A Cinefessions Series Review is a periodic column that sees one more writers watching and reviewing an entire film series. Cinefessions considers any film franchise that has two or more films a series, and thus available for review in this column. This is anway to get a quick look at an entire collection of films in one column. Today, Ashe warms up for the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past (which Chris reviewed here) by watching through the rest of the series.
I decided along with Chris that a re-watch of the X-Men films was in order for the landing of X-Men: Days of Future Past this weekend, and I chose, like a big nerd, to watch them in chronological order from First Class to The Wolverine, and then do a series review. I started by reasoning it out on my own before I found a really great breakdown for each of the events that works for me.
This site has a great “X-movie” timeline, which I’ve broken down film-wise here:
X-Men: First Class: 1944, 1962
*X-Men: Days of Future Past: 1973 and 2023 (possibly)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine: 1845 (start), 1975 – 1984 (team), 1990 (later half)
X-Men: 2005 (Charles mentions Logan has been wandering for 15 years without his memories and the end of Origins is in 1990)
X2: X-Men United: 2005 (only months have passed between films)
X-Men: The Last Stand: 1986 (opening segment), 1996 (young Angel), 2006 (majority of film)
The Wolverine: 1945, 2013 (giving some time for Logan to be wandering yet again), 2015 (mid-credits teaser)
So let’s get started.
X-Men: First Class (2011, dir. Matthew Vaughn)
X-Men: First Class hits a lot of the notes I wanted to see from a younger Xavier and Magneto trying to make their way in the world. While the choice of teams is a little off, partly because of the way the other X-Men films play out, they still picked a really good set to run with, and re-watching this a few years later really emphasizes that. While they may have gotten the idea of running a split with the two men from the Star Trek reboot, this definitely feels like a ‘60s X-Men/spy thriller, and it gets a big boost for that. The idea that Eric would be hunting down Nazi’s that wronged him was well done, and Fassbender plays that rage and scheming well. McAvoy is perfect as the pompous ass that Xavier would have been at this stage in his life, especially with as many things going his way all the time. I enjoyed it when I saw it in theaters, and loved watching it again at home, but I think it really set in for me watching it again this time as part of my X-Men rewatch, and being the first film I got to re-experience.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009, dir. Gavin Hood)
This is definitely not one of my favorites. They try to tell Logan’s story, but somehow manage to muck it up a bit along the way. The Sabretooth and Wolverine dynamic is pitch perfect, and while I like who they picked for young movie Striker, he’s not all that great character-wise in this, and his arc is far less interesting than it will be in his debut X-Men film. Deadpool is definitely used terribly as a “final boss” plot fight, and the method they use for Logan losing his memories is, well, questionable at best. As an action flick starring Wolverine it’s ok, but they go way too over the top in the different sequences that completely stretch believability even for a movie featuring mutants with super-powers. The metal claws, which had looked so decent in all the other films, look comical and fake. It’s a decent enough attempt, but like X-Men: The Last Stand, suffers from way too much meddling and not enough focus by throwing too much at the audience, and not very well at times.
X-Men (2000, dir. Bryan Singer)
X-Men is probably one of the better introductions to the team as you can go in cold, not knowing anything about the comics or characters, and learn the mutant lingo and world through Rogue and Logan’s eyes. It’s not a perfect film, but hits a lot of the right notes as far as what the X-Men are about, while trying to “keep it real” so general audiences aren’t scared away. Re-watching this now, I see that there’s so much here that worked, and so much potential that gets further realized in the second installment. One of the nice things is they avoid doing a complete origin story for it, and drop you in as if the team has been running for a long while in the background. I would have liked to see more of Mystique, Sabretooth, and Toad developed, though. You can almost substitute them out for just about anyone else with similar powers and it would still work. They just happen to be fan favorites, and having watched Origins: Wolverine and First Class just before this, both Sabretooth and Mystique almost feel completely wasted here. The X-team itself is more of an ensemble, and we definitely get a feel for each of them in the film, some more than others.
X2: X-Men United (2003, dir. Bryan Singer)
X-Men United is the pinnacle of the X-Men film franchise. Designed to be The Empire Strikes Back of what would become more than a trilogy, X2 delivers on the promise of the first film by delving deeper into the history of the X-Men and basing it off one hell of a graphic novel, all while keeping it within the framework that they’d already established with the first film. The tone is great, the banter is spot on, just about everyone has some kind of role to play in the film and aren’t just set dressing or completely interchangeable, the villains are fleshed out a bit more than they were in the first film, save for Lady Deathstrike, and the world feels even more alive and dangerous. Even with the loss in this film, there’s this great feeling after watching it that you’ve seen something special, especially if you’re a fan of the comics. While I’m hoping that X-Men: Days of Future Past can surpass, or at least meet, the high bar set with X2, I’m sure it’ll at least be enjoyable.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006, dir. Brett Ratner)
So we go from the emotional and tonal perfection of X2, to the complete mess that is X-Men: The Last Stand. Considering this one was relatively fast-tracked, had lots of studio tampering, went through several writers, three directors, and ultimately combined two stories that just don’t work well together when they could have just focused on one and had all that emotional impact and strife therein, it’s amazing this movie works as well as it does. They strove to do Empire Strikes Back with X2, and instead of following it up with Return of the Jedi, end up with something more like The Phantom Menace. For every great step they take with this one, though, there are several steps backwards.
The actors do some amazing things, but it still falls flat as some lifeless takes are used in the actual film instead of the ones with impact we can see in the deleted scenes. Jean’s transformation is relatively glossed over in the second half as Famke could be replaced with a cardboard cutout at the halfway point, and we wouldn’t notice. Magneto ends up getting out of character, and the X-Team end up using an out that, while it works, puts them on the same level as the people who are terrified of them, which still bugs me. The music works at certain points but is far too upbeat for some of the events we see on screen. It’s meant to heighten the drama but is completely, tonally wrong for what we’re seeing. If they’d made either the Dark Phoenix arc, or the Cure arc, the major theme of the film, it would have worked more as they could have focused on the team there. Meshed together, these continue to be a mess 8-years after release.
The only real benefit to this film is that we get the excellent Wolverine film that directly follows this one as far as the timeline goes. Unfortunately, the studio mess continued into the Origins: Wolverine film, which is stronger than this one, but just barely. Yes, I can watch this one, and I enjoy it more now than when it was released, but I’d love to see a re-edit of this using alternate scenes, the voiceovers we got before when telepaths were using their powers to really drive the moment instead of a staring contest, and a better fitting, and more somber musical theme. It’d still be a mess, but it’d have more heart that way. As an action film it works well enough; as a follow-up to the other X-Men films, it just rings hollow.
The Wolverine (2013, dir. James Mangold)
I reviewed The Wolverine for Cinefessions last year, but here’s what a viewing following the rest of the X-Men films gets you. The almost pitch perfect Wolverine-focuse, and far more into character development, direct sequel that X-Men: The Last Stand really needed. It hits all the notes that that sequel missed, and brings the original X-Men run back on the right course, even though it only really deals with two of those characters (well, four if you count the end credits blurb). The Wolverine proves that, yes, you can do solo X-Men films if you tell the right story, don’t try to bog it down with too many characters, and make it relevant enough to the character and plot that the audience cares. While there are still one or two minor quibbles I have with this one, for the most part it’s about dead on for what I wanted out of a Wolverine goes to Japan storyline. The 3.5 rating I give this is more for the theatrical version than the unedited version. The unedited version I’d inch closer to a 4 out of 4 just because it adds some more to the side characters, and the ninja fight is much more intense. This actually made me want another film featuring Logan as either a solo outing or an ensemble where Origins had kind of put me off on the idea initially. This is good because the next X-Men film I watch is going to be X-Men: Days Future Past, which is an ensemble film, but let’s not kid ourselves: Logan is going to be front and center.
The CSR Awards
(The Cinefessions’ Series Review Awards)
Best Picture: X2: X-Men United
Worst Picture: X-Men: The Last Stand
Favorite Scene/Moment in Series: Nightcrawler’s Introduction (X2: X-Men United)
He’s storming the White House, making his way around the security with his powers, moving ever closer to the President all the while we have Mozart’s “Dies Irae” playing in the background.
Best Actor: Ian McKellan (Magneto, All of His Appearances)
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique, X-Men: First Class)
The average film rating for the X-Men film series is 3.08 stars.