There’s a notable negative correlation between the number of mutants in an X-Men movie, and how enjoyable the film is.
X-Men kicked off the franchise by giving both Professor X and Magneto a decently sized team each. X2 kept the number around the same, losing most of the Brotherhood, but gaining a few new faces. Sure, there were also a bunch of kids in each of these movies, but minors don’t count.
Then X-Men: The Last Stand started jamming in extra characters that did nothing to improve the narrative, and ultimately made for a weaker finished film. Juggernaut, Shadowcat, and Angel were added pretty much just for a few moments of fun, while we all discovered that if Wolverine cuts down swathes of mutant enemies that aren’t developed in an way, it’s about as compelling as an implied Sentinel takedown in a simulation.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine introduced a bunch of characters that nobody cared about. X-Men: First Class scaled things back to a few key characters and got things right—although even that movie could have stood to lose Riptide, another Angel, and a few other characters who are basically just filler.
Days of Future Past had lots of mutants in the future, and very few in the past—hence, the somewhat uneven pacing of the entire film. Apocalypse just has way too many characters vying for screentime, and the whole thing drags as a result.
In all fairness, this isn’t a hard and fast rule—The Wolverine boasts the smallest number of mutants yet, but despite not being terrible, is also hardly the best movie in the franchise.
Now, though, we’re going to the extreme with a barebones mutant cast in Logan. There’s Wolverine, Xavier, X-23, and Caliban. We’ll probably see a couple more unannounced mutants, but James Mangold has kept things simple for the sake of creating what he calls an atmosphere of “loneliness”.
That actually sounds pretty good.
“There were times early on in the story where I played with the idea of Hugh coming along, and I don’t want to give away anything, but I played with there being an underground railroad where there were a couple of other mutants he met on the journey. It always seemed to detract from the loneliness of the story though and became a kind of cameo.”
Considering what happens when directors squeeze unnecessary X-Men characters into a movie purely for poorly planned fan-service, the idea of having fewer mutants actually really sounds appealing. This film will be able to focus purely on Logan’s small family (if you provide live-in care for a disabled geriatric, you count as family even if he’s a Brit and you’re a secret Australian) and their isolated journey.
Isolation is a key element of the standard Western. The lone mutant frontier doesn’t work very well as a concept if the streets are overrun by people with fish gills and goggly eyes.
It takes a lot of restraint to avoid throwing in characters just for the sake of it.
Back when Apocalyse was in development, writer Simon Kinberg described assembling the mutants for the movie as being like playing with all his favorite action figures.
Perhaps that’s been the problem with previous movies—directors have been more concerned with getting characters on screen than with crafting a story around them.
From the sounds of it, though Mangold has done his best to avoid this easy temptation:
“You find these moments where you’re trying to please people and write these scenes where they’ll bump into somebody but it always just seems like an awkward cameo unless you can make it fit organically and the character is integral to the story.”
Here’s hoping this practice pays off, and we get the decent Wolverine movie we’ve always wanted.
As nice as it’d be to see Sir Ian McKellen back with Patrick Stewart again, it’s more important that Logan’s story is, for once, focused and enjoyable.