The “X-Men” franchise is the definitive modern superhero series and it’s only getting stronger. It not only successfully kickstarted this sub-genre craze that’s been thriving in cinemas for more than a decade, but it was also Marvel’s first proper win at the multiplexes.
On the flip side, it also shares one of the most bewildering continuities of which a series has ever been subjected, with spin-offs, time travelling refreshes, and studio mandates that threw monkey wrenches into best-laid plans. It’s daunting to keep up with at some points; not to mention, they refuse to clearly number any of the sequels. So let’s remedy that and dive into sorting through the treasure trove of this franchise’s highest of peaks, but also its lowest of lows.
9. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009, Gavin Hood)
The idea of Hugh Jackman delving into fan-favorite Wolverine and his Weapon X origins (one of his most iconic plotlines from the comics) was an enticing proposal for a spin-off and one often hinted at since the first film.
Despite a good start in its production, with a lean and mean screenplay by David Benioff (“Game of Thrones”), the left-field hiring of director Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”), and Jackman’s unbridled passion for the subject matter, things unfortunately soon went pear-shaped as the studio got cold feet and buried the screenplay with notes and demands, brutally slashing the budget and shoehorning in a slew of tonally awkward scenes and characters (Gambit! Toad! will.i.am?).
The film ends up feeling as conflicted as Jackman’s morally tormented hero – a proposed dark origin story playing slave to a PG-13 rating? With misplaced comedy sequences? Not a great viewing experience. It’s clear the money men had zero respect for the subject matter and it’s no surprise the following films have shunned this entry completely out of continuity.
There are tiny hints of good; Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed makes for a fascinating and dynamic villain, Ryan Reynolds’ brief turn as Wade Wilson would lead to awesome things later on, and the exhilarating opening credits montage hints at a much better film. Regardless, it’s not enough to stop this from being a shameful and messy waste of a great opportunity.
8. X-Men (2000, Bryan Singer)
The first entry of this franchise was a breath of fresh air for comic book fans who had just trudged through a sewer of misguided adaptations that ran rampant throughout the late 90s (“Batman & Robin”, “Spawn”, “Judge Dredd”).
Singer’s “X-Men” adaptation treated the comic with the respect it deserved by approaching the material with a solid and grounded take on the superhero genre, and at least attempted to tackle things faithfully (pretty rare concepts in those days). Plus some excellent casting – specifically Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart as epic frenemies Magneto and Professor Xavier – helped class things up considerably.
Its legacy cannot be denied either; this film singlehandedly created the resurgence of the superhero genre, cemented Marvel as a cinematic brand name, and made Hugh Jackman (playing Wolverine) an overnight sensation. With all that said, have you seen the movie lately? It doesn’t hold up all that great.
Bryan Singer was finding his footing directing big movies, and it shows; the action scenes are awkward, the music and editing lack bombast, and it sadly pales to the spectacle created by the event movies it helped shepherd. Also, there’s a pretty terrible one-liner about toads and lighting delivered by Halle Berry with a lame wig and even more lame accent.
It’s not a bad movie, and it was the correct step in the right direction – but it just doesn’t result in a film that begs to be revisited.
7. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006, Brett Ratner)
The third entry in the series is the assigned whipping boy of the bunch, and for good reason. An infamously troubled production – Matthew Vaughn (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”) dropped out at the last minute and was replaced by studio hack Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour”), plus the strike from the Writers Guild of America forced a largely incomplete script to be used as the filming template, and it blatantly shows.
Add to that, the casual killing off of major team players, crater-sized plot holes, and of course, the epic mishandling of the iconic ‘Dark Phoenix’ saga.
All of those criticisms are more than worthy and result in a generally schizophrenic fanboy scorning experience, but in looking past its misguided principles, the film makes for a goofy fun time and probably the closest the franchise has gotten to replicating the gonzo insanity of the early 90’s animated series.
It rightfully gets a lot of hate thrown at it for the (almost) irreparable damage it caused, but because of the continuity refresh “Days of Future Past” recently pulled off, this film can just be enjoyed simply for what it is – a fun if mildly dysfunctional superhero smackdown running a lean 100 minutes.
6. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016, Bryan Singer)
The newest and biggest X-entry on this list has had a bewildering mixed reception. Could audiences find themselves growing bored of these epic event movies?
Yes, there are flaws aplenty; the usually fantastic Oscar Isaac is sadly regulated to a one-note baddie (the titular villain Apocalypse), and the third act of the film is a bloated mess that feels like it was molested by CGI from a Roland Emmerich shit-fest. But speaking for the rest, it’s all pretty darn enjoyable… if overly familiar.
The young cast fills out the new generation team nicely (especially Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops), and director Bryan Singer has gotten into a flawless groove directing these things; the sheen is shiny, the action is exciting, and the team dynamic is solid. It’s all a shame after two strong acts that the finale doesn’t hold up like the rest.
Probably another reason for the underwhelming response is that this is the curtain call on the refreshed trilogy (preceded by “First Class” then “Days of Future Past”). Compared to those two strong entries, it’s the weakest, maybe not in scope, but definitely in passion; the seams are showing and the formula is starting to feel repetitive.
Still, the Quicksilver slow-mo is a blast (again), the Weapon X sequence manages to be the best and most faithful adaptation of Jackman’s Wolverine to date, and Olivia Munn dressed as Psylocke was many a comic nerd’s high school lust object manifested into reality.
Oh, and the final scene is a real doozy – our main mutants in pitch-perfect costuming entering a ‘Danger Room’ session. It’s about damn time!