I absolutely love Gotham and its wild, unashamed love of comic books. Despite that love, it doesn’t follow any canon. It takes bits from different comics, from one offs, from cartoons and movies, and blends it with new material, capturing the spirit and feel of reading a comic perfectly as it does so. And even though I love the comics, I adore these changes. It makes the show feel fresh and new.
The X-Men movies, on the other hand? Not quite. For me, most of the X-Men movies don’t feel like they were made by people that even like comics, much less love them. They’re not the product of people that love the characters and respect all of them.
It kind of reminds me of something Guillermo del Toro said once about Pacific Rim: it was inspired by Kaiju movies, but by his memory of them, his nostalgia for them, rather than how they actually are. That’s how this feels, except minus the nostalgia. The X-Men movies feel like the product of someone that knows a little bit about the X-Men – that read a couple comics, or watched a few episodes of the cartoon, and has learned a bit through pop culture osmosis – that tried to recreate it in movie format. And while the resultant product is something that’s usually good for at least a watch, in the long run, they don’t do it for me. In my eyes, it’s very similar to The Dark Knight trilogy. Many of these are great movies. I’m not denying that. But something feels missing, and that’s the love and passion for comics.
It’s not even just about love and respect for the source material, it’s a question of what we’ve already gotten. Batman has had decades worth of adaptations, ranging from the dorky and cheap to the serious and high budget. He’s a pop culture icon whose place in our collective memory has long been determined. So I’m totally up for seeing changes, for seeing new and fresh takes on the heroes and villains. But that’s not the case for the X-Men. They’ve had cartoons, yes. But they’ve only had one movie franchise, one that’s longer running than any other superhero franchise. It has been going on for nearly twenty years, and because of that, hasn’t really evolved in the same sense as other superhero movies have.
A lot has changed when it comes to superhero movies in the past several years. We can see that in the contrast between the Batman in The Dark Knight trilogy and the one in Batman v Superman, or the Superman in Superman Returns and the one in Man of Steel. People have learned how to combine realism with the sense of comic book come to life. Since the X-Men movies we get today are still an extension of the one from 2000, when the clear goal was making a statement of being different from other superhero movies. That movie was different and highly appealing at the time, but not so much anymore, and that goal resulted in the X-Men never getting a comics accurate adaptation. As a comics fan, it’s frustrating.
In July, the X-Men film franchise will turn eighteen. If it was a person, it could vote. But in all these years, in the nine (?) movies, only about four characters got real attention and development, with one of those four (Mystique) being absolutely nothing like her comics counterpart, to the point where I’m so sick of them, I kind of need to not see them again for the next decade. Other characters not only didn’t get development, they got their backstories actively erased.
Jubilee was at the school before Scott in the alternate timeline. Do you realize how crazy that is? That’s like…I don’t know, like Robin existing before Batman. And that’s minor compared to making Scott the younger brother that grew up in the suburbs with his parents alive. To cutting out all of Warren’s history with the X-Men. To ignoring the fact that the Dark Phoenix wasn’t just Jean going crazy and having more power than she could handle, but the Hellfire Club manipulating her and screwing with her head until she didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. None of these changes were necessary. None were a fresh take on a story that’s been done to death. All they did was make the incarnation of the characters that’s a lot of people’s introduction to them completely different from who they really are and have been.
I’ve watched the various cartoons, read the comics, watched the movies. I have a deep and undying love for most of these characters. But there are kids out there today whose exposure to them will just be the disrespectful treatment they’ve gotten in the movies. I hate it. I fully support exploration of the way characters would be if put in a different situation…but that doesn’t apply on the very first version.
Scott was Xavier’s first student, Alex’s older brother, the object of Sinister’s obsession, an abused child that grew up in an orphanage and on the streets, the leader of the X-Men, the first X-Man, a respected teacher, the ultimate good guy and biggest adherent to Xavier’s dream until years of losing made him realize that it was time to draw a line in the sand. Are all of those things really essential? All of them? No, probably not! What the hell do I care if he’s younger or older than Alex? But when all aspects of his character are stripped away from him and handed out to other characters on his first live action adaptation, I draw the line.
This same thing can explain my adoration for the DC Extended Universe: it doesn’t follow canon exactly. It interprets it creatively while still demonstrating both a love for and knowledge of the source material. It doesn’t change the core of the characters or stories. I don’t think it’s hypocritical, really, or a double standard, to enjoy some works that deviate from canon while being bothered by others. Because it’s not actually about deviations from canon. It’s about how knowing when to make changes is a sign of respecting viewers and source material. Gotham does. The X-Men movies don’t.