The first X-Men film is often credited with starting the resurgence of the superhero film genre, that is to say, treating the source material with respect and still crafting a great movie. I’d say it was Blade, two years earlier, but apparently I’m the only person who saw that one. Looking back on the original X-Men, it hasn’t aged well. Sure, there are many good points about it, but overall it’s pretty damn weak. The cast is probably the strongest aspect: Patrick Stewart looks like he came right off the pages of the comic as Professor X, Hugh Jackman is pitch-perfect as Wolverine, and Ian McKellan has the right amount of charm and menace to pull off Magneto. The rest of the cast also turns in good performances, like Sookie Stackhouse playing Rogue and Famke Janssen as Jean Grey.
The problems of the movie come with the story. There is a ton of groundwork to be laid, introducing the audience to the intricacies of the X-Men universe. Mutants are explained, anti-mutant governmental factions are explained, Professor X’s school is explained, Magneto and Professor X’s rift is explained, hell, the entire movie is a huge chunk of exposition. The story is told to the audience through the eyes of two newcomers, Rogue and Wolverine. While this was good to explain things, they spend too much time explaining. By the time everything is explained, the movie is in the final act. It almost seems like the setup to the X-Men movie rather than the actual movie itself. The plot, with Magneto trying to convert every human to a mutant is a little ridiculous, and seemingly not something you’d expect the first time out. It seems like this should have been used in a later story (like a subsequent film); it feels intangibly out of place here.
The fight scenes, or lack thereof, are also disconcerting. There are literally no action scenes in the entire movie until the third act. A superhero movie demands action scenes, and this one doesn’t really have much in the way of action. There are a few blips of action here and there, like Sabretooth attacking Wolvering or Toad attacking Cyclops, but I can’t say these are even scenes. They occur quickly and last mere seconds. They are also hilarious in their weak impact, obvious wirework, even more obvious CGI, and choppy choreography.
Watching this movie now, all I see is a giant block of cheddar cheese. The only thing that really saves the film is the strong cast. Without Wolverine to anchor it, there would be little to redeem it. Still, it has all the right pieces to create a strong superhero universe, but it can’t pull it together to become a good movie.
X2: X-Men United
The second X-Men film is much, much better than the first. This time around, all the introductory bullshit is out of the way, so the movie is able to get to the point right away. It starts with a thrilling scene of Nightcrawler teleporting all over the White House and kicking the shit out of the Secret Service. This allows Colonel William Stryker to send an assault force to destroy Professor X’s school. There is a fantastic action sequence with the students escaping the school, and Wolverine killing a shitload of guys in the process. With the government after the mutants, Professor X and Magneto (and their subsequent followers) team up to bring the fight to Stryker. What we got was a streamlined story with all the right amounts of action, drama, and humor you could ask for. Simultaneously, the story served the function of giving glimpses into Wolverine’s past life, as, until this point, he had been an amnesiac.
It’s really amazing what a good script can do. This movie is highly engaging and very entertaining. It also says something about our own humanity, that we fear and destroy that which we do not understand. The humans are the villains in this story, and they turn out much better than any mutant could have been as a bad guy.
The movie isn’t quite perfect. It still has Halle Berry as Storm, and she is by far the worst person in the cast. She can’t act, she never could act, and she has only gotten anywhere based on her looks. That’s true for a lot of actors, I know, but placing her alongside Stewart, McKellan, Jackman, and Brian Cox, it quickly becomes painfully obvious. Plus, Storm is a shitty X-Man (X-Woman?). She just spreads her arms open, looks at the sky, and CGI does the rest. Oh well.
Compared to the first film, this movie does hold up today. It’s still fun to watch, and it is a worthy entry into the series proper.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Apparently, hardcore fans of X-Men hated this movie. Nerdlingers across the world decryed this film as an abomination that should be hated with the fury of a thousand suns. To be honest, I can’t understand why. It certainly isn’t worse than the other movies in this series. The story tries to do too much, straddling two plotlines, either of which could have sustained an entire movie on its own. The first, and more interesting, is the return of Jean Grey as Phoenix, the super powerful and psychologically unstable mutant. The second is the politically-focused cure for the mutant gene. If this movie had focused on a single plotline, as they did for X2, it would have fared much better. Trying to do both stories disallowed the robustness that could have come out of either one. Each ends up as hollowed-out, much weaker than they could have been.
The cast is excellent once again, with all the principles returning. Jackman is great as always as the lead character Wolverine, and Janssen plays very well off of him as the tormented Jean Grey. One of the major fan gripes of the X-Men movies is that they spend too much time on Wolverine and not enough time on everyone else. Well, these are movies, and they have a limited amount of time in which to tell a story. The audience needs an anchor somewhere, and, let’s face facts, Wolverine is the coolest character in the X-Men universe. The films would be stupid not to make him the main character. Besides, it’s not like each movie features Wolverine in every single shot. He spends good chunks of time off screen allowing other characters to shine.
The action scenes are well directed, and the finale was quite good. Each character got their chance to show off their powers, including Storm and her dumb weather powers. The emotional climax with Wolverine killing Jean Grey was satisfying, as well. People have stated that director Brett Ratner ruined this movie with his directing (the first two were directed by Bryan Singer), but the tone and style is identical to the first two movies. They have the same cast, same directorial flairs, same underlying cheesiness, and same terrible costumes. There is nothing in the film that differentiates it from the others.
I suppose the reason this movie earned the ire of X-Men fans was the fact it killed off so many characters: Cyclops, Professor X, and Jean Grey. It’s really not a great tragedy. They were going for an epic finale to their trilogy, and if people didn’t die, then there would not have been any stakes. I think the filmmakers tried their best, and turned in a movie that fit with the groundwork laid before it.