The X-Men Movies – A Look Back

X-Men: Days of Future Past is the seventh X-Men movie. The SEVENTH. Let that sink in. Not counting Marvel Studios’ Avengers line, that’s the longest running superhero universe franchise ever. Spider-Man was rebooted after three movies, Batman and Superman after four (or five if you count Superman Returns in the original run). The Fantastic Four only got two and looks like Green Lantern gets one.

I think we tend to forget how impressive it is, even with its flaws, that the X-Men have lasted so long with a single continuity. There’s errors in the timeline, attempts to go back and change, but every movie is part of the same series. The X-Men are the Star Trek of superheroes.

I think it’s nice that the quality turn around is back on high. For a while, it seemed like darkness was overtaking the series. Before X-Men: First Class, we had two good X-Men movies and two bad ones. Now, three movies later, those are the only bad ones in the series. I want to do a quick rundown and look back at the series and see what’s held up and what hasn’t.

MPW-34135X-Men
Released 2000

Think about this. Fourteen years ago, the last good superhero movie was Blade in 1998 and before that, which ever Batman movie you liked before the franchise fell apart (I kind of like Batman Forever). The first X-Men movie is responsible for the modern superhero genre. It’s not just important for the X-Men, it’s important for films. X-Men showed the world that superhero movies could be serious, satisfying both fans and newcomers. It set the trend for adding Easter eggs for future films and characters and the benefits of treating its heroes with respect. Without X-Men’s big box office success, Spider-Man wouldn’t have been greenlit and the rest is history.

I guess I kind of got away from talking about the movie as a whole…sorry. I love this movie. I know, by today’s standards it looks cheap in certain places (the Statue of Liberty fight) and Magneto’s plan isn’t the best. But this movie has everything else it needs to succeed. I’ve probably quoted this movie more than any other, and the writing is strong enough to prove why. Xavier, Wolverine, Rogue and Magneto all come across as believable and cool. Even Jean turns up alright in this movie. Toad, of all characters, probably gets more respect than he ever has, even with that terrible Storm line directed at him. I love the feel this movie has from the very beginning all the way up to the Ellis Island scenes, where the movie shows it’s weaker elements. This movie made me want to go to the school in a bad way and I wanted more, more and more.

X2 ONE SHEET A ¥ Art Machine Job#5263 ¥ Version A ¥  02/28/03X2: X-Men United
Released 2003

I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve talked about this movie before, and I’m never shy about how great it is. X-Men was good, this was great. X2 feels like an X-Men movie, from the school to the characters, to the way every one intersects out of each other’s lives.

Nightcrawler represents some of the best parts of the world, cool look, cool powers, tragic past, lovable scamp. This was also the last time Wolverine’s past would be cool, since both the movies and the comics decided to give away the secrets. This movie is memorable scene after memorable scene, from the tornado vs. jet scene to the Deathstrike fight, from the White House to the Mansion invasion, its great. And the movie doesn’t skip on the slower scenes, like Pyro’s longing gaze at family life or Wolverine and Iceman talking about girls.

There’s some rough patches, like Rogue not being to important or Cyclops being written out early, but they’re minor quibbles. If I only had one example to explain the X-Men to those who don’t understand, I use this movie. Or I just watch it because I want to.

 

X-Men_The_Last_StandX-Men: The Last Stand
Released 2006

Let’s hold on before we tear this movie apart. First, the trailer was awesome. It made this movie look thoughtful, stylistic and action packed. We had every right to believe that it would be the best yet. I mean, pitting the Juggernaut against Kitty Pride is an inspired idea! They can both go through walls! How could that not be awesome!

Let’s talk about the bad first, so we can end on a high note. Said Juggernaut/Kitty fight was a huge letdown lacking any imagination. In fact, all the action scenes are forgettable, save one. Even the final match-up between the X-Men and Magneto’s army was a mess, without any new powers or ideas. Popular characters like Multiple Man and Angel are important until they’re not, Cyclops is killed off screen, Rogue loses her powers off screen, Wolverine gets from New York to California and back off screen. The cure, which was the most promising story line, might work but maybe not? Dark Phoenix is kind of powerful but more of a hot mess than the end of the world. Iceman vs. Pyro is a DBZ ripoff without the fun and Magneto asking, “What have I done?” is worse than Storm’s questions about toads and lightning. Okay, lets stop and get to the good quick.

I’ve learned a strategy for this movie and that’s to watch it right after X2. I mean, right after. Because if you still have the feeling of excitement that comes with the closing moments of that movie, it will wash over the third film and carry you along for almost the whole thing. There are good things about the movie. Magneto is still great, the Danger Room gets some play, Kelsey Grammer is a wonderful choice for Beast and hey, look, it’s Multiple Man! The struggle for Jean at her old home is the only memorable action bit in the film, maybe because it’s the only one with high stakes (Xavier’s life). Also, the soundtrack is epic in scope and plays like it was scored for a better film. But where the complaints are small points for the first two films, the compliments are in short supply for the Last Stand.

x-men-origins-wolverine-posterX-Men Origins: Wolverine
Released 2009

In order to control my venting, I’m trying something else. Let’s just focus on what I would have done with this concept.

If revealing Wolverine’s origin is going to be important to both the audience and the character, it needs to matter. If we just show it all, it doesn’t work because the audience now know’s his past, but the character doesn’t, so revealing it to him later will be redundant. So, no prequel. Instead, lets have the movie take place after  The Last Stand. With Jean gone, Magneto (temporally) neutralized and the X-Men enjoying some peace and quiet, Wolverine can get back to focusing on find out who he was. Since she didn’t have a lot to do before, Rogue decides to go with him. Knowing Striker made him the weapon he is today, he starts digging into the generals past, which leads him to his own. We can bring back Sabretooth from the first movie and up his intelligence a bit or maybe use Omega Red. Both have a history with Wolverine’s Weapon X days. While searching, Wolverine and Rogue discover that a lot of memories are false implants, that he may have been with a woman named Silver Fox who was murdered by those who wanted him in the program, and that he wasn’t such a nice guy back then either. Maybe, we show some scenes of his childhood, but that doesn’t matter so much as what brought him to Weapon X. His search could take him to a shutdown Department H/Alpha Flight and friends named the Hudsons. Of course, at the end of the movie, Wolverine discovers a good amount, but it doesn’t give him the peace he needs. Realizing he’s always been a weapon and hurt those who care about him, he leaves the X-Men until we see him again in The Wolverine.

Of course, no one asked me. So we have a movie that doesn’t matter, to audiences or the rest of the films. Nice going, Fox.

X-Men-First-Class-Poster-01X-Men: First Class
Released 2011

So, I love X2. That’s no secret. But, to this day, I can’t decide if it’s still my favorite or best. Because First Class is that good.

It’s stylish. It’s cool. It has a sense of humor and fun that the others movies lack. This film doesn’t need Wolverine because Michael Fassbender (more like Face bender!) is that cool. The new crew of X-kids aren’t as iconic but they’re great all the same, and I love seeing Havok and Banshee get some screen time. The movie also made one of the worst comic book ideas (Azazel) and made it awesome. Sebastian Shaw finally gets his hand at being the bad guy, we get goofy silver age technology and groovy training montages. And the soundtrack is awesome.

For a while, the X-Movies felt like an ex-girlfriend. After X2, everything seemed to be going well. But then The Last Stand  happened and she went off the rails so we broke up. We had lost the magic. But the, here comes a Wolverine movie and the trailers look promising. Maybe she’s cleaned up her act. Maybe she has changed. Okay, so we get back together. Then I find out she’s even worse then before. Crazy, even. I bail out and stop answering phone calls, heck, I change my number. Forget it. I’m done. But, then, I see the trailer for First Class and I hear she really has changed for the better. The breakup made her rethink a lot of decisions she was making. We flirt a little, have a few talks over coffee and then, when I see the movie, I can’t help myself. I propose. I’m ready to stick with her through better or worse. Thanks, X-Men: First Class.

the-wolverine-teaser-posterThe Wolverine
Released 2013

Wolverine is overexposed as a character, with people forgetting that less is more and that he’s a cool character even when played as just another part of a larger team. Just because he’s popular doesn’t mean he has to be the center. But, if you have to make a solo film, make it matter. And that’s what The Wolverine gets right.

While X-Men Origins: Wolverine was an minor character parade disguised as a solo piece, The Wolverine is true to it’s name. The main focus is on Logan, emotionally distraught and lost after having to kill the woman he spent about two weekends with (seriously, if you think about the whole time that Wolverine and Jean are interacting in the time frame of the movie, they spend about two whole days together). The movie starts of slow and thoughtful and you realize this is a different type of superhero movie. Having this film take place in Japan helps it standout as well and this character fits perfectly in that environment, being both a man with a long past but also, by being a mutant, a man of the future. Like the comic by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, the movie wisely tells a story about Wolverine as a ronin, a masterless samurai.

The action is great, with a lot of people liking the bullet train scene by my favorite bit is in the medical lab. It’s intense and has a great built up, and when Wolverine gets back into the fight, you can feel the weight of it all. It’s almost like the movie wants to end there, but Logan still has some bad guys to stop and, while I don’t hate the last act of the movie like other critics, it is weaker than the rest of the movie. And since X-Men: Days of Future Past ignores a lot of this movie, the bits at the end are fairly inconsequential. But, if they never make another solo Wolverine movie (and I kind of wish they would stop and focus on the team), this is as good as it’s going to get.

rs_634x939-140324091106-634.jennifer-lawrence-x-men.ls.32414X-Men: Days of Future Past
Released 2014

The X-Men series seems to be the king of rebooting without rebooting, maybe second only to the Terminator series. Between X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class and now X-Men: Days of Future Past, the series has tried to restart and change direction three times without actually starting over. I don’t mind, as long as the movies are good, and DoFP is good.

It’s not my favorite of the movies. That’s still a battle between the second and First Class. I would have liked to see Bishop, Warpath and Blink get more screen time/dialog. Beast doesn’t seem to have too much to do and I feel like we didn’t get enough time with future Magneto and Xavier as both their dreams seem to be crashing around them. One more complaint. Killing off the First Class crew off screen; Banshee, Emma Frost and Azazel, that doesn’t sit right with me. Especially the first two, since one could of worked on the team still and the Emma is one of the strongest characters in the comic.

But the rest of the movie is great. Fassbender, decked out like his comic book counterpart, is almost the perfect Magneto. Wolverine is less the focus and more of a side character, which works well for him. The Sentinels are bad news and we get to see the X-Men of the future fight them to the death…twice! All while being a classic X-Men movie!

The best part of DoFP is that it gives hope, for the movies and the franchise. The ending of the film, for both timelines, makes me want to what another hundred X-Men movies. I want to keep following the original movie cast, I want to keep going with the First Class crew, I want to see where they’re going with Mystique and Wolverine, I want to see all the X-Men together and happy and saving the day again and again. While I’m a little weary, since the last time I had this much excitement for the series future was after X2, and we can see how well that went, I feel confident that the franchise is on the right track.

Posted on June 4, 2014, in comic books, movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Eric, I haven’t seen The Wolverine or DoFP movies but you may have inspired me to do an x-men marathon. I really enjoyed your critique of the series!

    • Nobody saw The Wolverine! I have to convince people to check it out, since the first one isn’t well liked. But it’s good and I’ll probably keep watching it for a while to come.

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