Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rank 'em: The X-Men Films

Pull up a chair, grab a cocktail, crack open the bubbly, and settle in for some list-making.
My last post about X-Men: Apocalypse started me thinking: how would I rank all of the X-Men films to date? Ranking pop culture stuff is always fun, after all, so let's do this. Note, these are my wholly subjective opinions and the list is more about which are my favorites or least favorites than trying to measure their quality objectively. That list would probably look very similar to this one anyway. But then I think about X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a film I can't objectively call "good," but that I enjoy nonetheless. And yes, I'm including the solo X-Men films in this list because they're all part of the same cinematic universe.

1. X2: X-Men United

Probably the best poster for any of these films, too.
X2 has long been considered the best of the bunch and while I'd like to offer a contrary opinion, I tend to agree with that assessment. It's the most taut and cohesive film of the franchise, probably because it keeps a relatively narrow focus throughout. The basic premise, inspired by the classic God Loves, Man Kills, is terrific and plays off one of the most important themes of Chris Claremont's Uncanny X-Men run: mutants are seen as the Other and virulent hate-mongers like Colonel Stryker will use the powers at their disposal to wipe them out. For me, it's the best celluloid representation yet of what the X-Men are all about.

2. The Wolverine


This one might rank in the #1 spot for me if only it had ended as strong as it started. In the third act, Viper was just silly and Silver Samurai was less than imposing, plus the less said about that everything-but-the-kitchen-sink final battle royale the better. Which is a shame because the first three-quarters of the film work exceptionally well. Wolverine-in-Japan stories are a staple in the comics, thanks to Claremont's and Frank Miller's influential 1982 Wolverine miniseries. This film adapts some of that story and is filled with ninja, samurai, beautiful Japanese vistas, and fantastic set pieces—the funeral scene leading into a high-octane chase through Tokyo is the highlight of the film for me. There's also strong character work being done here, especially for Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Yukio (Rila Fukushima). Logan's visions of Jean Grey even work better than they have any right to, thanks in part to Famke Janssen's and Jackman's chemistry. Director James Mangold crafted a gorgeous looking movie and Jackman turns in his finest performance as Wolverine yet.

Rila Fukushima as Yukio and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine make a kick-ass team.
3. Deadpool

This is a near-perfect adaptation of what's made the "Merc with a Mouth" such a fan favorite in comics for years now. This the rare superhero film that actually feels like the comics its based on: silly, sophomoric, crude, loud, funny, obnoxious, and even occasionally heartbreaking. Ryan Reynolds makes it all work in the role he was born to play. X-characters Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead are fun guest stars and help tether things to the X-Men cinematic universe. And as Wade Wilson surely knows, if you're going to undergo a radically invasive experimental procedure to save your life for a woman and that woman is Morena Baccarin, then it's certainly worth the risk.

"After a brief adjustment period--"
4. X-Men: First Class

Thinking hard, or hardly thinking?
Most of my enjoyment of First Class derives from the swingin' '60s outfits, hairdos, and set pieces. No one seems more swingin' here than the White Queen herself, Emma Frost (January Jones). Just look at her icy, vacant glare in that GIF—she's ginchy! The entire film is full of similarly fun mod style and plenty of kitsch to spare: Bacon hams it up in every scene; the X-Men eventually sport yellow and black outfits reminiscent of their first comic book costumes; and Magneto's (Michael Fassbender) and Xavier's (James McAvoy) storied bromance begins. It's also less convoluted than most of the other films in the series. It really does feel like a much-needed franchise refresh after the abominable Last Stand (guess where that one ranks??)

5. X-Men: Apocalypse


Yep, she just sliced that car in half, in mid-air, and stuck the landing.
Critics and moviegoers alike seemed less than enthused with this film. It's not a good movie, per se, but I actually had fun watching it. It's the most loopy of the X-Men films yet, rarely taking itself too seriously. It does what so few of these movies have managed before, which is to entertain us with over the top action, outlandish costumes, and colorful characters. It was the most "comic book-y" of all of the X-Men films, which is refreshing. I think years of grim 'n' gritty comic book movies were starting to wear me out. I'd rather re-watch this one than most of the other films on this list. Plus, let us never forget that Olivia Munn as Psylocke slices a car in half.

6. X-Men Origins: Wolverine


Wolverine as the Brawny Paper Towel Guy.
My feelings for Origins: Wolverine mirror those of Apocalypse, for the most part. Wolverine's first solo movie is more of a mess and less cohesive than Apocalypse though, and certain aspects are infuriatingly stupid (like Deadpool's portrayal, for instance). But dammit if I don't love the early scenes establishing 1970s Canadian lumberjack Logan trying to live a peaceful life with his lady, Kayla Silverfox (the always underrated Lynn Collins). The movie had some potential, but it flies off the rails spectacularly after these initially convincing and eerily moody scenes. Still, at times it's an intriguing hot mess, one I find myself at least partially enjoying whenever I stumble across it on cable.

7. X-Men: Days of Future Past

I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but this entry in the series is also a convoluted mess. That can be said about most of the films on this list, so frankly I'm grading a curve on here. This was an enjoyable time travel trip through the 1970s, but ultimately none of it makes a lick of sense. Also, I understand that Kitty Pryde couldn't play a big role in this film because they've never really established much of a role for her before in these films, but it's irritating that a movie based on a Kitty-centric comic book story diminishes her role here in favor of sending Logan back in time to prevent disaster. That's one of the problems with these movies in a nutshell, though: they're continuously spotlighting the same few (mostly male) characters—Logan, Magneto, Xavier, and sometimes Mystique—and usually shafting the rest.

8. X-Men

This is a better film than Origins: Wolverine and possibly better than First Class or Days of Future Past, but it's also aged poorly since its release in 2000 and isn't a movie I care to revisit very often. It does a decent job establishing things in the X-Men's world, but it also never felt like my X-Men. Granted, none of these films feel like my X-Men, but most at least have moments here and there that strike a chord. This one has those moments too, certainly. It's this low on the list because frankly, compared to the nuttiness of the rest of the series, it's fairly staid and forgettable now. I mean, I can't even think of a fun or clever moment to link to here, like I did for most of the others on this list! 'Nuff said.

9. X-Men: The Last Stand

Instead of a screen grab from the film, here's the superior source material that it bastardized.
This is the movie that made me never want to see another X-Men film. First Class helped me get over that, of course, but ten years later I still hate this film with the same raging, red-hot intensity of the Phoenix Force. You see, Brett Ratner and Co. took as their source material only the greatest and most iconic of X-Men stories, "the Dark Phoenix Saga," and proceeded to thoroughly misunderstand what made it so seminal by translating it into this steaming pile of garbage. The other films on this list are often a mess, but at least enjoyable in parts. There isn't much to like about this one, least of all the shoddy "Dark Phoenix" adaptation aspect. I'm going to keep this brief: Last Stand is a disaster and not worth revisiting. I may be a bit harsh because of my undying love for the source material, but even setting that aside this is still a lousy film.

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I didn't even discuss the timeline shenanigans in the latter films in the series—Days of Future Past rejiggered the timeline, undoing some but not all of the events of previous films. I guess? Honestly I've given up on trying to make sense of it, which makes for a more blissful existence, trust me.

I also haven't really explored just how so many iconic X-Men characters are misused in these films. From Storm to Kitty to Rogue to Jubilee, many of the neglected giants from the comics are women, which is a shame. As any X-Men reader knows, female X-Men are quite often the best X-Men characters. Sure, Wolverine may be the most popular (or is that Deadpool these days?), but the ladies are the backbone of the series and have been since the late 1970s. To see so little done with characters like Rogue—think of the possibilities if they'd given her a prominent role over a series of films!—is more than a little heartbreaking.

If the forthcoming 2017 Wolverine solo movie, Logan, is anywhere near as great as its trailer then it might slot in high on my revised list next year. It's also reportedly Jackman's last time playing Logan. We'll see about that, but if it's true then the inevitable X-Men franchise reboot is probably not that far away. Maybe in the next five to ten years, at least, I'd guess. In the meantime, this is how I rank 'em. What's your list look like?

1 comment:

  1. I'm so behind on these superhero movies. I still haven't seen X-Men: Days of Future Past. Deadpool is overrated and over hyped. None of the X-men movies are really good (when compared to the Avengers/Thor/Iron Man stuff), but most have been entertaining.

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