There’s just no stopping the ‘X-Men’

Jennifer Lawrence plays Mystique in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” which opens in theaters on Friday.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Mystique in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” which opens in theaters on Friday. Tribune News Service

The title “X-Men: Apocalypse” sounds ominous. It shouldn’t.

After all, there are very few film franchises that have managed to last as long as Fox’s take on Marvel’s mighty mutants, which, spinoffs included, now spans an epic catalog of nine films during the past 16 years.

The latest entry, directed by Bryan Singer, hits theaters on Friday and as the title would suggest, pits Charles Xavier and his X-Men against a mutant of nearly god-like proportions intent on ending the world as we know it.

History would suggest that he’s in for a tough go.

When the first “X-Men” film — also directed by Singer — hit theaters in July 2000, it came at a time when superhero cinema had all but died out.

Batman and Superman are arguably two of the most recognizable comic book characters in the world and both of their respective franchises were already spiraling toward an untimely end.

Following a strong start, Christopher Reeve’s “Superman” series had petered out after four films, the last two of which nearly collapsed under the weight of increasingly cartoonish plotting.

Still, neither can lay a finger on “Batman and Robin,” which came closer to killing the Dark Knight than even the Joker ever managed. It took comic book camp to new levels.

Batman had a credit card. A credit card.

So, no, the genre wasn’t in great shape, and when the “X-Men” finally hit theaters, there was no guarantee that audiences would follow.

But they did.

“X-Men” marked a clear divide in the comic book movie genre, a line between everything that had come before and everything that has come since.

Singer dialed the camp factor way back. Yes, there were still hoards of mutants, a strange machine that threatens to wipe out everyone in New York City and sci-fi gobbledygook run amok — but that’s just the nature of the game.

What kept the whole enterprise from being rooted entirely in ridiculousness were characters with arcs worth investing in and a story that evoked themes dealing with real world prejudices.

That approach has more or less remained intact across the core “X-Men” films, which have, by necessity, delved deeper and deeper into the comics’ weird sci-fi roots as they’ve progressed.

Somehow, despite growing set pieces, a rotating cast of characters and tapestry of interweaving timelines, the series has yet to lose the human thread that could keep fans engaged from now until the end of the world.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready