The X-Men have always been a big part of my life. Even before I really loved the X-Men, I loved the X-Men. I have distinct memories of visiting my uncle as a small child in New Orleans and gazing over his vast array of X-Men comics and paraphernalia in wonder. The colorful images of men and women with plasma beams shooting from their eyes and hands or claws extending from their arms grabbed ahold of my imagination and have still not let go to this day, continuing to influence the way I imagine superhuman beings in my head.
But I must admit something. Even though the comic book illustrations were my first visual introduction to the basics of these mutants, the first X-Men film by Bryan Singer in 2000 was what made me fall in love with them as characters. From there, I delved further into animated series (My favorite remaining X-Men: Evolution humbly), comic books, graphic novels, tie-ins, and other aspects of the world of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Therefore, I've always felt more involved in the film adaptations of X-Men than anything else. I'll stand by these X-Men movies, no matter how huge they get, or how many corporate sponsorships they have. What that means is that, as it is with fandom of any ongoing mythological widespread series, there are some dizzying highs and some dismal lows in sticking by the series. It ain't always easy being a fan of something, but sometimes that means sticking by the series, even when it's awful.
I haven't seen Apocalypse yet, but I'm anticipating it warily. I think it shows a lot of promise, but I also can't help but remember the missteps of the X-Men films, and I'm crossing my fingers that this is not another one of them. In celebration of the X-Men returning to theaters, I thought I'd put together a ranked list, from worst to best, of how I feel about the previous X-Men films. Enjoy, or don't enjoy, regardless, please save your torches and pitchforks for more worthy causes.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Nope, X-Men Origins: Wolverine has been spared from the bottom of the list. Although objectively, Wolverine is a much clunkier and unprofessional film, in my mind The Last Stand will forever remain the most dreadful X-Men movie ever made. In fact, it may possibly be my least favorite film of all time. This could partially be blamed on Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn's script, but the majority of the blame goes to the tone deaf direction of Brett Ratner. In 2006, I was still riding the highs of Peter Jackson's magnificent Lord of the Rings adaptation trilogy, and was hungry for more epic fantasy trilogies. I had high hopes for this to be the Return of the King of the original X-Men movies. Instead, it's the Revenge of the Sith of the series. I was in denial about how bad it was at first, and the longer I thought about it, the more disappointed I became. From the flat out bad (Mystique's fate) to the mind-numbingly stupid (Juggernaut, say no more), everything about this film is a misfire. Ranter's misunderstanding of the characters is unforgivable, and we should all feel blessed he's never been asked to return.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Here we go, take a deep breath, and try to remember what it was like watching this movie. The Origins series is not a bad idea, but perhaps this film should have gotten at least more than one draft of a screenplay finished before they started shooting. It really does feel like the script was banged out in a writer's room in the span of 12 hours. It also feels like the movie itself was shot and edited in the span of 24 hours. Design-wise, the effects are laughably bad. Story-wise, this feels like it would be more at home on the Satellite of Love than in the X-Men film series, and character-wise it's a giant waste of huge potential. This film is possibly the most infamous for its depiction of the character Deadpool, but to be honest, I've never been that invested in Deadpool, and I'm still not really that sold on him. (I have an unpopular opinion on the recent film, but that's a tale for another time)
X-Men: First Class (2011)
I'm in the minority opinion with this film. While it was a relative breath of fresh air after Last Stand and Origins, I was left disappointed and cold by Matthew Vaughn's entry in the X-Men series, and for the longest time, I didn't know why. Then a little film called Kingsman: The Secret Service came out. All of a sudden, everything made sense. Matthew Vaughn wanted to make an old school Bond-Style spy movie very badly and he tried to do it with First Class and failed. Then he tried again with Kingsman and succeeded with a standing ovation. Because of this, I have a much less aggressive dislike of First Class, but unfortunately, it still doesn't work as an X-Men movie to me. To me, the goofy, Moonraker-esque style of the film feels off in this universe. The Wolverine cameo is great though. I am also quite a big fan of Fassbender and McAvoy as Erik and Xavier, even if they'll never be McKellan and Stewart.
The Wolverine (2013)
Objectively, First Class is a better film than this one, but this one did a better job of fitting into the X-Men universe while still maintaining a sensibility of dumb action fun. It's certainly an excellent palate cleanser of the original Wolverine film. The Japanese setting was a fun change of pace and it did show that Wolverine can carry a movie on his own. On top of that, there are some action set pieces that work exceptionally well, including the train fight and the climactic Silver Samurai battle. Oh hey, and they actually managed to make Wolverine's claws look like they weren't just photoshopped in as an afterthought.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
There was a lot of hype riding on the back of this film. Bryan Singer was finally returning. It was going to be based on one of the most influential and popular X-Men comic stories. It was melding the X-Men of the original films with the X-Men of the new films. Would it all work? Absolutely. Bryan Singer's return was such a welcome one. His voice is the clearest in the X-Men film series in a way that the other directors who tried to fill his shoes in his absence can't imitate. Singer has the ability to balance character, plot, and cinematic style while keeping everything perfectly balanced. Hopefully lightning strikes twice with Apocalypse.
Here we go, the first out of the gate and the second strongest of the entire series. There's a refreshing simplicity to the original X-Men that makes it a delight to watch again and again. It's a wonderful introduction to this world, with its Michael Kamen main theme and the strong opening scene of a young Magneto being pried from his parents at a Holocaust Concentration Camp. As he cries out and reaches for them, he bends the iron gates until he's knocked unconscious by a guard. Its thrilling as well as the perfect introduction to the character of Magneto, who is really never a villain, just a contrarian. In fact, everyone gets great introductions. "Does it hurt when they come out? Your claws?" "Every time." The only really awkward part of this film is the infamous Storm one-liner right before Toad's demise. Oh well. You can't win them all.
X2: X-Men United (2003)
I missed the original X-Men film in theaters. I caught it on DVD a few weeks before the sequel came out. So this was officially the first X-Men film I saw inside a theater, and to me it was life changing. Everything about this film is my definition of a perfect action film, sci-fi film, sequel, and superhero film. From the very opening, this film demands your attention. Watching Nightcrawler spin effortlessly through the air as he knocks bodyguards to the side like rag dolls, you know you are in for something unique. Singer's beautiful staging of action set pieces has always been a defining moment for the X-Men films and the opening assassination attempt scene is the number one set piece in the entire series. Even better for this film, we've already established the key players and now we have more time to have fun with them. The chemistry between Magneto and Mystique, Wolverine and Rogue, Cyclops and Jean, Xavier and all of his students is fresh, fun, and intellectually stimulating. And while we're at it, I'll go ahead and say it. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is the only Mystique. Jennifer Lawrence is a wonderful actress, but she can't even begin to capture the intensity, anger, and danger of Romijn's performance.
So that's the list so far. I'll be excited to see where Apocalypse falls in the list. Here's to Oscar Isaac trying to wipe out humanity this weekend. Cheers.