By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
The quantitative number seven is enough to allow me to start ranking which cinematic X-men universe movies are the best. Not every movie makes the grade in terms of its storytelling value or replay potential. Sometimes, what makes the film is in how it fits in with the comic book canon even though the cinematic world beats to its own drum. Presented here is a list from best to worst.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
This latest entry may well set the bar for future comic book films to come. It follows in the same tone as Bryan Singer’s first two films, and succeeds by coming full circle by retroactively linking the X-men’s plight with that of the Nazi concentration camps from the first two films. But this time, as the opening act demonstrates, all of humanity is affected. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the film, and the 70’s is ripe with discord on many levels. From inequality and racism, many themes are brought to the fore in this latest offering.
The best aspect of this film is that it stays consistent with what writer Simon Kinberg created penned for this franchise since day one. With Singer back to helm this series, the future is very bright. Now that they are teamed with Matthew Vaughan, the writer/director of X-men: First Class, this union will no doubt signal many more great tales to come. This trio worked hard to seamlessly bridge the first two films with First Class.
Yes, X-Men: Last Stand is being ignored.
The Wolverine (2013)
Hugh Jackman proves that he is the Wolverine in this second solo attempt to spin-off the X-men franchise. This movie sends him to where he needs to be, to Japan so the problems he faces can help him deal with coming to terms with his ghosts, namely Jean Grey. Yes, this tale takes place after the much lamented X3 and it deals with a few loose threads that stemmed from that film. Logan-san killed Jean because she was out of control, and only he could face the Dark Phoenix’s power and survive it.
The type of Jean he sees in his nightmares seem blissful in comparison. He has difficulty letting go of her on one level despite having fallen in love with Mariko during the film. To see him come to terms with the one ghost from his past is what makes this film memorable moreso than why he was invited to Japan.
Some long time fans may lament over the changes from the comic book canon, but strangely this movie version works well on its own. Logan lived in Japan before, but not as a soldier as the first act shows. Curiously no back story is offered to show that one of the reasons he often returned to the Land of the Rising Sun is so he can learn the ways of the Bushido. In Martial Arts training, he learned how to tame his savage beast. In his latest visit, maybe he has to learn how to not take paying back debts for granted.
This movie manages to survive the test of time mostly because of the message it delivers. Mutants are looking for freedom against the oppression that’s happening on the highest level of government. The Mutant Registration Act is mentioned once more and as a result, not everyone is pleased that this bill can come to pass. This particular story, however, takes a second seat to the main story: Wolverine is trying to piece together his past.
X-Men: First Class (2011)
When a reboot is needed to reinvigorate a dying franchise, Matthew Vaughn did a wonderful job in conveying a world of the 60’s and a peace movement that Charles Xavier no doubt subscribed to.
Also, this decade was when the comic book launched. In the print version, the X-men that Xavier first recruited were Jean Grey, Scott Summers, Hank McCoy and Bobby Drake. The film radically departs from this specific by introducing lackluster mutants — Angel Salvadore and Armando Muñoz / Darwin — that not everyone may take a liking to.
Some may disagree with Kevin Bacon’s portrayal of Sebastian Shaw too. He’s an older gent in the comics, and if Vaughn only went for an archetypical master of the ages, some better contrasts could have been made that suggests a battle between generations. Instead, this movie is more like a reboot to feature youthfulness as a symbol to represent a new world order. For the Brotherhood of Mutants, it should be an organization founded in the dirty 30’s than a 60’s movement.
If only more contrasts were made, this movie can rank higher.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
This film does begin quite well with a look at Logan’s emergence as a mutant from an early age, and an exploration of how he’s struggled with what he has. Unfortunately, this film is like the HIghlander 2 of the series. It has its moments for the first half of the film but the last half is ultimately and ironically best forgotten. Maybe, if there was a fan-edit that combines the better elements from the three or four films, with this movie as a catalyst to highlight Logan’s fleeting memories, then there might be a tale to tell.
Just where the execution fails is not really the producers or Ryan Reynaold’s fault. It’s where the story went: Stryker is a great ongoing bad guy, but when he’s out to make an X Team of mutants, the idea is just wrong. Not everyone is fond of the Deadpool character. And to see Wolverine deal with Deadpool is like a bad Sam and Ralph moment from a Warner Cartoon come to life. Their conflict may well have comic book readers fuming since how they met in the comic book Wolverine: Origins were from different circumstances. They were never former comrades in arms.
Not many films are worth rewatching, and although this one is needed to be seen at least once, to see it again does not have any merit. It’s an issue one of any comic book franchise that serves to help introduce Magneto and Xavier along with their ideals. One is shaped by his experience at a Nazi Concentration Camp (which would not get further explored until First Class) and the other just an idealist with no huge background offered whatsoever. That’s okay for viewers who read the comics, but for others, to not really understand him may require fans to do a lopsided introduction to the series. It should begin with First Class, leap to X-Men and continue somewhat chronologically. Wolverine’s saga is more like a companion piece to develop the character in between the seven movies.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Whoever decided to combine two Uncanny X-men story arcs into one must be shot. “The Dark Phoenix Saga” can not be easily told in one movie. That alone really requires a minimum of four films to tell the rise and fall of Jean Grey aka Marvel Girl / Phoenix successfully and to compress it in two was a bad executive choice. If this film simply dealt with the premise in “Gifted,” then maybe this movie might stand a chance. There are tidbits of expanded universe to like, namely with the introduction of Callistro and the Morlocks, but of all the new characters added, Psylocke is one important character who does not get the proper treatment that she deserves.
For the most part, this movie is a mess. Just because someone from Fox Studios board of executives said, “let’s make it louder!” does not mean that will translate well to a finale for a trilogy of films. To decide last-minute to imply the return of Xavier (he gets killed off), really does not help. Just like in Transformers the Movie where Optimus is slain, the impact is lost when the series decides his return is required to save the Cybertronian race from a legacy virus
Fortunately, with Days of Future Past, this film has been retconned out of the cinematic universe. As for what’s next, maybe there is hope for Excalibur to be made, featuring Britain’s best: Captain Britain, Megan, Kitty Pryde and Rachel Summers. Since Psylocke is Britain’s sister, she can make a few casual appearances.