Thursday, October 27, 2016

Rank 'Em: The "X-men" Films

I'm pretty sure that "X-men: Apocalypse" is the last "X-men" film we'll be seeing for a while, so I figure it's time to look back on and take stock of the influential superhero franchise. There have been six films in the main "X-men" series since 2000, with three spinoffs so far, and at least two more on the way. I'll be leaving the spinoffs out of this list, but briefly, I didn't care much for either of the Wolverine films, so they'd be ranked pretty low. "Deadpool" would be in the middle of the pack somewhere. The following entries are ranked from best to worst. Minor spoilers ahead.

X-Men: First Class - Matthew Vaughn is the best thing to have happened to "X-men" since Bryan Singer, packing the cast with strong talents like Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and James McAvoy, and really digging deep into the psyches and philosophies of the main characters. Putting the struggle for mutant rights in the tumultuous 1960s adds so much resonance, and the whole series benefits greatly from the care and attention given to examining the friendship between Professor X and Magneto. I'm also a big fan of the filmmaking itself, full playful '60s throwbacks and stylish references. There are some things that don't work, and everyone was clearly pressed for time and money, but it still surprises me how effortless this one felt.

X-Men: Days of Future Past - It was a close race between this and "X2," but there's just so much in this movie that is handled so well - the time travel, the huge cast of characters, and so much plot to juggle. And yet somehow, there's time for the Quicklsilver sequence, and the meeting of the two Xaviers, and that immensely pleasing ending. This is the sendoff that the old cast deservew, while also making great use of the "First Class" cast, and ensuring that Wolverine's return feels truly justified. While not the classic that the original comics story was, the film version of "Days of Future Past" absolutely does it justice, and works in its own right as a film. And if I had my way, the "X-men" film series would have ended right there.

X2 - The best film of the original "X-men" trilogy delves into Wolverine's past and escalates the conflicts that were featured in the first film. I enjoy this one for its good balance between the time spent on character relationships and the action scenes. The opening scuffle with Nightcrawler is still breathtaking, while Iceman's awkward coming out to his parents remains the funniest scene in the whole franchise. You really get a sense of character progression and growth in this installment, which is something that I've found wanting in far too many superhero films lately - including other entries on this list. I'm still disappointed at how the Phoenix Saga played out after how well it was set up by the end of "X2."

X-Men - I've lost a lot of my affection for the original "X-men" film over the years, as it was quickly surpassed by so many other superhero movies. However, it remains a solid genre exercise that blazed the trail for every comic book movie that followed. Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, Patrick Stewart's Professor X, and Ian McKellan's Magneto are as charismatic as ever, but it's easier now to see the flaws in the script and the weaknesses of some of the other performers. Some of the effects really haven't held up well - Toad is especially hard to take seriously. I still love a lot of the little moments of humor, but this almost feels like a prequel to the rest of the series, providing introductions and setting up the pieces for larger conflicts in the future.

X-Men: Apocalypse - We've seen everything in this film done better in an earlier installment, and frankly too much of this one just feels pointless. It's overlong, overstuffed, playing too many old hits, and feels like it was written by committee. With so much great talent involved, it's inevitable that there are some good scenes and character moments. Alas, they're few and far between. I think "Apocalypse" is fine as a generic summer action film when it finally gets down to the brawling, but it's a real disappointment as an "X-men" film.

X-Men: The Last Stand - Oh Brett Ratner. You're not a bad director, but you certainly didn't help matters when it came to "Last Stand." First of all, this is one of the most poorly conceived superhero films I've ever seen, indiscriminately killing off major characters left and right, and mucking up the basic premise of the series. Several characters behave in downright irrational ways. it's no wonder that Bryan Singer and others took great pains to distance themselves from this movie, and "Days of Future Past" essentially negated it.


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