The Problem With Adapting X-Men

X-Men First Class main heroes

Back in September 1963, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created The X-Men, a politically charged superhero team dealing with threats such as Apocalypse, The Sentinels, and in some ways even other heroes. They’ve become a spectacle of pop culture bringing in such iconic stories such as Dark Phoenix, Days of Future Past, Mutant Massacre, House of M, and more recently House Of X and Powers Of X. However, on the movie side, there has always been an inconsistent quality ranging from greatness to irremovable stains of mistakes that keep happening.

What have been the issues with adapting the X-Men and what will be the issues with doing so in the MCU? To understand this, we have to look back. The X-Men have an interesting way of storytelling to them. The books with death and several resurrections; leaving the team in a weird and sometimes twisted place, giving creators tons of breathing room for stories. It was in some ways the opposite for the movies. In  2000, after years in development hell, Fox released their first X-Men film simply titled X-Men by director Bryan Singer. The film was a critical and Box Office hit grossing over 200 million worldwide. Alongside Stephen Norrington’s Blade, it proved that Marvel properties weren’t Box Office poison and paved the way for the likes of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. However, there were issues that never really went away.

The movie focused mostly on Professor X, Wolverine, and Magneto leaving a question about the other characters and if they will get more character growth for the next set of movies. They didn’t. Iconic characters such as Storm, Cyclops, and Jean Grey were sidelined and never really got their time in the spotlight.


Wolverine is your typical action hero. He’s rugged, tough, he has metal claws, and he’s also Canadian. It’s why the movies focused on him the most, I mean, he’s the definition of an action hero. The character became an even bigger icon through the movies thanks to Hugh Jackman’s legendary performances throughout the entire franchise.

There’s more to him than just being an action hero with claws, the character has had amazing stories and acted as one of many ‘mentors’ to the character Kitty Pryde who was played by Ellen Page in the movies. A character we didn’t see much of due to this problem.

In some ways, comic books are weird to adapt. When X-Men was trying to have their own world and story they skipped most of the character build-up and the usual underdogs and the favorites. As mentioned above, the biggest issue fans have with the Fox movies is the refusal to give characters like Kitty Pryde, Cyclops, Storm, and several others life on screen. Eventually Beast, Mystique, and Deadpool got their dues but eventually got stuck in repetitive stories.

The movies ‘rebooted’ with X-Men: First Class in 2011 to rave reviews and Box Office success.  Eventually, it was followed by an even more successful sequel, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Despite this, the issues of characters being sidelined and wasted are still there.


The Dark Phoenix

Dark Phoenix is considered by many the most iconic X-Men story of all time so it would sense for studios who have the rights to X-Men to adapt it.  However, there is one glaring problem with that. They aren’t doing it correctly. Dark Phoenix was adapted for the plot of Fox’s X-Men Last Stand to mixed results. After Bryan Singer left to direct Superman Returns the movie was plagued with time crunches, scheduling conflicts, and creative differences.

The mixed reaction for X-Men Origins: Wolverine from critics and the negative reaction from fans was a major reason Fox decided to make X-Men First Class, a reworked version of the scrapped X-Men Origins: Magneto, as a way to rejuvenate the franchise with new blood. It seemed to go well until X-Men Apocalypse was released. Writer (and now director) Simon Kinberg decided to try again with Dark Phoenix. According to multiple industry insiders, the film wasn’t doing so well in test screenings causing Fox to order multiple reshoots. And given the reviews for Dark Phoenix, it didn’t turn out so well. It does not boost confidence that Kinberg was one of the writers on The Last Stand, so giving him the keys to the most famous X-Men story again in retrospect wasn’t a good idea.

The studio’s rush to try and adapt the story is causing them to repeat the same mistakes as before, a mistake that will hopefully end soon with Fox being bought out by Disney. There have been good adaptions of X-Men characters such as the self-titled films Logan and Deadpool, however, those were made under strict conditions and took their sweet time to get made. Logan was the studio’s third attempt at a standalone Wolverine movie and was only made because director James Mangold demanded creative control and Hugh Jackman took a massive pay cut to secure an R rating. Deadpool lingered in Development Hell for nearly a decade and was only ever greenlit after test footage was leaked to the public.

Dark Phoenix has been something Fox has been wanting to get out there but it just can’t and rumors point to the studio being in full “panic mode”.

Fox’s constant meddling was causing even more problems behind the scenes. While Logan became an Awards Season darling and Deadpool became a reliable brand on his own, many other X-Men movies currently sit in limbo such as X-Force, a Kitty Pryde movie, the currently unreleased New Mutants, and a Gambit movie starring Channing Tatum, which has lost 3 directors since 2014.

It’s currently unknown if Kevin Feige is interested in greenlighting some of these films or just pull the plug. It’s also unknown when and how New Mutants will be released.


The Disney Buyout

The Walt Disney Co. has bought assists of 21st Century Fox for $71.3 billion dollars while a new company keeps Fox Sports, Fox News, Fox Business, and FS1 and FS2.  Disney now owns Fox properties such as The Simpsons, the Emmy winning series Atlanta, the Alien franchise, James Cameron’s Avatar, and many others.

Controversies aside, the big topic of discussion is that Marvel Studios owns all of Marvel properties Fox had, not just X-Men but also the Fantastic Four. So with our mutants back home and with a deal of $71.3 billion, that leaves the question of what’s next.

The thing I fear the most when Marvel Studios tackles X-Men is making them feel Avengers-like (much like Christopher Markus’ idea for the team) or having Wolverine or Professor X be the center stage again. I long for something different with MCU X-Men because different is what X-Men is, it isn’t a funded superhero team with Iron Man, it’s a team of outcasts who make themselves a home.

As mentioned above, Dark Phoenix is one of the greatest–if not most influential–X-Men story of all time. It is a story that needs to build-up for the pay off to *really work. Given the previous attempts, I hope that any attempts at retrying this story gives it time to flesh out The Phoenix and hopefully gives Fan-Favorite Jean Grey more shine. Figuring out how Mutants will be introduced into this universe is something that lots of fans are skeptical about and are worried that they’ll do something that isn’t faithful to the stories.

We are in a brand new era for Mutants counting for both comics and movies. Maybe this unknown aspect of what could happen is a good thing as we could be lead to something great in store for our favorite stories and characters.

Until then, Magneto Was Right.

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Piper Whitaker is an amatuer writer/artist who is fueled by unhealthy amounts of caffeine, comic books, and ear-damaging amounts of music.

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Khari J. Sampson
September 25, 2019 4:44 pm

I think maybe the whole Phoenix saga is irrevocably tainted at this point. The thing that made the original story work in comics was twofold: the surprise factor. No one expected Jean to go that bad, that way, especially after defeating the corrupting influence. The second factor was editorial interference. Jean’s death was a fiat and ironically the thing that made the story truly legendary. And, again, it was unexpected. I don’t think any new Dark Phoenix saga can even… Read more »