How X-Men’s TV Reboot Could Bring the Franchise Back to Its Roots

     May 15, 2017

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Following the success of Legion, Fox gave the green light to The Gifted, another series based on the X-Men comic books. Featuring Stephen Moyer, Amy Acker, Natalie Allen Lind, and Percy Hynes White, the new trailer introduced suburban parents who realize their children possess mutant abilities. Yes, it looks a bit like Heroes, what with the father being part of a secret government organization that hunts down people with powers, until the targets inevitably become his own children. And, yes, it’s too soon to tell whether this show will actually be any good, but it’s a promising start to a marketing campaign.

“Have you ever tried not being a mutant?” I’ll never forget this scene with Bobby Drake in X2 because it recalled all the reasons I became an X-Men fan. They were the outsiders, genetic anomalies fighting for a society that hated and feared them. While fans were reading about their super heroics and mutant abilities, they were also learning about discrimination. As a kid, I bonded with them over my own experience with bullies, but as I hit middle school and the realities of the world became more apparent, I saw these stories as a statement on homophobia.

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Some mutants, like Nightcrawler and Beast, are more “obvious” than others, while Bobby has the good fortune of hiding his mutancy when needed. For all of them though, the world becomes a more dangerous place after coming out: the government may come to strip away your rights (as we saw with the Mutant Registration Act), family and friends may shun you (as with Bobby), and far worse. X-Men: Days of Future Past glimpsed mutant concentration camps. Those stories parallel new, real-world, chilling reports coming out of Chechnya.

Of course, oppression is a universal concept that extends far beyond my own perspective. You can take Pyro’s scene in X2 as a metaphor for the disenfranchised, and the rage they feel when the world seems to be rigged against them. As director Bryan Singer repeatedly mentioned, Magneto is the Malcolm X equivalent to Professor Xavier’s Martin Luther King, Jr.

Some of this subtext became muddled as the X-Men films started competing against other, more action-heavy superhero franchises. Now, many of those films are being rebranded around Deadpool, while the core narrative seems to be more aimless. They’ve already tackled most of the bigger comic book arcs, including God Loves, Man Kills, Age of Apocalypse, and The Dark Phoenix Saga — and now the franchise is circling back to right the wrong that was The Last Stand. But it’s also unclear which cast members will return. Jennifer Lawrence, for one, has been checked out for a while. Because of all of these things and more, the films have lost a bit of themselves and the heart of what made the X-Men so great.

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Image via FX

Then there are the TV series. FX’s Legion, as it was pitched, gave attention to David Haller, the telekinetic, telepathically unhinged son of Xavier. Showrunner Noah Hawley saw it more as a look at mental illness, which takes a physical form as the crippling monster in David’s mind. The series also introduced a parallel to conversion therapy: the world tried to convince David there was something wrong that needed to be fixed, and his schizophrenia diagnosis further fed the beast.

Now Legion, which already has the green light for a second season, is joined by Fox’s The Gifted. Based on the trailer, poster, and tagline that reads, “You can’t escape what you are,” Fox is marketing its new show as a story about family and discrimination, one that’s less apt to get lost in world-ending plots and a complicated timeline. If Matt Nix and Bryan Singer, the creative leads behind this project, are smart, they’ll keep it focused on being character-drive, alongside the political and cultural through-lines at play.

At its core, the story of mutant kind is a response to the disenfranchised, those hated for being born different. The entertainment we consume now is still trying to address this, while adapting to the realities of an America with Donald Trump as president. There’s a lot of rage from women and minorities for an administration that’s working against them, and this rage is in the DNA of the X-Men comics. While the films continue towards New Mutants and next year’s Dark Phoenix reboot, The Gifted can offer a more grounded story that speaks to our time. Logan did and became one of the franchise’s biggest, recent achievements. The way The Gifted will hopefully success is in remembering what made the X-Men so great in the first place, and recognizing its potential to become so much more.

Image via Fox

Image via Fox

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