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[Article] – Ranking The X-Men Films


Posted July 10, 2016 by

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With the new X-Men trilogy recently concluded and Wolverine’s last solo outing in production, it feels like a good time to look back at the X-Men films that have graced our screens since the turn of the century.

I don’t think anyone expected the X-Men to become as huge as it has. Always on the fringe, the X-Men were the underdogs of the Marvel universe. Which is probably why it ended up doing well – nobody had high expectations for the first film, let alone the franchise.

Nine films later, with more on the way, the X-Men franchise has been more than profitable, but it has had its ups and downs. Let’s take a look at what worked and what could have been better with everyone’s favourite mutant superheroes. From worst to best, here is my ranking for the X-Men franchise (spoilers abound; proceed with caution):

9) The Wolverine – We all love Hugh Jackman and we all love Wolverine but this film does justice to neither. Stilted acting from everyone except Jackman, Rila Fukushima (as Yukio) and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Will Yun Lee (as Kenuichio Harada) made this film a tedious watch. Add to that a lazy plot that had barely anything to do with the excellent comic series it was based on and The Wolverine becomes the only X-Men film I’ve never seen more than once, or even wanted to. Not even the presence of Famke Janssen as Wolverine’s imaginary version of Jean Grey could make me watch this film again. Most egregious of all – the film has so little effect on the X-Men universe that it may as well not exist.

8) X-Men: First Class – People absolutely love this film but I can’t stand it. I actually have an edit of this that excludes everything but Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr’s scenes. Because, admit it, they are the only good thing going for this film! Between the queer-baiting, the unbearable number of half-naked ladies (stripper Angel? Really? That’s so original. Not!) and the advent of Jennifer Lawrence’s god-awful Mystique (bring back Rebecca Romijn!), this film is a mess.

The plot isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong, but there’s just something that feels off about this film, as though it’s not made for all audiences. There’s an obvious pandering to fanboys (hence the half-naked ladies) and a general disrespect for female audiences that leaves a bitter aftertaste. As I said, people love this film and many have hailed it as one of the best in the franchise. I’m afraid, I can’t see past the misogynist beats and the fact that this film irreparably destroyed the X-Men timeline (Aex Summers is now the older brother because… reasons).

7) X-Men: Apocalypse – This one is just disappointing. We had so much hope for Apocalypse. It was meant to be the greatest of them all; instead it can barely even scratch the surface of tolerable.

Apocalypse is, hands down, one of the best storylines in the X-Men comics-verse. The teaser at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past promised us this, but all we really get from Apocalypse is an hour and a half of mutants moping about, Apocalypse sermonizing but not doing anything and Mystique pretending she owns the place, followed by half an hour of some moderately good action and an ending that fits nowhere in the X-Men universe, as we know it.

The film is a disaster. Nobody does anything! Apocalypse is so powerful, he can pretty much destroy the world by himself, why does he need the horsemen? His motivation throughout the film is faulty. And let us not start with the prosthetics and the voice manipulation. How could they do that to a talented actor like Oscar Isaac?

Then, there are the ‘new’ characters in the trilogy – Psylocke, Angel, Storm. These are characters that loom large in the X-Men universe but they get no development in this film. We get young versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nighcrawler, none of whom do much till the end and have zero personality. Cardboard cutouts would have been more effective. And, what is with the treatment of Jubilee? She’s always there in the background but never does anything. It’s bizarre.

6) X-Men Origins: Wolverine – I loved this film when it first came out and I still love it but it’s nothing if not inconsistent. There was meant to be an entire X-Men: Origins series focussing on different characters but the failure of this film to garner as much interest as the first X-Men film put an end to those hopes.

This film was supposed to show us the raw, rugged, berserker Wolverine before he was ‘tamed’ by the X-Men. Instead, it gave us a loveable, beautiful Logan who had his life ripped apart and his memories destroyed.

This film has a lot of heart but that’s all it has going for it. It’s about the people in Logan’s life and the relationships he has with them. We never get to see the ‘animal’ he is always alluding to. I think the filmmakers were worried about losing the Wolvie-love from three X-Men films if they turned him into a lean, mean killing machine, but that was always going to be the point of this film. And on that count, no matter how beautiful Logan and his adamantium claws looked, it failed miserably.

5) X-Men: The Last Stand – This film has basically been written out of the franchise, so much was it despised. The thing is, as a film, The Last Stand does nothing wrong. It’s a good film with a tight plot, amazing characters, excellent action sequences and a lot of heart. The film score, by John Powell, is a wonder, and I still listen to it. The film also goes out of its way to pay fanservice and we get a plethora of well-known characters. Despite all these plusses, The Last Stand just doesn’t fit within the X-Men universe.

The film’s treatment of Cyclops, Jean Grey and Professor Xavier is deplorable. Rogue is barely there and gets no action scenes. Kitty Pride is a foul-mouthed wise-ass, which is so unlike her comic version, it’s bordering on insulting.

Most disrespectful of all is the film’s treatment of the Dark Phoenix storyline. One of the pivotal plots in the X-Men comics-verse, Dark Phoenix has had repercussions on the X-Men, Jean Grey and the entire Grey-Summer line. She was a cosmic entity who latched onto the powerful psychic mind of Jean Grey but in The Last Stand, she is reduced to merely a dark personality in Jean’s mind. Yeah… no. Taking one of the greatest X-Men stories and turning it into a Hollywood version of multiple personality disorder does no one any good.

4) X2: X-Men United – Almost as accomplished as the first X-Men film, X2 is one of the rare films not to suffer from sequel-fever. It’s bigger, with greater stakes, more characters and more action. The plot is unpredictable but easy to follow. It does everything right, ticks all the boxes and is thus, severely underrated.

What I love best about X2 is that it does justice to its women characters. Mutants are a downtrodden lot who have much to fight for; they would never have time for gender biases. This film understands that and that’s why it’s so strong. Look at it this way; in how many films do we get a woman making the hero’s sacrifice? Not very many.

X2 gives us one of the most powerful scenes in recent memory where a distraught Jean realises that she is the only one who can save her friends even if it means losing her life and leaving behind her inconsolable loved ones. Thanks to Famke Janssen, James Marsden and Hugh Jackman, we get a scene of extraordinarily raw emotion, one unmatched within the superhero film genre.

In other words, it’s a damn good film.

In my mind, the top three films could all have the number one ranking but I’ve got to make the hard decisions here and give them a hierarchy. So, here goes.

3) X-Men: Days of Future Past – What. A. Film. I had such low expectations going into this one, what with my disappointment about First Class, but I was blown away from the opening scene on. DOFP does so many things right and is an all-round great film.

The biggest negative of the film is that it makes Wolverine the central character of this storyline when DOFP was always Kitty Pride’s story. She is the one who goes back to the past to enlist the X-Men’s help in saving the future. But, thanks to Kitty Pride’s late entry into the X-Men film universe, she wasn’t a fleshed out enough character to lead the film, so it fell on fan-favourite Wolverine to carry the film instead. Obviously, Wolverine is an amazing lead and the film at least justifies why only he can time travel, but it is a massive disappointment and a blow to female audiences.

In addition, Mystique is the sole female character of substance in the entire film, which is a huge step backwards for a franchise that had been trying to stand by its female leads.

All that aside, DOFP is an excellent adaptation of one of the best-loved storylines in X-Men comics while still being a sequel to First Class. It introduces new characters and elements and keeps up the pace at every step. The scene with Quicksilver is undoubtedly the standout, but one is hard-pressed to find any scene that is out-of-place or overstays its welcome in this film. DOFP is, at its centre, an incredibly well-made film by people who are obviously passionate about what they’re doing. Which is why the disaster that is Apocalypse is even harder to stomach; the same people made both films!

2) Deadpool – Talk about off-beat. Deadpool seemed destined for a life in development hell till fans started pushing for it to be made. On a tight budget and with severe constraints, Deadpool was finally made and released in 2016, immediately making more than any other film of its ilk.

Irreverent to its core, R-rated as ****, Deadpool delivered on almost all counts. Ryan Reynolds’ depiction of the merc-with-a-mouth could have stepped out of the comic book and we wouldn’t have realised it till he reminded us.

If not for the thin plot and the fact that Deadpool is essentially a love story, it could have ranked number one in my list. It seems a shame to reduce Morena Baccarin’s role to that of sexy love interest, especially as she is a mutant in the comics. But, I will put that down to budget constraints and let it pass.

Deadpool’s success has been meteoric and I foresee it ushering in a whole new era of comic book films; I just hope that women and characters of colour don’t fall to the wayside in its wake.

1) X-Men – I don’t know whether the first is always the best because one always has strong feelings about the first, but X-Men continues to be my favourite. Starting with Patrick Stewart’s sombre voice telling us about mutation, Wolverine’s punchy introduction (literally) and Magneto doing… well, anything, X-Men has so much going for it and still holds up, 16 years after it first appeared on the big screen.

With its fast pacing, elegant action scenes, character development and strong plot, the X-Men revolutionised superhero films and gave rise to the genre as we now know it. If X-Men were to be made today, I can’t see much of it changing, that’s how complete a film it is. I honestly can’t praise it enough.

It’s a shame that the franchise has gone downhill since X-Men and X2, both of which were brilliant films and deserved a strong series to follow them. Had DOFP been made as the conclusion to the trilogy, I think we would have had many satisfied X-Men fans. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be and we now have a very confused timeline and characters that no longer make sense. Here’s hoping that Wolverine 3 and Deadpool can see this franchise to a noble end.


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Louis Skye
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