The X-Men movies, I believe, tonally lie somewhere between the dark and ‘weight’ laden offerings of the DC world and the consistently light-hearted Marvel films. Not delving into the quality of films each house brings out, in a way, I consider the X-Men movies to have the potential of offering us the best from both worlds. They have gravitas, they have humour, and they have a lot of exciting action and generally impressive set pieces too, both practical and CGI-wise.
The X-Men movies also boast of a talented cast and a sizeable team up of characters that we have grown to love, the magnitude of which should seldom make the happenings on-screen uninteresting, leave alone boring. But alas, like every ongoing blockbuster movie franchise, this one too has its curse, and here it is inconsistency: and that’s not just in the quality of films. The timelines in the X-Men movies fail to establish any semblance of a continuity, and while the actors return to reprise their roles in the next film, it never does quite feel connected, with universe building happening only in bits and parts, at least after the first successful run of the three ‘X-Men’ movies until ‘The Last Stand’.
Interestingly, the first ‘X-Men’ film, when released in 2000, was considered a pretty ballsy effort, and safe to say, nothing was to be the same, at least in the superhero arena. Superhero team ups seemed on the cards, so did large ensembles of well-known faces. Widely considered to be the first ‘modern superhero blockbuster’, let’s look at the list of all 10 X-Men movies, ranked from worst to best. Or you can also call them all Wolverine movies, ranked in the order of merit.
10. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Unanimous votes on this one, I hope. If I were to describe this movie using one word, it would probably be best done using the term potpourri, seemingly because it has a lot of things mixed in, almost all of them half-baked, and unfortunately a compelling origin story for the most exciting and endearing character in the X-Men roster isn’t one of them. There is a semblance of an idea about how painful Wolverine’s journey has been, and Hugh Jackman has a presence that’s scene stealing (and also one of the few saving graces of the film), but all of it is sadly let down by mostly overstuffed and undercooked plotlines, characters, their motivations, and villains. The travesty that mute Deadpool was, won’t be forgotten, even though there is a new, fouler Deadpool out there now.
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9. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
The amount of stuff they chose to handle with the third installment of what could have been a perfectly fine trilogy of X-Men movies, was mammoth to say the least, and daunting. Naturally, what came out of it was an incoherent mess, often rushed, and mostly irredeemable. Like the previous entry on this list, ‘The Last Stand’ too can be accused of mishandling fan favourite characters and completely screwing up some of the most iconic X-Men storylines (Dark Phoenix in this case). The action sequences were poorly handled, and the writing for the most part was just, well, bad. The epic showdown showcasing all-out war between the X-Men and brotherhood, Professor X’s supposed demise and Jean’s submission and transformation into Phoenix are few scenes from the film that could’ve been some of the best comic book moments in history, but alas fail to deliver.
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8. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
I was led to believe that the X-Men universe was finally headed in the right direction following ‘Days of Future Past’, now that they had kind of rebooted EVERYTHING that went wrong with their movies along the way. This movie proved me wrong. It was a perfectly fine summertime popcorn flick, and is more entertaining than a lot of other entries on this list. But the fan in me, and the things they did get right about the X-Men mythos from the previous films, makes me expect somewhat more from the X-Men films than a run of the mill CGI fueled summer blockbuster. Apocalypse could have made for a more compelling villain, even though I did love the little religious twist they put in on his origin story. Apart from a heartbreaking scene involving the terrific Michael Fassbender as Magneto, and a super entertaining but previously done Quicksilver sequence, little else stays with you once the credits roll.
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7. The Wolverine (2013)
The solo Wolverine film they wished would do everything that ‘Logan’ would go on to accomplish four years later. Much like the titular character, the film differs from the remaining entries on this list in terms of tone, theme, dialogue and even action sequences. ‘The Wolverine’ set out to be the film showcasing Logan’s struggle with his immortality at first, and later, stripped of all his powers, which almost always makes for an endearing premise (one that was later fully exploited in ‘Logan’). Yet something about it seemed off. Much of it has to do with the writing and the lack of a fully fleshed out and compelling antagonist. There are hints of some gravitas and substance peppered throughout the film, but end up being glossed over by the other non-consequential stuff that happens to be aplenty.
Credit where it’s due, the bullet train sequence and the fight between Logan and Shingen were amazingly well done. For the most part though, this remains another classic case of “what could have been” that seems to happen a lot with superhero movies these days, owing to studio interference when it comes to exercising creative control over movies.
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6. X-Men (2000)
The film that started it all. It was probably unclear at the time of this film’s production whether it would spawn a sequel or not, leave alone one of the longest running movie franchises. Safe to say, this is the film that is responsible for the reemergence of the superhero film genre for the new century, and introducing the brute force that was Hugh Jackman to Hollywood. Its impact in every sense is undeniable. Quality wise too, it is a pretty solid flick, and handles its large ensemble of characters neatly, even though it might feel a little dated upon recent or repeated viewings, but that is also true for most superhero films that came out around that time, and may as such be attributed to other factors including technology and capital available, both of which know no limits today.
However, at its core, and with Bryan Singer at its helm, fresh off the success of the excellent ‘The Usual Suspects’, the film successfully establishes a strong base for future outings, decently introduces its roster of characters and their powers, and also provides some social commentary along the way. Pretty neat, I’d say.
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5. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
If there is one scene I am going to remember this film by, after it fades into oblivion, it will be the Quicksilver scene. One of those scenes that had me in splits, yet made me marvel at the brilliant technical aspects of it. Go check out the BTS of this incredible sequence, and you’ll know why I’m raving about it so much. Considering the larger picture, as a film, it does what it set out to in the first place. From the studio’s perspective, course correction; from the audience’s perspective, proving to be a good outing at the cinemas and melding the two ‘generations’ of X-Men characters, attempting to honour a legacy and in the process trying to create a new one, so to say.
There are a LOT of plot holes and contrivances that this X-Men outing brings forth- unfortunately it proves to be the beacon of all continuity problems that I mentioned earlier, while ironically being an attempt to correct them. All things said and done, there won’t be a film reel with Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman sharing a single frame that won’t keep me invested. The same holds perfectly true for the newer generation of actors playing Professor X and Magneto, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and well, Hugh Jackman again.
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4. Deadpool (2016)
By this time, I should grow tired of writing about this film; it has found its place on so many lists, that I seem to run out of points describing this ballsy superhero outing. I have praised its scale and execution and humor, also called it overrated at one point of time, but the truth remains that something this unconventional in the superhero movie arena will come by in a long time. What’s unfortunate is that even though I laud the film for its unconventionality, I digress that the script was anything but unconventional. However, this is Deadpool done right, unequivocally. Ryan Reynolds was probably born to play the part and he appears to be having the time of his life. It does help that the only other basis for comparison we have, at least in the movies, is the mute Deadpool from ‘Origins’ that Reynolds himself would disown, probably.
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3. X2: X-Men United (2003)
The better film of the original trilogy, X2 improves upon its predecessor in almost every aspect. The scale, budget, cast and everything that expands accompanied with a studio backed sequel, does, but with X2, the good thing is that the characters and the story do too. There’s plentiful of action sequences, and attempts to ‘humanise’ the whole star packed CGI fest, most of which works by the way.
The cast, by the second film is completely familiar and comfortable in their mutant shoes, ready to make these characters their own, especially Hugh Jackman, whose origins are briefly glimpsed in some important scenes in the film. The “good-mutant evil-human” conundrum is also toyed around with, a lot, in scenes mostly involving the film’s main antagonist, an excellently visualised William Stryker. With all of this going for the film, once again with Singer at its helm, the good news is that most of it manages to fall in place, little feels overblown or forced, while it is undeniably fun too.
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2. Logan (2017)
It would be no exaggeration to say that the success of Deadpool paved the way for an R-Rated Wolverine film. Which is a pity, since this news was also accompanied by the heart breaking news of Hugh Jackman parting ways from the character. It would be tough imagining someone else taking on the mantle, Jackman virtually owns movie Wolverine. Now, about the film. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are excellent as usual, and Dafne Keen is a revelation as Laura, her chemistry with Logan forming the more endearing bits of this movie. It is hardly a superhero film though, more aptly described as a character-driven, high on drama western, and it mostly delivers on those fronts: Logan is as vulnerable and cynical as ever, the fighting is brutal and visceral, benefiting from Jackman’s body language that he has mastered over the years.
For fans, the ending leaves you heartbroken. That being said, I do consider it slightly overrated. It is all those things that I mentioned above, mostly better than all superhero movies coming out today, and better than all X-Men movies except for our #1 for this list. But all that, in my opinion was brought down by plot holes, that I daresay, frustrated me on account of making little sense, and once again, no continuity or ties with any previous X-Men movie, whatsoever, which broke my heart a little.
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1. X-Men: First Class (2011)
That’s right. The list doesn’t end at Logan. My favourite X-Men film, and one of my favourite superhero films too. While yes, it is not bereft of all other issues plaguing superhero movies of this day and age, I believe ‘First Class’, completely justifying its title, outsmarts the problems, delivering a well written, brilliantly acted out film. ‘First Class’ tells the story of young Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, before they were Professor X and Magneto, and had divided into factions known as X-Men and the Brotherhood. The setting is the cold war era in the 60s, when nuclear threats loomed large, and the story ingeniously superimposes the essential happenings of that period with the world’s discovery of mutants and what they can do. It’s cleverly played out for some genuinely good period pieces, while also almost always excelling in the technical bits.
Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are revelations in their respective roles, they are perfect, and their moments on screen together have such terrific presence and rapport, I couldn’t help but have stars in my eyes, watching these two effortlessly gnaw at their parts, establishing that the all wise professor and the cunning magneto were just as ‘young and foolish’ as most youth during their days. It is touching in parts, adrenaline inducing in others, and funny too, while being consistently well acted and introducing us to a host of new characters. As far as superhero films carrying gravitas and at the same time trying to have some fun go, it doesn’t get much better than this.
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