Over the last week I’ve been re-watching and recounting all of the X-men films to get geared up for this weekend’s X-Men: Days of Future Past and (no surprise!) I’ve got something to say about all of these movies! It’s been a blast and all of these movies have high points and low points, but to give you some insight I’ve got them ranked in in my personal order.
6. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
After The Last Stand left us feeling completely robbed of a proper conclusion to the X-men trilogy, Fox decided to launch a new spinoff series titled X-men Origins that would feature the franchise’s most marketable characters(Wolverine, Magneto, ect.). The first twenty minutes of the film were brilliant. It’s too bad. Thanks to an overpacked script, a silenced Deadpool, and some CGI claws so cartoonishly sharp they cut right through audience expectations; we never saw anything else from the Origins brand. This movie may have a few bright spots including Liev Schreiber’s Sabertooth and Ryan Reynolds’s oh so brief appearance as Deadpool(I still want that spinoff!), but it’s a pretty atrocious mess with only a few glimpses of something special under the insane number of pointless mutant cameos.
What’s worse is that Hugh Jackman is delivering the best performance of the role to that date. It’s a good thing Origins grossed enough to give this exceptional actor another chance at his own movie.
5. X-Men: The Last Stand
X-men the Last Stand isn’t a bad movie. It’s actually a really fun popcorn summer blockbuster filled with cheesy one liners(“I’m the Juggernaut Bitch!”, “Grow those back”), some surprisingly dark character drama, and the super quick cliff notes to what should have been a satisfying end to the X trilogy. The problem is that it was following X2 which set a mighty high bar for comic book movies that brought new depth, characterization, and emotional weight to the genre.
The shift in emphasis from characters to plot driven action was jarring to say the least. None of the methodically crafted character arcs really satisfy the promises set up int he first two films and most of the big character moments are overshadowed by bombastic set pieces that rob the series of the intimate development the franchise had been known for. The film is like a loud freight train driving fastly and furiously to the story’s natural conclusion. It’s a rushed mess to be sure, but there are a number of notable things in the movie such as Kelsey Grammar’s Beast and the epic face off between Professor X and the Phoenix that make this a film worth revisiting.
Bryan Singer unintentionally damned two superhero franchises(X-men and Superman) for years to come by leaving X3. He would eventually return to redeem the franchise by producing First Class, but X3 set the franchise on a dark path that arguably has yet to fully recover.
Up until 2000’s X-men there had really only been a couple of successful superhero movies. In many ways it’s the movie that is responsible for the mass production of caped crusaders we have today and after all these years I’d say it still stands the test of time in a number of its own ways. Yes the script for this movie is incredibly cheesy and off the wall at times, yes it often feels like a low budget 90s sci-fi movie, and yes the visual effects look like they’re out of the remastered Star Wars trilogy. None of that matters because you have a film that actually balances its ensemble cast exceptionally well and explores the ideas that always made X-men interesting in the first place. The film tackles persecution, conflicting philosophies on peace, and preemptive strike through its exceptionally cast characters like Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xaiver, and Ian McKellan’s Magneto. It’s not the strongest entry in the franchise by any means, but it sets the tone for a number of excellent sequels and the entire comic book genre for years to come.
Note: This has to be the least comic book movie feeling comic book movie. Just goes to show how much the genre has evolved over the last fourteen years
3. The Wolverine
The Wolverine is actually less a follow up to the nightmare of X-men Origins and more of a successor to The Last Stand. In many ways The Wolverine delivers the emotional weight and devastation that was totally absent from the final entry of the trilogy. Logan’s journey to overcome his immortality and his guilt driven by Jean’s death is a really powerful one that speaks to some of the character’s deepest struggles. I love this movie because it isn’t out to make a superhero movie, but instead aims to make a really intimate character study about everyone’s favorite Marvel anti-hero.
This movie could have hit Dark Knight levels of awesome, but sadly fell into all the traps of a typical comic book movie in the last 20 minutes which robs the film of its surprisingly grounded and atmospheric tone. Instead this is just a really good and often great movie that ALMOST elevates the genre but falls a bit short in the the final moments(WHY GIANT SAMURAI ROBOT?! WHY?!). Hugh Jackman has never been better(or more ripped) in the role and James Mangold brings a fresh Western feel to this excellent fish out of water story.
Note: The Cinematography and musical score for this movie are way underrated. They are key in establishing the fresh and immersive tone that
2. X-Men: First Class
X-men: First Class was one of the biggest surprises from summer 2011 thanks to its sexy, talented, and energetic cast and Matthew Vaughn’s off the wall direction. First Class mixes X-men with Bond and 1960s pop culture to create something completely unlike anything we’d seen in a superhero movie before. Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence all live up to the iconic characters and the legendary actors they were replacing as they faced off against Kevin Bacon’s flat yet fun Sebastian Shaw. This movie is full of adrenaline pumping action but also never forgets the characters(particularly the relationship between Erik and Xavier) are the reason people keep coming back to these films. Magneto’s Malcolm X ideology clashing with Xavier’s MLK approach is easily the most interesting part of the film as neither man is wrong in their hopes or intentions to change the world. X-men First Class brought hope to the franchise after years of carrying around the scars of Origins and The Last Stand by delivering one of the most vivacious, exciting, and character driven ensemble pieces in recent memory.
Note: Wolverine’s cameo is the best cameo in comic book movie history.
1. X2: X-Men United
X2: X-men United remains one of the greatest comic book movies ever made thanks to it’s pitch perfect balance of it’s ensemble cast, so impressive your jaw will still hit the floor action set pieces, and even more in depth examination of the themes of the first film. It seemed like an almost impossible pick between First Class and X2, but what ultimately pushed this one in the lead was it’s long list of unforgettable moments. When I wasn’t in shock that Nightcrawler’s attack on the White House was done in 2003, I was anxiously anticipating the attack on the X-mansion, Magneto’s prison break, or the quieter character moments between Bobby and Rogue. Bryan Singer flexes his directoral muscles as he gives each character of the massive on the cast(other than maybe Cyclops) something to do that brings weight and meaning to the story. By the time the film ends there is a since of growth, struggle, and uncertainty of the future hit me right where the deepest feels come from.
This movie is the high bar for a more dramatic superhero ensemble and in most ways I actually prefer this to the fun and almost too aware Avengers.Great characters. Immaculate pacing. Upped stakes. STILL incredible action set pieces. This movie has it all in one beautifully crafted package that remains a bit overlooked in the latest wave of superhero movies. The biggest problem with X2 is that it did such an incredible job at setting up the next chapter of the story that there was no way even a spectacular X-men movie could have lived up to the hype…..but then we got X-men The Last Stand. Oops.