right now that both Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon have worked toward tying these threads together for the X-Men in the past.)

One of the most central elements about the X-Men is their historical significance. In the 1960s, alongside the civil rights movement, the labor movement and the women's rights movement, there was also the mutants' rights movement. Professor Charles Xavier and Eric Magnus Lehnsherr were the two champions of mutant rights, Xavier a "dreamy" type like Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed in peaceful methodology (while training a militaristic group of teenagers, an issue that would have to be addressed), and Magnus a militant supporter of mutant rights by any means necessary who recalls, in many ways, Malcolm X. Furthermore, Eric's transformation into Magneto could not have happened without the horrors he witnessed during World War II.

If you've seen X-Men: First Class then you must believe that I'm preaching to the choir. The prequel was set in the 1960s and it dealt with many of these issues, and yet it didn't make any sense. The timeline with the other movies was confusing, and people knew one another in the past who didn't seem to know one another in the present. But I think the real problem is that we didn't have enough recognizable mutants in this film. Why should Cyclops and Jean Grey and Storm be so important in the original trilogy and yet not exist in the past? The answer is easy: While comics are expected to exist in a universe where aging is slowed, movies cannot. Cyclops is not sixty years old in X-Men. I wish that X-Men: First Class had the balls to declare itself a separate entity, to say loud and clear that it is a reboot instead of a prequel. I wish that it had divorced itself from the continuity so that it could present us a new view on some of our favorite mutants.

Who would I have on the original X-Men team in the 1960s? My first thought is to include the entire original team, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel, Beast and Iceman, with possible additions of Havok and Polaris. (Of course, if we go that way, there would have to be some discussion about how a civil rights leader could construct a team of white kids. That was one of the biggest problems with the original batch of X-Men.) Or we could go the route of Ultimate X-Men, which featured Wolverine, Storm and Colossus of the second wave of X-Men in its original team. But here's the kicker: We do not see the events of the movie from Wolverine's perspective. When you're telling a story you want to see an established team from the perspective of a new-comer. That much was right in the original X-Men films. But I have seen way too many movies and television programs told from the perspective of someone who has no memory of their past. It has become a cheap way of introducing a character to a new story. There was a time when our conduit into a story was a young individual who didn't understand what was going on, and we even had a little of that in the original X-Men trilogy with Rogue. For me, I'd choose Kitty Pryde. She's one of the best characters ever, and I think audiences would relate to her. She's one of the biggest influences on Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and probably Veronica Mars, too), and most people know who she is.

Of course, there is the fact that Wolverine is what sells a movie. My friend Zac mentioned that X-Men: First Class, despite being one of the best X-Men movies to date, underperformed in the box office precisely because it did not feature Hugh Jackman as Wolverine as a primary character. It may not have done as well as it did (despite the best portrayal of Magneto that I can imagine) if it weren't for Jackman's cameo in the film. But I'm not talking about booting Wolverine from the film. In fact, I think that you have to have Wolverine in the reboot. One of the reasons that I think it would be interesting to see things from Kitty Pryde's perspective is because it gives us Wolverine as an established character, a brick wall of toughness and gristle. It makes us, the viewers, want to know more about this guy. This is how Wolverine was introduced in X-Men: The Animated Series (with Jubilee as the person through whom we see the team) and it worked fantastically.

And honestly, I think we need to see the Sentinels as the first enemy, or at least the Sentinels as the soldiers of the United States government, an entity that cannot be directly assaulted (unless you're Magneto). This would prove to be a perfect wedge between Xavier and Magneto. And who doesn't want to see the look on their faces when the humans realize that they've sent a big metal robot up against the Master of Magnetism.

As for sequels, there is a lot to deal with in the 1960s. Perhaps the first trilogy could revolve around Magneto the way the original X-Men movies did. Except that this one would have a concise story to tell from beginning to end and it would be delivered well. And after that trilogy, if things are going well, then let's see what the X-Men look like in the 1970s or even the 1980s. Jump forward a decade every movie, and if Cyclops appears in a cameo in the 1990s, he'll be in his fifties. Wolverine's healing power can justify his appearance in every single movie, so we don't have to worry about losing viewers. Or maybe we could see multiple time periods at once. Maybe we could have side-by-side stories, one from the 1960s and another from the present. There is a lot of room for story development. The X-Men probably have the most room for story development of any single hero or team that has ever been created.

So, what do you think? Is this how the next X-Men films should be done? How would you do the X-Men franchise if you were in control of the reboot?

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