X-Men: Apocalypse, the next film in Fox’s superhero franchise, marks the end of an era for the cinematic mutants. For a trilogy of films, the narrative has centered on the young versions of Mystique, Professor X and Magneto. That trilogy will conclude with Apocalypse, and – whether Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender return to reprise their roles or not – the franchise will need a new set of heroes to focus on.
The obvious candidates are the newly recast Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). These characters, in their older incarnations, were part of the focus of the original X-Men trilogy, but were often overshadowed by Wolverine’s character arcs, particularly in X2: X-Men United. As a fan, I’m hoping that these young actors were cast with the intent of turning them into the next franchise stars, since there’s a lot of potential in telling their stories beginning before the age we met them at in the first X-Men. Writer/producer Simons Kinberg has even recently said that he was surprised at how much Apocalypse, intended to finish the Magneto/Mystique/Xavier story, became a story about this new cast.
Of course, 2016 will see the X-Men film universe expand in a way we haven’t seen before. In February, the long-awaiting Deadpool movie will finally arrive, thrusting Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson into the spotlight of a planned trilogy of films.
However, Deadpool’s R-rating will likely prevent it from becoming the true focus of the franchise. While the R-rating is great for hardcore Deadpool fans, it prevents the film from being able to go mainstream and attract younger eyes (there’s a reason new Deadpool merchandise was announced alongside adult merchandise for Marvel’s R-rated-ish Netflix heroes). That said, he could still become the center of a branch of the franchise that includes other similarly gritty characters and concepts, like Cable and X-Force, but he probably won’t be taking the lead.
Channing Tatum will debut as Gambit later in 2016, and there’s some potential there. One of the greatest unused villains of the X-Men universe is Mr. Sinister, who has a connection with both Apocalypse and Gambit. Following up Apocalypse with Sinister, and using Sinister to loop Gambit’s story into that of the prime X-Men series, would be pretty clever, and also a smart way to keep Tatum in the role if Gambit the movie doesn’t do well enough to justify a standalone sequel. It’s not too hard to see Gambit filling in the Wolverine archetype once Jackman hangs up his claws, as he was poised to do back in the comics in the ‘90s, before some less than stellar work on his origin story quelled a lot of fan interest.
Then there’s the New Mutants spinoff. When it comes down to it, I can’t really see any solo film – be it Deadpool, Gambit, or even Wolverine – carrying the X-Men franchise, because the team dynamics of the X-Men are what make the franchise tick. The New Mutants are a team, so if anyone is going to replace the old team, it’s them. Putting the new class of X-Men at the forefront, perhaps with McAvoy or Patrick Stewart returning as Xavier, would show the rise of a new band of X-Men, just as they were intended to be in the comics. I don’t know that Fox would be willing to take such lesser known characters and a hang a franchise on them, but there’s always the possibility.
Again, my money is on Cyclops, Storm, and Jean taking the series into its new era, but either way, it’s an exciting time for fans of the films.