I didn’t make it out to see Dark Phoenix this weekend. My close friend and I absolutely intended to go see it. We even texted about it over the week. Then it was time and we found as the weekend went on we were more interested in hanging out, playing tabletop roleplaying games, and working on Small Worlds book 2 than going to see an X-Men movie.
And that’s…kind of sad. We’ll both prioritize going to see an MCU movie opening weekend over pretty much anything else (besides work, and even then sometimes.) While the X-Men aren’t MCU, we both love the X-Men as a comic book franchise, and the release of a new X-Men movie should be a time of maximum hype. Instead, our reaction was…”eh, we’ve got better things to do.”
Here’s the problem with the X-Men franchise – I cannot think of a single other franchise that has quality this variable. Most franchises steadily get better or steadily get worse. The X-Men is a complete crapshoot in terms of quality. So, in the vein of my recap of the MCU before Endgame, here’s a recap of the X-Men movies in chronological order.
The original movie, X-Men is an interesting beast. At the time it came out, in the distant day of the year 2000, it was received pretty well. Sure, it was doing the late 90’s action thing of black leather for everyone instead of comic book costumes, and the writing was…not exactly great. However, it was incredible to see a good movie made from a Marvel comic – which was a novelty back then, and Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart where phenomenal as Magneto and Charles Xavier.
That being said…some movies stand the test of time, some don’t. This was one of the ones that didn’t. I mostly remember Wolverine trading barbs with Cyclops, a few mediocre action scenes, and the worst written line of the entire franchise:
If you listen carefully, you can hear Halle Berry dying inside.
Beyond that, nothing really sticks in the memory. I tried to watch it again a couple years ago, and ten minutes in got bored and went to do something else. Good for the time, doesn’t hold up.
Winner of the coveted “Blandest Title of the Franchise Award”, X-2 was the best of the original three movies. Bringing in Weapon X as an antagonist provided context for why the Brotherhood hated humanity and why humanity hadn’t been wiped out already, the line-by-line writing was dramatically improved, and the interplay between the characters was more organic. The plot was a hot mess, but it was a fun hot mess.
Oh, and it was the first movie to feature Nightcrawler, a character who has always been one of my favorite superheroes overall, so it always holds a special place in my heart.
Also, it had the best action sequence featuring a teleporter ever put to film. Fight me.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Once upon a time, there was a little boy who loved superheroes. He had read one called the Dark Phoenix Saga and had fallen in love with it. That story would later influence his tastes in comics, in movies, in video games, and even in what he write. Then he saw X-2 and, at the end, saw the phoenix shape in the water.
Can you imagine the excitement of that little boy, at this point a teenager? Seeing his favorite story brought to life on the silver screen?
Then he went to see X-Men: the Last Stand. From that movie, he learned that life is fleeting, joy is temporary, and your heroes will only disappoint you.
The Last Stand is not the worst comic book movie I’ve seen – Elektra takes that award. It’s not even the worst comic book movie on this list – our next entry holds that title. But it was the first movie I remember hating. Not just disliking, but hating with a passion that had my blood boiling. As an adult, I have the perspective to go “well, it’s just a film.” However, on behalf of my inner teenager…fuck The Last Stand.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
After seeing The Last Stand, my expectations for the X-Men films could not be lower. I almost skipped this one in theaters, but I wanted to give this a chance. How bad could it be? I asked myself. I mean, we’ve already gotten the worst X-Men movie that will ever be made.
That was when I learned the term ‘tempting fate.’
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is an absolute failure of filmmaking. The first 10 minutes, showing Wolverine and Sabretooth adventuring through history then a kick-ass action sequence years later with weapon X, is the only part of this movie that’s defensible.
Enjoy the one good part of this movie.
After that, the plot completely falls apart on a structural level, the writing breaks down, pacing is taken out behind the shed and shot alongside the corpses of characterization and the source material, and somehow the CGI for Wolverine’s claws was worse than it had been in the first movie.
Thankfully, nothing else on this list hits this low.
X-Men: First Class
The Last Stand and Wolverine: Origins should have killed the X-Men franchise. However, Fox wasn’t willing to let go a comic book franchise in what was becoming the Marvel age of cinema, so they let it rest for two years after Origins and gave us First Class, a soft reboot that went back in time to show us what happened before the X-Men we know and love.
It was a risky move, and it paid off in spades.
First Class is the best X-Men movie put to film to date. The human/good mutant/bad mutant conflict drives the entire plot, Magneto is made into a more nuanced character who also kills Nazis with flying daggers and therefore rocks, Mystique was given depth and characterization that made her relatable, and it was refreshing seeing Charles Xavier before he was the fatherly figure we get in the movies.
If you missed this movie because the franchise had gone to hell before this point, it’s definitely worth checking out now.
This film is better than Origins and The Last Stand, but it’s not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. Jackman had mastered the character of Wolverine and it was nice to see him in the role yet again and Wolverine fighting ninjas while depowered so there’s actual tension to the fights is just wonderful.
However, the plot is a total mess and sacrifices narrative cohesion in exchange for a twist that everyone saw coming anyway, the villain is dull and inconsistent, and the dialogue doesn’t even reach the levels of a lesser CW show. All of this could have been recovered from if the movie had the guts to go for an R-Rating and embrace the silliness and ultraviolence in the premise, but since it didn’t, we were stuck with this movie.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
I have watched Days of Future Past three different times and still don’t know how I feel about this movie. There’s some truly stupid moments in it. Xavier giving up his telepathy for the ability to walk doesn’t mesh well with his character. The action centering on Wolverine as opposed to the criminally underused Kitty Pride was a lame shift clearly done for marketing reasons. The time travel was poorly explained which made the parallel climaxes nonsensical.
On the other hand, this was some of the best action the franchise had yet to offer, the writing was better than it had been in most other films, and finally getting Sentinels was a treat for comic book fans. I go back and forth on Days of Future Past, but the fact that I’ve seen it three times means there must be something there.
Oh, and it wasn’t the Quicksilver scene. While I totally enjoyed that scene on the first watch-through, and it’s awesome in a vacuum, it falls apart when you think about what it means about Quicksilver’s power and the overall plot of the film.
Still, go ahead and enjoy it in a vacuum
Overall, I think it’s worth a watch, but keep your expectations low going into it.
Ryan Reynolds wanted a Deadpool movie more than anyone on the planet. With this kind of passion project, you’re going to always get something truly unique- the only question is if it is the magical kind of thing that happens once in a blue moon, or if you’re going to get something where you give a long, drawn out “It was…unique” when trying to find something good to say about it.
Thankfully, we got the first one. Biting satire of pop culture, superheroes, and action films were blended with the right balance of pop culture references, solid comedy, and humor that took advantage of the R-Rating. I haven’t laughed this hard at a movie in a long time, and it delivers everything I could want from a film starting the merc with a mouth.
Apocalypse is one of my favorite X-Men bad guys. A complete monster, powerful enough to take on the entire team single handedly, and wrapped up in a Dark Darwinist worldview, he’s probably my fifth favorite comic book villain after – in order from top to bottom – Dr Doom, Magneto, Lex Luthor, and Venom. (Sorry, Joker fans – I love him, but he’s #6 on my list because his particular brand of crazy gets old fast for me.) After The Last Stand, I was leery about seeing one of my favorites on screen again. This movie even brought back Nightcrawler! I was ready to either love it or have my heart broken again.
Apocalypse left me underwhelmed, but not disappointed. The writing was still decent, the pacing was well handled, and the characters were still enjoyable. This one isn’t really ‘bad’ for a reason I can pinpoint, but it just…didn’t work properly. It was the oatmeal of X-Men films – bland, inoffensive, taking no risks and therefore exciting no one.
Logan was the movie I wanted for Wolverine. An R-Rated action-fest that also had some of the best human drama of any of these films, Logan took us to a dystopian future that feels all too plausible even when you factor for ‘mutants.’ The characters drove this narrative, and this is the only film in this franchise I can think of that has well written dialogue throughout. The ending was heart wrenching, and X-23/Lara was a delight on screen – all the swearing, badassery, and violence that makes Wolverine awesome, stuffed into an adorable pre-teen bouncing around like a super ball made of pure murder.
Get them, you tiny murderer!
My only complaint about Logan is that none of the other movies in this franchise could reach these heights. First Class was a better X-Men movie, Deadpool was a thousand times more fun, but Logan is the best cinematic experience in this lot. Oh, and I can’t watch it unless I don’t mind being super depressed. Sometimes, that’s a nice catharsis, but you have to be in the right mood for it.
Ryan Reynolds wanted a Deadpool movie more than anyone on the planet. With this kind of passion project, you’re going to always get something truly unique…huh? You say I’m repeating myself? Well, so did Deadpool 2.
That doesn’t mean I dislike it. Deadpool 2 is one of the best action comedy movies out there, and the expanded cast was used for hilarious effect. The plot is deliberately obtuse to poke fun at the rest of the X-Men franchise, but it’s not too hard to follow the time-travel shenanigans. However, the jokes were too close to the original to reach the heights the first one did. Also, far less Negasonic Teenage Warhead screen time, and the movie is worse for it.
So that’s my thoughts on literally every X-Men movie so far. Agree, disagree, let me know in the comments below! and if you read all that, why not read a bit more and pick up my free book!