FOR FOX'S SAKE
The nine most embarrassing X-Men marketing fuck-ups
12th October 2018
You can always count on the X-Men for a laugh. While the Marvel marketing machine runs like a well-oiled machine and the DC marketing machine is basically a Xerox of the Marvel machine, the Fox marketing machine is more like a dodgy office printer, old and busted and producing wildly erratic and inconsistent results because no one really knows how to use it properly. The X-Men franchise is arguably the biggest name in superhero cinema - so why can't Fox ever seem to sell the movies without, excuse my language, fucking up like cack-handed twats?
With the impending Disney-Fox merger on the horizon, Fox may not be getting many more chances to mishandle their biggest intellectual property. But with Dark Phoenix in the works and The New Mutants still on the release schedule (for now), we're sure to see a few more Chandler-esque fumbles before the Marvel corporate suits move in, flash their badges, say "We'll take it from here" and streamline the shit out of the whole shebang and make the movies boringly and predictably brilliant. In any case, here are my favourite X-Men marketing fuck-ups to date, in reverse order.
Any time I worry that my life is a shambles or that I'm unable to keep my affairs in order, I'll now think of how billion-dollar company Fox released a trailer for their new X-Men movie on a Thursday, then pushed the release date back by four months on the Friday. It takes years of experience to appear this uncoordinated; this isn't just the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, it's more like the left hand being surprised that the right hand even exists at all, each hand assuming they were the only hand, and instead of working together to be twice as efficient, the hands start punching each other.
Bear in mind, this is the second time the release date for Dark Phoenix got pushed back, so it's not an isolated incident, but it's astonishing that it took months from that first date change announcement for a trailer to appear, then less than 48 hours for Fox to realise the film wasn't going to be ready in time. Do they even want to release it? Maybe it's cursed. All Fox are doing is conditioning audiences to think that every time they release new marketing for the movie, something bad happens, like if you watch the new trailer, then seven days later, Nicholas Hoult dies in mysterious circumstances.
This is what we call in the industry "brand synergy". It's also what we call "a load of old wank". To think, fans were up in arms when watching the Dark Phoenix trailer because Storm has the gall to use an umbrella, but in this advert she uses her psionic ability to control the weather to blast a hole through the roof of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters in order to obtain some chocolate.
The lack of consistency in the X-Men universe drives me up the wall - even from one movie to the next, the chronology reads like it was plotted by several psychopaths who had never met - but the same is also true of the movies themselves. Example: there are three standalone Wolverine spin-offs, and they are titled thus:
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Note: there are no other X-Men Origins movies, because of course there weren't, and it's not like this movie wasn't successful enough to warrant them, because it made a fortune - it's because Fox couldn't think of any other individual X-Men to make movies out of. That means this title has 11 extraneous characters and two unnecessary punctuation marks in it.
Should have been called: Wolverine: Weapon X.
The Wolverine (2013)
The cheek! The audacity of that definitive article! How dare it suggest that this movie is THE Wolverine movie! There had already been eight thousand other movies featuring Wolverine at this point, not that it matters, not that anything matters any more, for fuck's sake. The title was so bland and nondescript, Fox had to resort to shuffling the letters around to make it sound unique.
Should have been called: Wolverine: Shogun.
It's just as well Logan was the last Wolverine spin-off, because they'd run out of ways to identify him in the titles - if they needed to squeeze out one more, they would have had to call it 'Sideburns'. It's a great movie, yes, but that title feels like a better fit for an indie awards season contender, like a movie about Matthew McConaughey who plays a worldly-wise handyman who lives in the woods who befriends two inquisitive kids who teach him about modern life.
Should have been called: Wolverine: Ex-Man.
Fun fact: every single person who went to the cinema to see either of these three movies would have asked for "One ticket for Wolverine please" and no one would have ever batted an eyelash about it.
I, too, enjoyed the poster compositions of artist Drew Struzan, and I, too, see what you were trying to do there. Yeah: it did not work. If you want to go the whole 'cast stacked artfully in one dynamic image' route, then it helps if your characters are illustrated as a nod to the style and era (Stranger Things understood this). Pro tip: glomming all 20 of your character photographs together in one gelatinous splodge does not achieve the desired effect. You were aiming for: Spielberg-esque '70s throwback. You landed on: Hideous mutant combi-beast from a John Carpenter movie that's one flaming torch away from screaming and scuttling behind a coal shed.
I've covered this poster in painful detail before, but it really invites closer inspection to appreciate its finer points, like little hovering Professor X in his flying wheelchair, giving negative fucks as he jets off from the character scrum to own the foreground. Also loving: Magneto identifying the cause of Wolverine's tummy trouble like he's in a Gaviscon advert; tiny Beast just sort of roaring into the distance; everyone standing in an explosion. Christ it's a mess. This poster is so bad that any walls it's placed on are 12% more likely to get dry-rot: INARGUABLE FACT.
I can only imagine the wildly off-kilter scaling and character placement is down to a laundry list of contractual requirements. Halle Berry can't appear smaller than Nicholas Hoult but she has to be lower than James McAvoy. Jennifer Lawrence must have equal billing with Hugh Jackman but has to stand behind at least eight other characters. It's like a fun maths problem, only instead of numbers you have to do it with egos.
Movies have their release dates pushed back all the time, right? It's just a strategic commercial decision to exploit a more favourable release window, right? It's perfectly natural for a movie to have its release date postponed by... Jesus, 16 months? Hmm. That does somewhat suggest a chronic level of dithering, does it not. That is some quite substantial procrastinating. That is sitting on your hands to a level that will probably definitely cause blood clotting. To put it into context, Marvel will have released five movies over that same timespan. In the time spent waiting for The New Mutants to arrive, potential punters will have grown old, grown out of comic-book movies, lost their virginities, got married, had kids, taken out crippling mortgages, developed inexplicable back pain, and comfortably forgotten that this movie ever even existed. They will be Old Mutants by the time they eventually turn the fuck up.
We can assume one of the following things: i) that the man in charge of Fox's studio operations is a sweetheart but he subscribes to the philosophy 'why do it today when tomorrow will do?' and has a humorous A5 placard in nice script letters above his desk that says just that and he has genuinely just not got around to releasing The New Mutants because life is what happens while he's busy making other plans, which he also has a print of; ii) it's just shite.
It'll be a shame if the latter is true, but if so it'll be because Fox couldn't decide what they even wanted the movie to be. Director Josh Boone originally pitched The New Mutants as a straight up horror movie with "no costumes" and "no supervillains", but Fox convinced him to take the edges off and make it more of a Young Adult adventure, so that's what he shot; it was only after principal photography had finished that Fox decided they thought it should be scarier, like more of a horror film?, like maybe they'd heard that somewhere before?, and ordered months of expensive reshoots, which still haven't happened. It is a minor miracle that Josh Boone is still the listed director of this movie and was never arrested for the murder of an unnamed Hollywood executive.
Everything about X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a fuck-up: the title, the poster, the marketing, the entire concept of the movie, the characters, the cast (except for precious little Hugh Jackman of course, who can do no wrong), even the release. Somehow, Fox managed to take the brilliant idea of a standalone Wolverine movie, finally free of the rest of the duds of the X-Men, and make it into a turgid, cliched, sacrilegious mess. Naturally, it made $373 million at the box-office. Great work everybody!
Let me show you an image that illustrates exactly why it was such a fuck-up:
You've seen this movie. Do you remember will.i.am's character? What did he do? What were his powers? I promise I didn't Photoshop this: will.i.am is in this movie, as a character, with Wolverine, at the same time. For real. Will.i.am. I have seen interviews with will.i.am where he sat staring through Alan Carr like he was made of ones and zeroes. He has the exact polar opposite of whatever personality is. His music plays in the elevator down to Hell.
Wolverine's origins are so important they needed a standalone film, so we could get insight into the biggest moments in Wolverine's life, like that time Wolverine inherited that leather jacket I guess he wears a lot, and that time Wolverine walked away from an exploding helicopter. That's about all I remember from the film to be honest - maybe I too was, at some point, shot in the head with a bullet that causes amnesia.
Funny then, that I somehow still remember the utter butt-fucking received by Deadpool: I have and had no affection for the character whatsoever, but even I knew that he was known for being a wisecracking big-mouth smart alec, and that the decision to literally sew his mouth shut seemed *whisper* kinda counter-intuitive. A bit like *whisper* no one involved knew what they were doing. A bit like *intentionally loud whisper* EVERYONE IS CRETINS.
The worst thing about X-Men Origins: Wolverine was the fact that a workprint of the movie - ostensibly finished, apart from some missing effects work - leaked online a few months before the movie was due for release. That's right: they couldn't even keep their terrible movie on lockdown - it was so bad, it had to flee through the internet. Fox estimated it was downloaded 15 million times before the movie was released, and though the leak didn't hurt the movie's box-office performance, it did get a guy fired for writing an early review, although he worked for Fox, so actually, fuck that guy in addition to fucking this movie.
Channing Tatum is an anomaly: he is somehow, impossibly, simultaneously, the popular jock who shoved you into a locker at school, who farted on your rucksack every day, who called you "gaylord" so often that one day a teacher's assistant accidentally did it too, but he's also the quiet nerd who was super into comics and who knew all of the individual X-Men before there were any movies and who attended sci-fi conventions without somehow ever copping any shit for it.
Channing Tatum wants to play Gambit so bad. He wants to play Gambit more than anyone else on Earth wants him to play Gambit. Channing Tatum is willing to risk it all by attempting a Cajun accent and saying things like "Mon cherie" while wearing a head vest and a long trenchcoat and holding a big stick. Channing Tatum is going to cross the divide and unite jocks and nerds together forever, whether they like it or not, by playing a man called 'Remy LeBeau' whose superpower is throwing hot playing cards at you. At least, he would if he could find someone to make his goddamn Gambit movie.
Fox have been talking about making a Gambit movie for about ten years, probably right after they released X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which featured Taylor Kitsch playing Gambit, and they went, Hey, maybe we should make a movie with this character, but y'know, properly this time. Tatum has been the constant presence while a string of directors have turned up, tuned in and copped out. Rupert Wyatt, Doug Liman, Gore Verbinski, all outie 5000, probably because Fox keep changing the tone of the movie - it has been described at various points of its development as "a heist movie", "a sexy thriller" and "a romantic comedy". Incidentally, Colin Firth released a movie called Gambit in 2012, which could accurately be described as a sexy thriller slash romcom heist movie. Firth you troll!
I like to think that Tatum does all the leg work, charming potential directors and getting them to sign on, then they enter a windowless room where a dog-eared script, which has been rewritten 112 times, sits on a plinth, surrounded by haggard Fox executives who start hissing HELP US and HELLLLLP USSSSSSS repeatedly. Pretty standard development deal in Hollywood terms, right guys?
Gambit is currently scheduled for release in March 2020 and will be released never.
I mean, I like movies and I like football but this advert makes me want to never see a movie or kick a football ever again. If you put a contract in front of me in the seconds after I first viewed this video that legally bound me to a life of solitude spent as a Tibetan monk, forgoing all earthly pleasures, I would have carved a solid X right through the paper onto the table underneath.
I guarantee this was a joke pitch that got out of hand, until suddenly some marketing intern had to write a script for Wayne Rooney and another had to audition for a James McAvoy soundalike. If will.i.am's music is playing on the Hellevator, this advert is playing on a loop in the lobby. See also: Man Utd vs Independence Day: Resurgence and Man Utd vs Deadpool. This is Hell. This is what Hell feels like. It's not climate change or global warming. Hell.
I am absolutely fascinated by the process of movie poster design. I've written about it at length before, including the weird modern trends like sparks and unnecessary helicopters and diagonal stuff, but I also have a silent appreciation for what makes an arresting, eye-catching poster: the composition, the colour palette, the use of negative space. That appreciation also comes with a curse, because I cannot let a sub-par movie poster pass without comment.
Sometimes it's a poorly executed concept. Sometimes it's a bad photograph. Sometimes it's a big old floating head. Sometimes it's all three. Sometimes it's X-Men: First Class.
These two teaser posters are, without a doubt, the worst official movie posters I have ever seen. The worst. I've seen clumsier executions, worse Photoshopping, stupider ideas. But I have never seen a set of posters so barren of good ideas, so comically inept, so desperately, heartbreakingly, mind-bogglingly bereft of quality than these. They made me hate the movie before I even really knew what it was: they were made with marketing anti-matter, by spies from rival studios, who had never heard of the X-Men.
Here are my favourite bits of the posters, in no particular order:
- The baffling placement of James McAvoy's floating head around the crotchal region of Xavier's silhouette, situated just so the gap in the armrest cuts right into his forehead, baffling, fucking baffling
- The fact you can pinpoint the exact moment in the Magneto poster's creation where the designer realised that, actually, Magneto doesn't have a very recognisable silhouette, in fact, he kind of looks like a semi-professional Batman impersonator
- The fact that Michael Fassbender now has two movie posters where he appears overlaid on another character's stomach, surely a record
- The shape of Magneto's hand
- The shape of Magneto's head, his stupid flat head, which somehow looks one-dimensional even though that's not physically possible
- The shape of Magneto's massive stupid cape legs, in fact, the cape in general, really not helping the cause of the silhouette at all, making him look like one of those Slurm worms from Futurama
- Look, they cheated, they fucking cheated, they had to add detailing on the wheels of Professor X's wheelchair because it wasn't even recognisable as a wheelchair even though that's just about the only thing recognisable about him in profile, OH GOD, how is it even worse than I originally thought?
And The Rest