I've been re-watching Fox's X-men films, and I thought I'd write about them before they vanish from my memory. One of these movies is great, three others are good, but the other three are completely forgettable. It's the forgettable ones that I'm trying hardest to keep in mind, since for me they have a mental half-life of a day, maybe two at the most.
To recap briefly, there have been 8 movies in Fox's X-men universe so far. A ninth is on the way this summer, in the guise of X-men: Apocalypse.
The films in this series and their years of release are:
X2: X-men United (2003)
X-men: The Last Stand (2006)
X-men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
X-men: First Class (2011)
The Wolverine (2013)
X-men: Days of Future Past (2014)
And of course there's also Apocalypse, due later this year, and the third Wolverine movie, due in 2017. There are also plans for a Deadpool sequel, which might also come out in 2017, and the endlessly discussed New Mutants, X-Force, and Gambit films, all of which may or may not become a reality.
Watching the first X-men in 2016 is strange. Hugh Jackman looks so damn young, and the tone of that movie is so different from more recent entries in the series. It's pretty derivative as superhero films go - this was, after all, done before Sam Raimi's Spider-Man - but in 2000 this was about the best we could expect from any superhero film.
If I have a real complaint about the first X-men, it's that Ian Mckellan was always too old to play Magneto. Yes, he is/was a great actor, and 2000 was a high point in his career, but he never comes across as threatening, or as virile, as he should be.
And yes, Sabretooth never recognizes Wolverine. Even though they are supposed to be brothers. Even though they fought in several wars together. Even though they were costars in X-men Origins: Wolverine.
Almost all of the (other) X-men, right from the beginning, are completely uninteresting characters. You would think in an ensemble film like this one they'd have more to do, but no, not really. I think Singer was wise to recognize that Wolverine is the star of the show, but Logan completely overwhelms every other character in this movie, to the point where you begin wondering why they are there, and why he puts up with them at all.
I think the sequel, X2, was slightly better. It holds together - just barely - and it's a lot faster-paced.
In this film Stryker attempts to use both Xavier and Cerebro to destroy all of the mutants, and Magneto and the X-men must band together to stop him. The fight between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike is great, though Nightcrawler is so annoying that he almost ruins the entire movie.
And why did Jean Grey need to sacrifice herself at the end? Couldn't she have stopped the water from inside the Blackbird? And wouldn't simply levitating the Blackbird above the flood have been easier than diverting all that water around the plane? And why did Logan have to choose between Stryker and his fellow mutants? Why not just cut Stryker loose from his chains, and then pump him for information later?
In my opinion, the absolute worst part of X2 is when Magneto and Mystique are aboard the Blackbird, and they're "gossiping" about Rogue. It's the kind of scene that would have made sense if all of those present were gay men, but it's far less convincing with a mixed group of male and female superheroes.
But then again, nothing in X2 is even half as bad as most of X-Men: The Last Stand. Anyone who's seen this movie will remember the classic line "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" and other embarrassing moments. Can anyone tell me, for example, exactly why Magneto had to levitate the Golden Gate Bridge? Why not just put himself and his friends on a bus, and levitate that? And if all those phials of "demutating" serum are lying around, why did Logan have to kill Phoenix in the end? Why not just do the same thing to her that he and Beast had already done to Magneto?
I will say, however, that the scene where Phoenix kills the Professor is one of the best scenes in any of the X-Men movies. But the real problem is that the movie doesn't go anywhere after that. It gets bogged down in this "demutating serum" subplot, even though this subplot only diminishes the threat that Phoenix represents.
It's nice, however, to see Cyclops killed near the beginning of this movie. He is annoying throughout all of the first three X-Men films, and it's pleasant to see Jean Grey finally drain him of all his life force.
After X-men: The Last Stand it would be three more years before the next entry, X-men Origins: Wolverine, would hit theaters. By 2009 the movie landscape was also looking quite different, with the success of both Marvel's Iron Man and Warner Bros.' Batman Begins as established facts. Movie audiences were expecting a lot more from their superhero movies by that time, and the reaction to Wolverine's first solo outing would reflect this trend.
In retrospect though, X-men Origins: Wolverine isn't all that bad. In some respects it's a return to a more streamlined, action-oriented format along the lines of the first Ghost Rider, or even the first Spider-Man. To be sure, both of those films are better than Wolverine's movie, but at least it isn't the disaster that the third X-Men was.
The real trouble with X-men Origins: Wolverine is, of course, that it plays havoc with the series' continuity. By having us follow Wolverine from his earliest years to the present day, it calls into question all the X-men movies that came before it. It also manages to bungle Deadpool, one of the most popular characters from the comics.
Yet as bad as Origins might be, let's not forget that it was the success (!) of that movie that paved the way for X-men: First Class three years after. The plot of First Class even includes elements of a script written for an undeveloped film: X-men Origins: Magneto, which was to follow the blueprint laid down in Wolverine's first solo effort.
But I think it would be better to delve into X-Men: First Class next time, especially since it represents a kind of "new beginning" for the series. This entry is also VERY long already, and I'll need some time to rest, reflect, and re-watch some more movies before going any further.