Jun 012014
  June 1, 2014

x_men_days_of_future_pastOnce a metaphor for Blacks in America, and now often seen as a commentary of how the LGBT community is treated, the X-Men have always meant a bit more than other comic book characters.

The X-Men film franchise has, at times, been more successful with its political statements than the comics, but at other times it misses the mark entirely. It seems like it is always about to fall down, but it staggers on. Sometimes it walks proudly for a bit, but then it returns to staggering. X-Men films tend to have glaring flaws, but they avoid the depths to which other superhero franchises have plummeted. None of them are horrible, which is rare for a series, though some are certainly weaker. None of them are even bad (though they’ve pushed that since I first posted this list). At worst, they are fun, if stupid. The best, if not perfect, are some of the best fantasy action films made. So, starting at the bottom:


#12. X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Dark Phoneix is empty. It isn’t bad; it’s just tired. It’s as if everyone trudged to work each day, moaning softly and longing for bed. There’s a lot of CGI that’s technically well done, but lacking in imagination, just as the story is lacking in heart. I can’t recall another film that screamed out so loudly that no one wanted to be there. I’m not saying that Dark Phoenix is depressing. There needs to be life for depression. Dark Phoenix doesn’t live. It exists, and there is no sign that anyone who made it cares. This is how a franchise fades away. [Full Review] (Don’t bother watching it)


#11. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

It’s fun, in a cheap Saturday afternoon way. The fights are OK, the character development less so, and the plot limps, but nothing is too troublesome if your expectations are kept low. Hugh Jackman has charisma to burn and can easily front an action picture, even when he isn’t given the help should have been given from the script. It’s over-serious, an issue with many X-Men films, but it is happy to toss out the tone in order to get another big action scene in.

If you’re a comic book purist, this isn’t for you. (Catch it on TV)


#10. The Wolverine (2013)

Less cheese than its predecessor, but incredibly forgettable, The Wolverine is an odd combination of two movies that don’t belong together. One is the story of a power struggle in a tradition-bound and crime-connected Japanese family (this could have made a good film sans Western influences), and the other is the tale of an immortal being given the opportunity to die. The second is underdeveloped, but the combat’s pretty good. Again, Jackman is a plus, but it is hard for even him to hold things together in the sections of the film where it clearly should have been a Japanese gangster character and not Wolverine running around. (Catch it on TV)


#9. Deadpool 2 (2018)

They killed Vanessa, which rips the heart out of the franchise. Without her, and the romance structure she allowed, the story becomes a typical X-Men film, dwelling on moving on from tragedy and creating a surrogate family, except X-Men films try to say something, and this says nothing. Which leaves the jokes, and there are a lot of great ones, mostly connected to X-Force and Domino. Many of the rest of the gags we’ve seen and heard before and they are less funny the second time around, while T.J. Miller has worn out his welcome entirely. And we spend a lot of time with child abuse and grieving and that leaves less time for humor.

Deadpool 2 isn’t a bad film, but it’s a disappointing one. [Full Review] (Rent it, with a coupon)


#8. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

It should have been better. The focus on Wolverine is out of place with the two main plots (Jean as the Phoenix and a “cure” for mutations), but then neither plot gets the attention needed. The lack of imagination of the X-Men/Brotherhood stands out. I shouldn’t be able to come up with 6 or 7 better ways to use their powers than they can. It makes for a pretty stupid group of protagonists. Last Stand isn’t a bad movie as much as it is a frustrating one. Important characters get killed for no reason, and sometimes off screen. Other characters make choices that no one would ever make.

And for a series where the fundamental metaphor is the difficulties faced by marginalized groups, it is hard to handle Storm’s speech on being proud of who you are. She’s a privileged goddess. It’s easy to be different when you are more powerful than everyone. Much harder when you can’t have physical contact. Don’t look for insight here. (Rent it)


#7. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Again, it should have been better. Enjoyable, but really, really dim. With such a stellar cast, this was about as weak a movie as they could have made. The general story is good, if old hat (even the comic book was when I read it 20+ years ago), but the actions of the characters are so mindbogglingly stupid it is hard not to be ripped out of the movie. Hmmm. So, there was no other way that a psychic, a genius with super strength and agility, and an immortal could disrupt a press conference or cancel the sentinel program… Really?

With both the young and old gang all here, it is hard not to have fun if you have any affection for the previous films. The Rogue Cut, available for home viewing though never in the theaters, adds back the cut scene of the mutant Rogue, and is a slightly better film. (Matinee)


#6. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

This is the split between the good films and the ones that scrape by. Apocalypse has far fewer of the flaws of its predecessor, that is, the characters here generally behave in ways that don’t stand out as stupid. Generally. And it does a good job with emotional depth and big action moments.

What’s not so good is its clip-show feeling. Over and over we are shown things we’ve seen before. “Hey, people liked Quicksilver running in slow motion while listening to a tune. Let’s do that again exactly like last time.” We get taken to places solely so we can dwell on how we’ve been there before. We see people we’ve seen before doing things we’ve seen them do before merely so we can remember what we’ve already seen. The worst offense is a trip back to the Weapon X facility to visit Wolverine and Striker. It has no reason to be in the film and stops the story dead.

With all the reminiscing, the main story gets short shrift. We barely learn about Apocalypse, and his “Four Horseman” mainly just hang around.

And if you liked the first movies, too bad. Not only has X-Men 3 been retconned out of existence, but so have all of the Stewart/McKellen films. (Matinee)


#5. Logan (2017)

It’s strange to watch a superhero film that isn’t adventure, but instead is a combination of indie drama and ‘50s western. We get themes of aging, parental responsibility, and the pain of everyday life along with the vanishing of the old “gunslinger.” The parts fit a bit uncomfortably together (real life trials of taking care of an elderly parent with dementia don’t go with fantastical views of evil super scientists).

On the plus side, the combat is savage, as it should be, and always has an emotional center. Every slash, gunshot, scream, and death means something. Logan digs into despair, but it earns it. Paradoxically, it is also hopeful.

Logan has something to say, but it isn’t edgy philosophy and the cost to deliver its bleak message is that it isn’t much fun to watch. It is well made, with excellent acting from Jackman, Stewart, and particularly Dafne Keen as the daughter, and it is a good send off for a couple of characters, but I doubt I’ll be watching it again soon. [Full Review] (Matinee)


#4. X-Men (2000)

Brian Singer breathed life into the superhero genre with this generally well-rounded flick. Personality is more important than powers (as it should be), with Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen at the heart of things. The metaphor is strong, the characters matter, and the film never takes itself too seriously while also avoiding the campiness of the later Superman and Batman films. (See it)


#3. X2: X-Men United (2003)

It’s 2000’s X-Men, but better.  Everybody is comfortable in their roles, good and evil are properly mixed up, and the FX set pieces are all you could ask for. Everything is a notch up. The Nightcrawler attack is one of the best action moments ever filmed.

What really elevates the film is Magneto. X-Men films work best when he isn’t cast as a pure villain. His views are as valid as Charles’s—just crueler and less naive. I was cheering him on as much as Wolverine or Storm. It’s hard to argue against Mystique’s reason for not hiding how she is different when she so easily could: “Because we shouldn’t have to.” That ambiguity makes X2 much more than a summer action flick. (See it; Own it)


#2. Deadpool (2016)

It broke every rule of superhero filmmaking, shredded the genre, and it all works. With a fraction of the budget of other action films, Deadpool delivers laughs and violence. Sure, the snark is fun, but what makes it all work is heart. Deadpool is by far the most romantic X-Men film, and probably the most romantic superhero film. He’s not trying to save the world (we’ve seen that enough); he just wants to get back to his girl. Everything matters because that matters.

The lesson to be learned is that superhero films don’t have to be whiny. They can be fun, and still matter. Unfortunately, the lesson Hollywood seems to have taken is that people like gore so we’ll be getting an R-rated Batman v Superman on video. Oh well. (See it; Own it)


#1. X-Men: First Class (2011)

The franchise looked dead after Last Stand, but First Class got it back on its feet. This prequel did the unthinkable: found a superior Professor X and Magneto than Stewart and McKellen. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are superb and their characters are compelling. Plus, Keven Bacon is a surprisingly good villain.

The metaphor has never been presented better, but where First Class really sings is in its tone, which perfectly balances action, tragedy, and humor.  (See it; Own it)