Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Rank the Films: X-Men


As any regular reader of this blog will know, lists are pretty darn nifty. I have a profound appreciation for straight-up lists. This is the thinking behind Rank the Films, a regular feature that pulls apart the pros and cons of a series of films, ranking them in order of worst to best.

This month, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Apocalypse, I'm revisiting all nine X-Men films (yep, we're counting Deadpool) and deciding which I like best and those that maybe aren't as great.

And yes, this list includes Apocalypse - it's been in cinemas Down Under for nearly a week, I've seen it and I'm including it in my ranking. Where does it rate? What will come out on top? And, most importantly, does anyone actually think Origins will be anywhere other than last place? 

Well, read on to find out...

9th - X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Rotten Tomatoes: 38%

Regarded by many as a lesson in how not to do a prequel, Origins is without a doubt the hugest misfire in the X-Men canon to date. Centered on fan favourite character Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman), Origins was a bit of a let-down after the mostly great original trilogy of films. And that's putting it lightly.

With many reviewers noting that the film had an overly complicated plot and numerous cameo characters that added little to proceedings, the prevailing feeling surrounding Origins was that is was an unnecessary and fairly redundant addition to the canon. Do we really need to go into his backstory? Or find out how we got that kickass jacket? No, of course not - but that's what we got nonetheless.

 Jackman is good (as always) in his fourth outing as Logan, but suffers with some truly awful dialogue and a generally loopy plot that includes Kevin Durand wearing a truly awful fatsuit and a member of the Black Eyed Peas. Ugh, 2009 - a dark time where CGI claws looked shit and will.i.am was considered a big enough star to appear alongside Wolverine.

Liev Schriber is forgettable as Sabretooth and the less said about Ryan Reynolds' depiction of Deadpool, the better. It isn't spectacular (very few prequels are) but it's an okay film if there isn't anything else on TV.

One word that sums up Origins: Underwhelming.

8th - X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)


Okay, I'll fess up; I don't actively dislike X-Men: The Last Stand. Pitched as a almighty smackdown between the combined forces of the Brotherhood vs. the X-Men, the concept for this final film in the initial trilogy is a mouthwatering one to say the least.

Thing is, it's a premise that isn't carried out effectively. The film suffered a messy pre-production saga that saw Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughan take turns in director's chair before Brett Ratner took the helm as well as different tact.

Rather than including Emma Frost and Gambit (roles intended for Sigourney Weaver and Keanu Reeves respectively) as Singer had planned, Ratner instead focused on a story line that featured a cure for all mutants (taken from a Joss Whedon comic-book storyline).

However, couple this with other plot lines that include the 'Dark Phoenix Saga', the evolving relationship between Rogue, Iceman and Pyro as well as the 'death' of Charles Xavier and the film feels very bloated. There was way too much going on at once, across a massive cast that boggled the mind of the casual viewer. Also, that ending is pretty crap. If your going to give Magneto the cure and kill off Xavier (oops, spoilers), don't go back and pussy out in a closing scene that undoes it all. Stick to your guns; it just makes the film feel a little pointless if you don't.

I can understand why the film gets a bad wrap, and that's why it sits down at number 4 on this list. It doesn't change the fact that some of the action in The Last Stand is kickass. I mean, Magneto moves the Golden Gate bridge. ALL BY HIMSELF. To a 13 year-old kid at the time, that was the greatest thing ever.

7th - Deadpool (2016)

Rotten Tomatoes: 83%

Deadpool was a film that had been stewing in Hollywood for a long time, with its fervent headline act Ryan Reynolds stoking the flames through sheer willpower. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity in production, the R-rated Merc with a Mouth finally made his solo debut on the big screen in February this year.

Was it a success? Audiences certainly thought so. The film has been the unexpected success story of the year so far, converting a niche character and a comparatively meagre budget into worldwide brand recognition and a box office gross to the tune of $761 million, eclipsing all realistic predictions. If you didn't know who Deadpool was before, you certainly do know - and it's probably because you saw the movie at least twice.

For me, I wasn't that sold. Don't get me wrong, I liked the movie. Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin were both fantastic and the energy in the film is undeniable, but man was this film overhyped. It was good, but is it even half as original and clutch-your-sides funny as we've been told over and over? The jokes only landed 50% of the time and I found that the story, which starts in the middle and is filled in through flashbacks, really didn't grab me. It's just your typical origin story where X seeks revenge on Y for kidnapping Z and turning X into a monster. It was fun, but the hopping back and forth meant that we were kept on that freeway for an awful long time. If anything, the flashbacks to before Wade became Deadpool were the best part.

Anyway, feel free to tell me I'm wrong in the comments. Like I said, I liked the film - it just wasn't anything to do a huge song and dance about.

6th - X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Rotten Tomatoes: 52% (at the time of writing)

Although I'm still digesting X-Men: Apocalypse, one thing is clear already; this latest entry is something of a step-backward for the series.

Magneto's arc starts off strong but ends really hurriedly whilst Jean and Scott are given promising introductions that tease a larger role in the future. I really loved Sophie Turner's performance in particular; I can't wait to see more from her in the next film. However, both aren't afforded enough time to make key character beats in the third act feel totally earned. Quicksilver is once again the star of the show; an entertaining set piece in the second act goes one better than his appearance in Days of Future Past.

The film is does have some glaring issues though; Oscar Isaac's villain is just terrible. His motivations are the thinnest and least compelling in the entire series to date. Likewise, Storm and Psylocke aren't given a huge amount to actually do. And even though her character is thrust to the forefront, Jennifer Lawrence really isn't bringing her A-game in this film; she completely phones it in as Mystique.

I had high hopes for Apocalypse and it's hard to frame my feeling towards the film as anything other than slight disappointment. Don't get me wrong, it's still a good movie; as I've said, there are a lot of aspects that work and promise greater things to come in the future. But that potential doesn't translate in this film and the whole affair is jumbled and too big for its own good.

5th - X-Men (2000)


The first X-Men film is a satisfying way in which to kick off a franchise; filled with big names like Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman and Famke Janssen, director Bryan Singer certainly worked with the philosophy of 'start as you mean to go on'.

With that degree of talent to work with, Singer and co. effectively laid the groundwork for the rest of the franchise. Ian McKellan is particularly great as Magneto; you could say he brings a certain 'magnetism' to the role, heh heh.

It also doesn't hurt that the action in the first film is some of the best from all forms of superhero films. Singer makes a deliberate effort to include each and every character's abilities, from Storm's weather-controlling powers to Jean's telekinesis and Wolverine's invulnerability.

In a way, you could say that X-Men kick-started the noughties' obsession with superhero films. After a lull in popularity following the pile of elephant shit that was Batman and Robin (1997), X-Men made superheroes cool again and inspired studios to develop franchises for Spider-man, Batman, Superman, Hellboy, Iron Man and Fantastic Four.

A solid and enjoyable set-up, X-Men hasn't aged badly at all; watching it back, it is hard to believe it came out thirteen years ago. My only real issue with the film is the length - it's very lean at just over 90 minutes long, and in 2016 that feels like hardly any time at all!

4th - The Wolverine (2013)

Rotten Tomatoes: 70%

James Mangold was handed the responsibility of helming Wolvies' second solo outing, and thankfully, this version was markedly better than the first. Rather than continuing along the confusing prequel route (continuity has never been a strong point in these films), The Wolverine picks up Logan after the events of The Last Stand where he saw his unrequited love, Jean Grey, get blasted into thin air.

After wrestling a bear in the woods à la The Revenant, Logan is located by Yukio, a Japanese mutant with the ability to foresee people's deaths, on behalf on Yashida, an aging Japanese billionaire whom Logan saved during his visit to a POW camp in Hiroshima during the final days of the Second World War. Yashida hopes to repay his life debt to Logan by curing his immortality, but a gang war involving the Yakuza means that things soon get complicated.

The more I think about it, the more I really like The Wolverine. The Japanese setting is cool; Logan's mortality adds a new edge to the story; the ninjas and Yakuza warriors are awesome; and that set piece atop the bullet train is seven shades of bonkers. I even don't mind the finale where Logan faces off with a giant robotic Samurai warrior made of adamantium - it's like the film has leaped from the pages of classic X-Men comics and stomped across the screen with unashamed glee.

Rila Fukushima makes for a decent sidekick whilst Svetlana Khodchenkova's sultry villain Viper is underrated. In fact, the film has all sorts of awesome female actresses on the roster, including Tao Okamoto, and all of them subvert the conventional troupe of 'woman in jeopardy' or an object of affection. It's pretty cool all round to be honest, and well worth a revisit.

3rd - X-Men: First Class (2011)


Released in the summer of 2011, X-Men: First Class was the kick-up the backside that the franchise needed after the critically panned X-Men: Origins.

A prequel to the original film, First Class was a fresh take on the X-Men with an new director (Matthew Vaughan) and an entirely new cast that included hot up-and-comers like James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult.

The youthful cast, when coupled with the funky 1960's vibe, made First Class stand out from the rest of the series and get audiences interested in Professor X and his X-Men again. As with any film set in the 60's, First Class drew inspiration from historical events and centered itself on the Cuban missile crisis (at least it wasn't the bloody moon landing again. We're looking at you Men in Black 3 and Doctor Who).

Points are deducted from First Class reaching No.1 on this list for kind of screwing with the franchises' internal timeline; if Xavier is in a wheelchair at the end of First Class, how can he be standing and walking when he crops up in Origins? Let's be honest though, continuity simply isn't a word that the X-Men series cares about at this point. Don't even get me started on the 20-year time gap between this and Apocalypse.

Whilst McAvoy was good as Xavier, the stand-out newcomer was Michael Fassbender as young Erik Lensherr. The scene where he takes down a bunch of Nazis in an Argentinian bar by flinging around a knife with his powers is one of the coolest Magneto scenes ever. It almost made me root for him. Almost.

2nd - X2: X-Men United (2003)

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

Seen as something of a benchmark for superhero
sequels, X2 took everything fans and critics loved about the first film and improved upon it.

With more action, more characters and more cool powers, X2 slips neatly into 2nd on this list, just behind the eventual top spot - but only just.

From introducing Nightcrawler (that White House scene tho) to taking the risk of 'killing off' Jean, X2 didn't pull any punches when upping the stakes and crafting one of the best sequels of all time. The cliffhanger leaves the audience clamoring for more as well as subtly hinting at the franchise's future direction.

The talented cast are once again the star of the show with Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart leading the well-acted ensemble. We finally get to see the rawness to Wolverine's character and the sequence where he uncovers the room in which he was tested upon by Colonel Stryker is a really great character scene.

Another great element from X2 is that addition of Brian Cox as Colonel William Stryker as a common enemy for the X-Men and the Brotherhood to take on together - having Magneto work with Storm and co. to rescue the Professor from Stryker is a nice anti-hero touch to the narrative and kind of has you fooled into thinking he's not all that bad.

1st - X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

Back in early 2014, Days of Future Past was the gambit upon which the future of the X-Men series rested. Although the series had been ticking along for over a decade, other franchises like Spider-man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe had always undercut X-Men and out-grossed them at the box office.

To counteract this, Fox took extreme measures. They rehired Bryan Singer. They footed a $200 million bill. They set their sights on one of the X-Men's most cherished story-lines. And they joined together two already massive casts to create one jumbo-sized ensemble. Simply put, they had well and truly put every egg into one basket.

And it paid off! The film was a huge critical and commercial success, racking up rave reviews and the largest box office gross in the series up to that point. The combined time-travelling adventures of both young and old casts was a masterstroke - the film revolves around Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) being sent back in time to the 1970's to prevent a worldwide apocalypse from ever taking place, crossing paths with the youthful versions of Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) along the way.

Days of Future Past just inches ahead of X2 in my book, but it's a pretty close contest. In fact, you could probably argue for any of the top 3 films on this list and I'd be inclined to agree with you. But I'm a huge sucker for time travel and that's where Days of Future Past clinches the top spot; the contrasting settings and characters lend extra layers to this entry, whilst the action is as inventive and as colourful as we've seen in the series to date. Jackman is still awesome as Wolverine at the sixth time of asking, but the real MVP is Evan Peters as Quicksilver; that scene underneath the Pentagon is worth the ticket price alone.

Which is your favourite X-Men film? Did I get it right or hideously wrong? Have you seen X-Men: Apocalypse yet, and if so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments section below.

4 comments:

  1. Every time I see X-Men's Quicksilver I get so pissed MCU killed theirs off. lol

    X2 is my favorite, followed by X-Men, then Deadpool. The rest I didn't care for (haven't seen the newest installment yet) I liked Days of Future Past at first, then the more I thought about it, the more I started to dislike it.

    Definitely agree with Origins being last though, that movie just looked bad. Even the CGI was horrible.

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    1. I don't mind that they killed off Quicksilver in AOU - it gave the series some degree of stakes. They've done the fake-out one too many times at this point. Plus, I actually prefer Peters' version.

      Thanks for commenting Brittani! :)

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  2. Cool list! I've never really been a fan of X-Men, so I can't speak for a lot of these. The franchise feels like the same thing with every new movie. That said, First Class is probably my favorite. I pretty much blacked out during Origins and only paid attention to Hugh Jackman and what he was wearing. lol I didn't know Days of Future Past scored higher on RottenTomatoes than First Class. I'll have check it out!

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    1. First Class is pretty cool - it's got a very different vibe to the rest. That being said, I still think DOFP is the strongest so make sure you give it a whirl and let me know what you thought :)

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