Dark Phoenix, the latest X-Men movie—and the last to be produced by 20th Century Fox, now that the film rights have transferred to Marvel Studio—is out. And I couldn’t care any less.
It’s not that I don’t like the X-Men—quite the opposite. I was a huge fan when I collected their various titles—Uncanny X-Men, Excalibur, X-Factor, New Mutants/X-Force—in the mid-80’s and early-90’s (I stopped when they started to become more like soap operas than comic books).
For several years, I ran a Marvel Super Heroes role-playing campaign, with the players portraying the X-Men: Rogue, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Psylocke, Havok, Wolverine, and Longshot, among others. They tangled with classic X-Men villains like Magneto, the Juggernaut, Mr. Sinister and the Marauders, and the Sentinels.
(I never watched the 90’s TV cartoon—too busy working two and three jobs at a time, and raising a daughter)
But though I love the X-Men, and I love superhero flicks (so much so, that in a recent blog post, I used the first Avengers movie to illustrate the “three-act structure” of writing a story), I’ve always been “meh” on the X-Men movies.
Why so? For a few reasons:
Magneto overload. I’ll watch anything with Ian McKellen or Michael Fassbender in it, but that doesn’t mean I want to see either old or young Magneto in just about every film. There have been 12 X-Men movies (I’ll list them later), and Magneto has appeared in 7 of them. It’s not like the X-Men have a paucity of great villains.
Flat characters. The individual X-Men in the comics are great, well-defined, engaging characters but aside from Professor X, Wolverine, Deadpool, and the overused Magneto, you wouldn’t know that from the movies (and the strength of those characters come mostly, methinks, from the terrific actors).
So-so special effects. It wasn’t until Days of Future Past that I was ever impressed by seeing the X-Men’s powers depicted on screen. Yes, the first three movies (X-Men, X2, and The Last Stand) came out in the early 2000’s, but they weren’t nearly as spectacular as the contemporaneous Spider-Man movies. The X-Men movies, even the most recent ones, have not wowed me like the Marvel Cinematic Universe films consistently have.
Horrid costumes. Deadpool looks great. Almost everyone else has looked terrible, or silly, or like they’re doing junior varsity cosplay. Ugh.
So, let’s talk about each of the movies, because while I’ve been mostly “meh” on them overall, some of them are outstanding. Here’s how I rate them.
Days of Future Past. Hits: Time-traveling Wolverine, unstoppable Sentinels, Magneto levitating RFK Stadium, and that jaw-dropping yet whimsical “Time in a Bottle” scene. Misses: Fourteen years into the franchise, and Colossus, one of the best characters, finally gets some decent screen time—and all that happens is that he gets killed.
Deadpool. Hits: Fret not about Colossus, because here he finally gets his due. And—oh yeah—Ryan Reynolds is freaking hilarious as the wise-cracking, 4th wall-breaking, seemingly-indestructible, red-suited Merc With the Mouth and a heart that’s at least gold-plated, even if it’s not made of gold. Misses: The only memorable thing about the villain Ajax is Deadpool making fun of his name.
Logan. Hits: Hugh Jackman as a wounded and weary Wolverine who goes all honey-badger at the end to protect Laura (portrayed by the excellent Dafne Keen). Misses: X-24, the literally cloned Wolverine—really?
X-2. Hits: That awesome opening scene where a brainwashed Nightcrawler invades the White House, and the scene later on when Wolverine hacks-and-slashes his way through soldiers attacking Xavier’s school. Misses: It draws a lot from God Loves, Man Kills, one of the least-interesting X-Men stories out there.
First Class. Hits: McAvoy and Fassbender as younger versions of Professor X and Magneto; that tense bar scene in Argentina; Jennifer Lawrence as a sympathetic Mystique; Magneto turning back the missiles in Cuba. Misses: Vanilla depictions of Banshee, Havok, and Emma Frost.
X-Men. I credit this one for being the movie that started the franchise, as well as ushering in the Golden Age of Superhero Films that looks like it’s concluded with Endgame. Had this one bombed, there probably wouldn’t have been any Avengers films.
Hits: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, and Ian McKellen. Misses: The worst visuals of the series (to be expected, considering when it was done), terrible characterization (they ruined my man Sabretooth), and that godawful line about what happens when a toad gets hit by lightning.
Deadpool 2. Hits: Finally, a proper Juggernaut, plus a most-badass Cable, and a charming Domino. Misses: Morena Baccarin and Brianna Hildebrand as grossly underused as Vanessa and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, and Julian Dennison’s Firefist is annoying AF.
The Wolverine. Hits: The atomic bomb scene; Logan fighting ninjas. Misses: Just about everything else.
Apocalypse: Hits: The opening sequence set in ancient Egypt; the scene with thousands of nuclear missiles launching into space. Misses: Just about everything else.
The Last Stand. Hits: None that come to mind. Misses: So many that come to mind, especially those four, franchise-killing words.
Origins: Wolverine. Hits: The opening credits, depicting Logan and his half-brother Victor fighting together through various wars; and Ryan Reynolds is great as Wade Wilson. Misses: Too many to mention, with the worst being Reynold’s transformed Derppool.
For the most part, the X-Men films haven’t sucked, but they just haven’t measured up well against the MCU movies. I’m curious and excited to see how Disney will reboot them, and how they’ll integrate them into the existing canon. Who’s up for an X-Men/Avengers crossover?
Kenton Kilgore writes kickass SF/F for young adults and adults who are still young. His latest novel is This Wasted Land, which isn’t your typical teenage love story. It’s Boy meets Girl; Evil Witch snatches Boy; Girl goes to get Boy back.
He he is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of the end of the world as seen, heard–and smelled–by a dog. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons! With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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