Claiming that the sequel to X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: First Class could have been the perfect ending and beginning to the X-Men Franchise would make any logical person skeptical. After all, when Bryan Singer directed X-Men: Days of Future Past, most audiences were aware of the announcement of X-Men: Apocalypse, and if they weren’t, the post end credits of the film revealed Singer’s plans. However, this isn’t about what was planned; this is about what could have been after the ending of X-Men: Days of Future Past.
To begin to understand this, you have to travel back to a time when superheroes dressed predominately in leather, a time before Iron Man and Thor were household names and a time where the X-Men movie franchise dominated most of the 00s. When X-Men: The Last Stand, directed by Brett Ratner, concluded in 2006, it was meant to be the end of a trilogy that began in 2001 and potentially the end of the X-Men film series. At the time no matter how unsatisfactory the character arcs felt, this was the last film in the trilogy, and thus the conclusion to a series we grew accustomed to love.
Fast forward to five years later, and we are introduced to the beloved characters we grew to love a decade before. Well, not exactly. X-Men: First Class, directed by Matthew Vaughn, was released in the summer of 2011, but instead of being a continuation of X-Men: The Last Stand from the previous decade, it was a prequel. With this new film, numerous actors associated with the X-Men films were replaced to represent this being a prequel. Most notably amongst the changes were Patrick Stewart replaced by James McAvoy as Professor X, Ian McKellen replaced by Michael Fassbender as Magneto, and most notably Rebecca Romijn replaced by Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique.
Despite X-Men: First Class’s loose rendition of the comic book series, this was an optimistic time for fans of the series, because, one, we were getting a new set of X-Men films, and, two, this was the perfect chance to reboot the series. For the most part, fans were not disappointed, as X-Men: First Class told a gripping story of the early beginnings of Magneto and Professor X set during the Cuba Missile Crisis of 1962, featuring some of the best acting ever to grace the series. Hell, the film even had Hugh Jackman reprise his role as Wolverine to make a cameo. As the movie ended with the beginning of Professor X starting the school for the gifted and Magneto donning his signature helmet, it felt like the sky was the limit for the series. Unfortunately, at the time, fans had no idea that McAvoy, Fassbender, and Lawrence would become the de facto stars of the films to the point that sequels centered on their characters.
Now, this is where things get interesting as X-Men: Days of Future Past introduced time travel to the series, but before we get to that let’s talk about one more thing that makes this film special. X-Men: Days of Future Past marked the return of the original X-Men director and the man that started the series more than a decade ago: Bryan Singer. With X-Men: Days of Future Past released in 2014 as the 7th film in the series, based on one of the most iconic stories in the X-Men Comics, things were looking up for fans of the series.
Thanks to the unique plot of the film involving time travel, X-Men: Days of Future Past was a continuation of X-Men: The Last Stand, a movie we thought wouldn’t receive a sequel after it ended years ago. Singer’s return to the helm felt like a return to the past films we grew to love almost as if he was back to rewrite the previous misfires of X-Men: The Last Stand.
With the return of numerous actors reprising their roles from X- Men: The Last Stand, it felt like this was the real ending to a line of films that began in 2001, but it didn’t stop there. X-Men: Days of Future Past featured some of the best action in the series, including fights with the infamous Sentinels, the giant robots programmed to eradicate all mutant lifeforms.
Due to the combined cast representing the past and future of the X-Men film franchise, Days of Future Past is a fitting title. X-Men: Days of Future Past is everything fans could have wanted, and more, as the film ignores dicey questions involving timeline continuity and instead focuses on telling an entertaining story. It is the conclusion of this story that leads to quite possibly the most satisfying ending in an X-Men titled film.
When Wolverine successfully traveled back to the past to save a future destroyed by Sentinels, he unknowingly changed several events that took place in X-Men: The Last Stand. Returning to his present timeline, he wakes up in the X-Mansion surrounded by kids and fellow teammates. The most shocking of those teammates being Cyclops and Jean Grey, the latter of which he killed during the ending of X-Men: Last Stand.
What makes this such a great ending is that, for once, the X-Men and actors we associate with the characters now have a proper sendoff while still staying true to the legendary comic series. Finally, after more than a decade, audiences could say it was over. The franchise was open to endless possibilities, as now new characters, teams, and villains could emerge.
Those endless possibilities are where the “could” part comes into play because X-Men: Days of Future Past could have been the perfect beginning of something new after what could have been considered a near perfect ending, but the obsession with retelling signature stories and character arcs led to a bleak future for the series. X-Men: Apocalypse, directed by Singer and released in 2016, tainted the goodwill of X-Men: Days of Future of Past as it re-introduced younger versions of the same team from the 00s, but most importantly it re-introduced Jean Grey as the Phoenix.
As the lowest reviewed film in the main X-Men line of films, Dark Phoenix marks the end of a series of films meant to bring life back to the franchise introduced to audiences this decade. With a new decade approaching and the Fox/Disney merger complete, the looming question of “was it worth it” hangs over the head of the once praised and now ridiculed X-Men film franchise.