The Last Stand
After X2 ended with Jean Grey dead and a phoenix potentially rising from the remains of Alkali Lake, everyone was excited by the possibility of Phoenix. It was the Nick Fury Moment before Nick Fury was a thing, and the Phoenix Saga is one of the most iconic comic book arcs that Marvel has ever put to print. How could anything go wrong?
As it turns out, a lot. Brett Ratner, of Rush Hour fame, took over directing chops from Bryan Singer, and his direction and ideas are just bad. The action is poorly directed, it’s poorly written, and nobody save for Wolverine and Rogue speak like normal humans do things that are consistent with what they’ve done in the past. They somehow managed to turn actual Holocaust survivor Magneto into a mutant Nazi who declares that his race is the cure. Several characters just show up and are just there to be there, like Angel and Mystique.
If you grew up seeing or reading the Phoenix Saga as a kid, this movie does not do it justice. While Famke Janssen tries her best to give this new Jean Grey some tragic mishandling of her new power, those moments are few and far in between, and all she’s ultimately left to do is stand around in a red corset giving death glares. It’s just a shame that those death glares weren’t directed at Ratner.
Make no mistake, Origins Wolverine is a bad X-Men film. It somehow manages to suck the complete fun and mystery out of Wolverine’s character by turning him into a lumberjack who falls in love with a schoolteacher. (There’s nothing wrong with romance in superhero films, but at least give the characters some actual chemistry.)
The reason why it’s not on the bottom of the list is that while it’s bad, it could’ve fallen into the category of “so bad it’s good” if it was just a lot more stupider than it already is. There’s something endearing about watching Ryan Reynolds swing fake swords around and that guy with the guns perform the world’s most unconvincing backflip while shooting bad guys. And yes, even though Wolverine’s claws are CLEARLY fake, there’s something funny about watching them cut through what’s obviously a CG ladder during the fight with Gambit, which is probably the only entertaining part of the movie without any qualifier.
Jackman, to his credit, gives a great performance alongside Liev Schreiber as Sabretooth, but you have to turn your brain and ignore how the original movie doesn’t seem to bring this up in any real capacity. Ryan Reynolds does more or less what he’s expected to do with the time he’s given, while everyone else is just bad across the board. If they were all willing to take a little bit of Jackman’s mojo, or at least try to have some fun with it like Reynolds and Will.I.Am is, this would be higher up. As it is, it’s a mediocre weekend watch that you can laugh at.
Credit to the original movie for kicking things off, but if you go back and watch it again, you’ll see that it doesn’t really hold up all that well. It’s still good, but it’s also incredibly dated as hell, from the costumes to the effects to just about everything.
At the time, the movie had a way better cast than anyone could’ve expected. Ian McKellen absolutely nails it as Magneto, for sure; Hugh Jackman gives a surprising turn as Wolverine, and Patrick Stewart is doing great at playing himself. But with the exception of them, plus Mystique and debatably Rogue, no one else in the film has much to do besides stand around in 1990s fashion and show off their power for a minute or two before being shoved back into the closet. You could take out the other characters and little would change except for, thankfully, Halle Berry’s fluctuating African accent and the awful line “Do you know what happens to a toad that’s struck by lightning?” . That alone doesn’t make the original movie not good, but it definitely helps.
Days of Future Past
The X-Men movie universe, much like the comics, have a loose relationship with the concept of time. Wolverine Origins and Last Stand were films that few people could admit to liking, and after First Class turned out to be genuinely great, the folks at Fox were put in a position where a reboot was the only way to go forward. And what better way to reboot than with a convoluted time travel plot?
Days of Future Past isn’t as good as it could be, but also fun enough to overlook its flaws. Putting Wolverine from the near future into his 1970s body (don’t ask how that works on any level) is a good hook to reunite James McAvoy’s Professor X and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto after the events of First Class. The stuff with Quicksilver, however brief, is also a highlight, and the Sentinels eventually get to be an alright presence.
But those problems, man. They’re there, and when you think about them, they really don’t make sense. Eventually, you’re going to wonder why they made a big deal about reuniting Charles and Erik to stop Mystique when only the former actually manages to get through to her, or why the team even travels to Paris at all. If you can get past issues like those, Future Past will satisfy, but even with that in mind, it isn’t as good as it could be.
If the original X-Men was a pretty good movie that’s been reduced to alright over time, X2 is stepping down from great to pretty good. While it also suffers from some of the same problems as its predecessor–the leather costumes look ridiculous, you could cut a good portion of the cast and wouldn’t miss out on much–but it also has something that the original didn’t, and that’s a pretty good script.
The plot of the original movie was pretty basic, which is to be expected. Rogue and Logan were our bird’s eye view into this new world, so to speak, and the story followed suit. With the sequel, there’s more going on here, and the film does a good job of keeping the different stories and arcs isolated before crossing them over with each other. X2 also has more memorable moments under its belt, such as Iceman coming out to his parents, Wolverine defending the mansion, and Jean sacrificing herself for the others. X2’s mileage in this day and age may vary upon viewing, but it’s still got it where it counts.
Deadpool’s inclusion in the X-Men movieverse is kinda weird. While the movie definitely acknowledges the presence of mutants and our costumed heroes in funny ways, it also never fully commits to the timeline (and probably won’t, just to keep the joke going). In any case, Deadpool as a character runs the risk of overstaying his welcome, due to his fourth wall breaking and humor. It’s the big concern that was hovering over the film: could it be funny without just eventually getting annoying?
Fortunately, the answer turns out to be an emphatic ‘yes.’ Even if it isn’t a part of this universe in any significant way, Deadpool is easily one of the best Fox-made superhero movies ever, and is a fun superhero flick in its own right. Ryan Reynolds is perfectly cast as the Merc With a Mouth, and the movie gives him ample time to just crack off jokes in rapid succession. While Morena Baccarin is equally game to match his comedy as his girlfriend Vanessa, it’s Brianna Hildebrand who steals the whole thing as Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Yes, that is her name, and yes, she’s as amazing as you’ve heard.
The cast is so good that they and the script manage to hide the film’s flaws, like the paper thin villains or that it’s not quite as edgy as you would think it is. If you’re 13, it’s gonna blow your mind, but if you’re above that age and expecting a bloodbath filled with sex and cursing, you’re only going to get satiated on the vulgarity. It’s about as bloody as an average Family Guy gag and save for one joke, not all that filled with sex. Still, Deadpool is really dang good, and if that sequel hook is true, it’s more than welcome to stick around.
Casting Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in the first X-Men movie ended up being a lot more successful than anyone could’ve predicted at the time. It made sense that they would try to continue that success with his own solo film, since he’s arguably the most well-known X-Men. But then you run into the problem that Wolverine Origins had where it ended up not answering a lot of questions and was also just really dull.
The Wolverine doesn’t have that problem. While it does have its dull spots (it keeps a last minute reveal secret way too long for it to hit the way it does, and the idea of no visible blood being shed is just silly), the whole thing just works really damn well. Jackman’s still got it as the Best There Is at What He Does and a detective, the emotional center with Jean Grey works, and the action beats are consistently engaging as they play out. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to see Logan go up against the Yakuza on a bullet train or fight a horde of ninjas? If we’re going to get more films about the clawed mutant, at least let them be fun and kinda endearingly dumb like The Wolverine.
After you’ve soured everyone on the future of the franchise with X3 and Wolverine Origins, your only course of solution is to start from the beginning. First Class takes the series to the 1960s, as a grown up Magneto begins hunting down Sebastian Shaw, the man who tortured him while in his WWII concentration camp and Charles Xavier is trying to tell the world about the mutant race.
A period piece X-Men flick focused on the two figureheads of the franchise is a smart idea, and it turns out that McAvoy and Fassbender have great chemistry with each other. Even as the film is winding down to its conclusion and you know that something bad has to happen, the bond between the two men that develops is so well done to make you forget that these two are going to break up.
If there is a downside in all that, it’s that the film does its job a little too well in that several characters feel like an afterthought while the focus was very much on Erik and Charles. While part of this is due to Days of Future Past killing off some of these folk, the script also doesn’t give guys like Emma Frost or Azazel much to do besides stand around. And the whole stuff with Darwin is incredibly problematic, but if you can look past those issues and the admittedly slow buildup, First Class definitely stands as the top among the series.