Saturday, May 27, 2006
Extremely Evil - How 20th Century Fox Killed The "X-Men" Movie Franchise
In the summer of 2000, movie studio 20th Century Fox was all set to release the highly anticipated first film based on a Marvel Comics property, X-Men. One small problem - 20th Century Fox President Tom Rothman HATED it. The film, helmed by the acclaimed director of The Usual Suspects, Bryan Singer, had gone into production with less than half of its original budget. Its intended release date of early summer was pushed back to late July. Rothman wanted to bury the film and be confirmed in his belief that the property was nothing special.
Lo and behold! The vast amount of comic book fans and other sci-fi loving movie-goers responded in favor and rewarded X-Men with a big bang at the box office. Dollar signs mean sequel so one was developed immediately. No film company's president is going to badmouth a film while it's being created so Rothman was quiet -- but not for long.
Rumors swirled around the time filming started for X2: X-Men United. It was three years later but this time studio notes came fast and furious; Ain't It Cool News reported that Rothman kept wanting Storm and Wolverine to become a couple and various other reports stated that Rothman and his administration began to micro-manage Singer and his production team to the nth degree.
It's now early 2005. 20th Century Fox still had not signed Bryan Singer to direct a third X-Men installment, X3. Delay after delay after delay was becoming the norm. In the ensuing time, Alan Horn, an executive at Warner Brothers, holds a meeting with Singer to ask him if he'd be interested in developing and directing their long-stalled Superman film - no corporate over-the-shoulder glances or studio notes. Singer, a long-time Superman fan, would be allowed to use his own writers and production team. Singer wanted the film to be a sequel to Superman II. Horn and the executives at Warner Brothers were ecstatic with Bryan Singer's take. Both sides said yes and thus a deal was made. Once the news broke, Bryan extended an olive branch, stating that he'd love to return for a third X-Men film once he'd completed Superman Returns.
20th Century Fox did not take the news of Singer leaving the X-Men franchise well. Ain't It Cool News reported of guards escorting Singer off the Fox lot after he'd cleaned out his office -- only to have to let him right back in, as he is an executive producer on the hit FOX series House.
Panic-stricken, Fox made an interesting and cool choice. Chosen to succeed Singer to direct X3 was British director Matthew Vaughn, best known for his 2005 film Layer Cake. It seemed Fox was continuing in the tradition they'd followed when assembling the behind-the-scenes talent for the first film. Vaughn's first act was to hire Kelsey Grammer to play the hirsute yet intelligent Beast, a shrewd and logical casting move if ever there was one. Shortly after this, Vaughn opted out, citing he did not want to uproot his family from England to Vancouver for the shoot.
By this time it was almost August of 2005. Marvel CEO Avi Arad stated that the director they'd chosen would remain true to the intelligence that Bryan Singer's X-Men films had but bring his own style to the franchise and refresh the property to make the third film just as powerful as the first two.
The director chosen? None other than Brett Ratner. What has this man directed, you ask? Money Talks, Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2, The Family Man, Red Dragon, and After The Sunset. All loud garish films not known for strong character development or resonant storytelling. A reporter at the Hollywood premiere of Mr. & Mrs. Smith asked Tom Rothman if they think they should wait, develop the script a bit more, and mentioned the ever-quickening time between shooting and release; Rothman shrugged it off with a cheesy smile and said, "Nope. We're going out worldwide May 26th, 2006."
So...filming began. And then Rothman's true intentions were soon laid bare for all to see...
Halfway through production online media began reporting that all that Rothman had sought to do during Singer's tenure but was denied was now becoming a reality. Halle Berry wanted a much, much larger role or she'd walk. She was given it. Then all the cards were laid on the table. The film was retitled. No longer X3, the new title summed up Rothman's feelings quite succinctly - X-Men: The Last Stand. It was then abundantly clear that the third film was to be the end for the franchise.
Simon Kinberg was hired to help flesh the new script out (alongside Zak Penn, who wrote Elektra). The Mr. & Mrs. Smith screenwriter also scripted xXx: State Of The Union and did script polishes on Catwoman. It seemed that Ratner and company felt compelled to overload the film with copious mutants. While people on the street find this entralling, it will only amount to limited screen time for them.
And my biggest gripe? I read the comics religiously in my youth. I devotedly watched the 1992 animated series and devoured all things X-Men. As a long-time X-Men fan, I believe you can do many things in an X-Men movie. But what you cannot do in just ONE film is "The Dark Phoenix Saga" (in which Jean Grey absorbs the power of an alien crystal and turns against her friends and loved ones - go here for more info.) It is a LONG, sweeping saga, one filled with deep resounding storylines that affect many, many characters over a long span of time. To just shove this, one of the comic world's most well-known and most-respected stories into one movie and treat is as a perfunctory story element is an appalling injustice and really speaks volumes of how badly Fox is treating this property.
Movies are made to make money, no doubt about it. X-Men: The Last Stand will make money hand over fist, but at what cost? A potentially long-running sci-fi/comic book/summer tentpole franchise is being given an early burial simply due to the devious machinations of a power-drunk egomaniac (you can thank Tom Rothman for the cinematic atrocity that is Alien Vs. Predator) who, more so than any executive in Hollywood, seems drawn to the almighty dollar. Ample evidence shows that one can marry creativity and big-budget blockbuster moviemaking and the results can be lucrative and masterful. Case in point -- Batman Begins.
So the masses will flock to this offal in droves, like lambs to the slaughter. I know what you're thinking - "Jason, you've not seen frame one of the film...How do you know it'll be bad?" Well I don't need to jump off of the roof of a tall building to know that I'll get hurt.
Others have tried the other approach with me - "You've already made up your mind. You're so predisposed to hate X-Men: The Last Stand you'll hate it even if it's good."
Look, I'd love for Ratner and company to have made a competent, creative film that will stand as a great piece of work. But the deck is clearly stacked: The many many reviews that tout how broken and ambivalent the film feels coupled with my growing resentment of the way this property was treated (I already know the fate of several characters in the film and it's just horrible the way they're treated) ensures I'll never watch X-Men: The Last Stand. Call me a geek...whatever you like. I stand by my decision.
I will NEVER view X-Men: The Last Stand. I would rather remember what's come before then subject myself to something sub-par. It hurts to see this film being given a threadbare, second-hand treatment and it hurts doubly so to see source material I cherished as a child treated as cannon fodder. Fox will regret this in the long run. When Rothman is no longer production head, they'll have to pull a 'Batman Begins' to relaunch the franchise after this film.
So to all the people out there eager to see X-Men: The Last Stand: Enjoy the offspring of corporate yes-men and women and massive studio interference. Eat until you're full. I'll not be dining at that table. It's too fucking pathetic.