It’s unlikely that anybody would have predicted Fox having two of the best nerd movies this summer. And yet X-Men: First Class and Rise of the Planet of the Apes are really good films; while some may disagree with X-Men, I think everybody can agree that the basic ingredients have been put into place for an exciting and intriguing new take on the mutant hero franchise.
And while both films did okay, neither were blazing hits. Domestically X-Men failed to make its money back, and with the global take added in it still falls short of other superhero films like Thor. In fact it’s the lowest-grossing X-Men related film to date. And while Rise of the Planet of the Apes held to the top spot for an unexpected two weeks, it’s done what can be described as simply ‘solid’ business. The picture supposedly outgrossed its budget, but I’m not sure how much I trust the 98 million dollar budget figure being trotted around.
And neither film has yet been officially brought to sequel. X-Men‘s lack of a sequel announcement is probably the most ominous, especially as production on The Wolverine gets pushed back into next year (which could, at this rate, mean never). I’d wager that Fox is waiting for home video numbers before pulling the trigger; they’re hoping to be like Batman Begins, which really found its audience at home. But they are also seemingly wary of franchise fatigue. While the studio will need to keep X films in development in order to keep the rights to the characters, I wonder if they ‘re going to just head back to X-Men 4 instead of continuing to play in the period piece sandbox.
What about Apes? Announcing a sequel this past week might have been a good way to drive some latecomers to the theater. The competition was sluggish, even before Hurricane Irene became a factor, and folks who had heard the movie was good (word of mouth on Apes has been absolutely through the roof) might have been motivated when they found out the film was getting a part 2 (we can call this the Tron 3 strategy, based on Disney announcing a Tron Legacy sequel they will probably never make*). I’m surprised that Apes 2 hasn’t been announced, considering the fact that the film looks to have been at least enough of an earner to be a win. But again, if that official budget number is fudged it’s possible that a sequel is less desirable because a new film would require more effects, and thus be more expensive.
I’m actually of two minds about sequels to these films; I loved both and want to return to their respective worlds, but I worry that they’re both flukes. I’m not sure that the magic of these films can be recaptured; I’m not even sure Fox knew what they had on their hands with either movie. They certainly didn’t market Apes in a way that indicated they were aware audiences would eat it up (the film screened only week of release, a usual sign that the studio believes they have something subpar on their hands. The movie’s FX had been finished for a couple of weeks before that, according to my sources). There’s a level of the unexpected to both X-Men and Apes that works in their favor; you walked into the films sort of expecting something fairly bad and their qualities came as surprises. You can’t recapture that with a sequel.
On the other hand, both films are great prequels that set up great possibilities for the future. And as a geek, I’m always sort of drawn to ‘continuing adventures’ stories, even when I know that way lies inevitable shitiness.
If you liked X-Men: First Class and want to see a return to the swinging 60s, the best thing you can probably do is buy the Blu-ray or DVD. Apes fans - tell your friends to go see it. At the very least it’s nice to reward Fox for finally getting it so right after so many years of getting it so wrong.
* and yes, I am aware that Bruce Boxleitner said at the D23 convention that Tron 3 is happening. He doesn’t make those decisions.