There was a long period of time where the only super hero movies we had were the Christopher Reeve Superman films, which (as we discussed HERE), had their considerable ups and downs (mostly downs), and the Batman franchise (which we discussed HERE, HERE, and HERE), but this was before the excellent Christopher Nolan reboot, so it was also mostly bad.
Then the late 90’s hit and Marvel (with New Line Cinema) had a surprise hit on their hands with Blade, and all of a sudden it felt like there might be a chance we’d get some more. That’s when Fox dropped a bombshell and announced they were going to finally, FINALLY, release a live action X-Men film!
Say what you want about the first movie, and we will, but it really opened the floodgates for the huge wave of superhero films (that mostly sucked) for the early 21st century. For better or worse we probably wouldn’t have the Spider-man movies without this one!
Fifteen years later, and the franchise has had its ups and downs (notice a trend?), but found its footing again with X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past. Now, with X-Men: Apocalypse, Deadpool, and a third Wolverine film looming, the franchise appears to be in as good a shape as it has ever been.
But how did they get here?
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman (Logan / The Wolverine), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Sir Patrick Stewart (Prof X / Charles Xavier), Sir Ian McKellen (Magneto / Erik Lensherr), James Marsden (Scott Summers / Cyclops), Famke Janssen (Dr. Jean Grey), Halle Berry (Storm / Ororo Munroe), Rebecca Romijn (Mystique), Bruce Davidson (Senator Kelly), Tyler Mane (Sabretooth), Shawn Ashmore (Bobby Drake), and Ray Park (Toad).
Plot: Concentration camp survivor Erik Lensherr, aka Magneto, and his Brotherhood of Mutants want to use some wacky-ass device to convert regular humans into mutants, thereby proving that mutants are superior? Or something? Honestly it makes no sense. But Magneto’s opposite, Professor Charles Xavier, and his students at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters will stand in his way and try to save their newest student, Rogue, from being used as a pawn in his nonsensical scheme. Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, and the newly joined Wolverine battle the Brotherhood with the powers of outdated CGI to save the day!
Comic Zombie: Despite the utter nonsense of Magneto’s plan (what was wrong with the story from the original X-Men #1? Or literally ANYTHING else?) and some really, really bad line delivery, I don’t have any problems with this movie.
Well, any major problems, I guess. I mean it annoys me a little that a movie called ‘X-Men’ is basically all about Wolverine, but I mean, I get it. He’s the cash cow. And sure, it’s pretty lame that they portrayed Sabretooth, who is supposed to be a bigger, faster, and meaner Wolverine as a big dumb idiot who roars like a lion and just looks… ridiculous.
And yeah, I think it’s a shame that classic X-Men characters like Cyclops, Phoenix and Storm are completely marginalized other than ‘Wolverine doesn’t like him, Wolverine wants to bang her, and Wolverine is pretty indifferent towards her’. And yeah, Magneto’s helmet is pretty stupid, especially since they could have made the one straight from the comics, as they later did in First Class. And it’s pretty clear that they ran out of money towards the end and the finale is totally lame, which sucks.
And OK, it’s pretty impossible to overlook how absurd Magneto’s plan is. Not only does it make less sense than a driving class for the blind, it makes Magneto look pretty ineffective. One of the most dangerous and powerful characters in Marvel comics needs to amplify his powers with a teenaged girl’s just to power a pretty small machine? And he can’t even do that?
OK, so it turns out I have a lot of problems with the movie. And to be honest, I didn’t love it when I first saw it, because despite the fact that these were the fucking X-MEN on a movie screen, they’re not quite the X-Men I always wanted to see. That said, this is a pretty cool movie, and considering it was one of the front-runners of the new age of comic book adaptations (despite coming out over 15 years ago! What the hell!?!) I can forgive the things it gets wrong because it does get a lot right.
For instance, the casting is pretty awesome. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are great choices for Xavier and Magneto, and Hugh Jackman was a great choice for Wolverine, even if he’s way taller than he should be (I know, I really should let that go). Halle Berry brought more name value and to be honest was really horribly underused for three movies. And speaking of horribly underused, James Marsden was a good choice for Cyclops. I don’t think Famke Janssen really captured Jean Grey at all, and Anna Paquin never made me believe she was Rogue, and holy shit was Tyler Mane a terrible Sabretooth. I mean… shit.
The effects, although of course outdated, were pretty awesome for their time. And the character relationships were pretty close to what fans from the animated series from the 1990’s or the comics from the early 1980’s would recognize. And I mean, at the end of the day it was a goddamn X-Men movie, and a pretty good one, just a few years removed from Batman & Robin: Breaker of Worlds and Destroyer of All That is Good made us think there wouldn’t be anything like this for… well, ever. So it gets credit for setting the bar (with apologies to Blade, which really started the ball rolling) that movies like Spider-Man would aim for, and for starting an entire franchise for Fox that is still going strong today, despite its ups and downs.
Erik Smash: I distinctly and fondly remember this first X-Men movie as one of the moments I decided to really dive into comic book lore. I was absolutely blown away. It might not hold up as well any more, but at the time I was convinced it was better than The Matrix.
Going in I had a passing familiarity with the 90’s cartoon, but couldn’t name more than three characters. That quickly changed after seeing this movie opening night. In fact, I distinctly remember staying up all night on dial-up AOL internet-access reading up on various Marvel characters. (The Sam Raimi Spider-man movie would later swoop in to seal the deal and I’ve been addicted to comics ever since.)
Thing is though, if you’re not a comic book fan, this movie is an excellent primer.
And it isn’t just a good comic book movie, it’s a great allegory. Much like the source material, X-Men is at its core about those who are different overcoming adversity, it’s about minorities dealing with prejudice and injustice. Stan Lee is said to have loosely based Prof X on MLK and Magneto on Malcolm X… except with superpowers.
The story is told from the perspective of two outsiders: Rogue and The Wolverine.
Rogue is a normal high school girl who is forced to run away from home when her deadly powers manifest uncontrollably and she begins to suck the life out of anyone she touches. She ends up at a rural Canadian truck stop where she runs into Logan aka ‘The Wolverine’, a mutant with heightened senses, a healing factor and an adamantium skeleton with retractable claws.
Rogue ends up hitching a ride with Logan right before they’re attacked by yet another mutant, Sabretooth. Luckily though they’re rescued by Cyclops and Storm of the X-Men. From there we’re introduced to the X-Mansion, the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, Jean Grey and of course Professor X himself. The movie does a fantastic job at introducing each character, their powers and their code names, but I think that Prof X’s intro through Logan’s paranoid perspective is probably the best.
There’s a few good moments establishing the love triangle between Jean, Logan and Scott Summers (Cyclops), but unfortunately Scott isn’t really given much to do, except to be a jealous boyfriend whose constantly forced to wear shades indoors. Same goes for Storm, who maybe has a paragraph worth of dialogue. Sabretooth and Toad are regulated to mindless goons, but at least deliver on some action. Then there’s Mystique, who I for one was entranced by. There were a lot of clever uses of her shape-changing ability throughout this trilogy, plus Rebecca Romijn really pulls off the risque blue look.
We soon learn that there’s a mutant terrorist on the loose: Magneto – and the only thing standing between his brotherhood and the rest of humanity is the X-Men. It’s assumed that Magneto is after Wolverine’s adamantium, but there’s a great moment where the two face off on a train and Magneto reveals that he was after Rogue the whole time.
Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were born to play Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. From that first scene between the two ‘old friends’ in the hallway, to the chess match in the plastic prison, these performances speak volumes of who these characters are and their history together.
I do have to admit, I dig the Yellow Spandex jab. The black leather uniforms never really bothered me. It kind of made sense considering their defending a world that hates and fears them, stealth suits just kind of make sense as opposed to bright and flashy costumes.
The final action sequence is pretty great even though it’s really a Wolverine / Sabretooth fight with a little help from the X-Men and cameos by the rest of the Brotherhood. I do like the moment where Cyclops is given a moment to lead the team and everyone gets to use their powers in a really cool way at least once.
What makes it work though is the emotional resonance, when Logan stops the machine only to realize he’s too late to save Rogue, he’s truly heart broken and in a moment of selflessness he willingly gives her his healing ability, nearly killing himself in the process.
One of the other things that really stands out to me is that Magneto is not a one dimensional villain, in fact we kind of get to see where he’s coming from. He might be in the wrong, but you can’t really blame him all that much either.
Considering the incredible budget constraints, I think they pulled together a really impressive superhero movie – before superhero movies were even their own genre!
X2: X-Men United
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Starring: Sir Patrick Stewart (Prof X / Charles Xavier), Sir Ian McKellen (Magneto / Erik Lensherr), Hugh Jackman (Logan / The Wolverine), Brian Cox (General William Stryker), Halle Berry (Storm / Ororo Munroe), Famke Janssen (Dr. Jean Grey), Alan Cumming (Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler), Rebecca Romijn (Mystique), Shawn Ashmore (Bobby Drake / Iceman), Aaron Stanford (Pyro), James Marsden (Scott Summers / Cyclops), Kelly Hu (Lady Deathstrike), Michael Reid Mackay (Mutant #143: Jason Stryker / Proteus), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Cotter Smith (The President), Daniel Cudmore (Colossus), Katie Stuart (Kitty Pryde), Shauna Kain (Siryn), Kea Wong (Jubilee), and Bruce Davidson (fake Senator Kelly).
Plot: A paramilitary group led by Colonel William Stryker attack the Xavier school in their attempt to gather mutants to brainwash and weaponize in their attempt to use them to make people fear mutants, or something… The X-Men, featuring their new member Nightcrawler, are forced to work alongside Magneto’s Brotherhood to stop Stryker from using Professor Xavier’s powers to kill every mutant on the planet. Jean Grey struggles with her rising power levels. Wolverine searches for clues to his past. Cyclops and Colossus are horribly underutilized so we can watch Rogue and Iceman awkwardly stare at each other. Well at least there’s that Lady Deathstrike fight.
This is a really solid sequel, but I don’t know if it’s better than the first one. The action is better certainly, but I think as a movie, the first one just works better overall.
This is a very Wolverine / Professor X-centric movie with a little bit more Magneto (but not as the villain), way more Iceman, less Rogue, more Storm, and a shit ton less Cyclops. It opens with an attack on the White House by a brain-washed Nightcrawler, in what once was a very cool scene that’s a lot less impressive a decade later, but I still do really like the Patrick Stewart narration and the opening titles.
When we first see Logan, he’s exploring the remains of a base at Alkali Lake in the Canadian wilderness, in an attempt to uncover his past. What’s crazy to me though, is how quickly he gives up on his search. If he’d just kept looking a bit further he would’ve discovered the Weapons-X lab beneath the surface. Use those sniffing senses!
Then we meet the rest of the X-Men on a field trip, which I thought was a clever way to introduce both the students and the teachers all in one scene: Jean, Scott, Storm, Bobby, Rogue and the budding-sociopath with flame powers: Pyro. I do like how they expanded on Rogue and Bobby’s relationship and adding Pyro into the mix was a smart move.
So the villain this time around is William Stryker: a human guy who was once involved in the Weapon-X program that created Wolverine. Stryker’s evil plan is to use Professor X’s powers to kill every mutant on the planet… or something. It was actually a nice change of pace to have a human bad guy this time around, which really builds on the whole premise of them being persecuted minorities.
The scenes between Professor X and Magneto are once again superb, unfortunately their never-ending chess match of symbolism is interrupted by Stryker who then uses Deathstryke to easily nerf Cyclops for the rest of the movie. (WTF)
The absolute best part of the movie is when Logan is put in charge of ‘babysitting’ the kids at the mansion when it’s attacked by Stryker’s forces while the rest of the X-Men are out of town: Specifically the part where Wolverine fights off an entire battalion of para-military soldiers: he straight up goes Freddy Keugar on those mercs!
Then there’s the scene where Magneto escapes from his plastic prison! Mystique cleverly injects one of the guards with a dose of iron that Magneto then uses by ripping it out of him! And of course the scene where the X-Jet is evading the Air Force! Holy crap that shit was intense. In between all that there’s some pretty great moments, like: Colossus’s cameo, “Professor Logan” meeting Bobby’s parents, Pyro going ape shit on some cops, and Wolverine’s flashbacks.
One of my favorite (non action) scenes is where Jean and Logan have a moment, then she rejects him and chooses Scott, BUT Jean appears in his tent, they start making out when Logan realizes its actually Mystique who then changes into various people to gauge his interest, including Stryker…
So basically Magneto teams up with the X-Men to save Professor X from Stryker with the help of Nightcrawler. They face off against tons of para-military troops, a brain-washed Cyclops, Deathstryke and Stryker’s creepy psychic son, Jason, whose the cause of all the brainwashing illusions and stuff. The ending is a little drawn out, but I do really appreciate that scene where Jean ‘sacrifices’ herself to save the rest of the team and starts to go full Phoenix.
Besides the action, one of the best things about the movie is that it works as a great sequel, it really builds on everything laid out in the first movie. The most disappointing factor however is that it’s such a great set up for the next one, cliff hanger and everything! – alas it turns out the next movie would end up being a total piece of shit…
Comic Zombie: I remember everybody freaking out about how good the first movie was, and while I did like it, I was not as thrilled with it as some others were. Then X2 came out, and pretty much everyone I knew was telling me that I would like it so much more than the first one; that the action was incredible and that the story was much better… basically that it was the movie I was hoping the first one would be.
Not so much.
X2 is definitely a good movie, and certainly an improvement over its predecessor, but I had some issues with it (shocking, I know).
The first movie was basically “Wolverine: The Movie (and also some X-Men)”. So I thought for sure the rest of the team would be more heavily featured this time out. Hell, there are only three other members if you don’t count the students. Four if you count Nightcrawler. That should have been the easiest thing in the world. You could keep your big Wolverine moments, but let Storm, Cyclops, and Phoenix do… anything. Storm and Jean just fly around in a jet and Cyclops gets knocked out (and out of the movie) after like two minutes of screen time. Instead we get more Wolverine and Rogue, now joined by Iceman and Pyro. Whee.
It was cool to see the ‘X-Men’ have to team up with Magneto and his pitiful little Brotherhood, but not enough was done with it other than a line or two about ‘you guys suck!’ or ‘you children are foolish’. There is so much potential with this set up and it’s pretty much squandered.
I think my biggest problem with this movie is I don’t think Stryker and his men were made nearly threatening enough to deal with all of the X-Men and Brotherhood members. I would have loved to have seen Wolverine and Sabretooth (who is totally absent here) maybe recaptured and reprogrammed. Then maybe the program uses them and Nightcrawler to really do some damage to the two teams, and the mutant cause in general. Instead we got some hackneyed plot where Stryker’s kid, who for some reason is a Mastermind ripoff… wait, his name is Jason? Holy shit, he’s supposed to be fucking Mastermind??? The guy that manipulated the Phoenix force with his brain? The guy that can make illusions so strong that the X-Men have tried to kill their own teammates because he made them think they were someone else? THIS GUY!?!?
Nitpicking aside, I did enjoy a lot of parts. The opening sequence with Nightcrawler attacking the White House is very well done, and a strong way to open the movie. I also really liked the Wolverine freak out at the mansion, Pyro going off on the police at Iceman’s house, Nightcrawler’s mid-air rescue of Rogue, and Wolverine vs Deathstrike (who, like Sabretooth before her, was utterly wasted other than one fight scene).
All in all it’s a fun movie, and a solid follow up to the first one, but it still wasn’t what I wanted to see from an X-Men movie. But hey, at least the third one would be awesome. I mean, they set it up pretty well, especially with that really faint Phoenix tease at the very end. The third one would be HUGE, and would really pay off the last two! One thing is for sure, it definitely wouldn’t suck so badly that it nearly killed the franchise. There’s no way. I mean, they still have Singer, it’s not like it’s going to be directed by Brett fucking Ratt- what? Superman Returns? I see. And who is directing..? Oh.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Bryan Singer Brett Ratner?!
Starring: Hugh Jackman (Logan / The Wolverine), Famke Janssen (Phoenix / Dr. Jean Grey), Halle Berry (Storm / Ororo Munroe), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde / Shadowcat), Kelsey Grammer (Dr. Hank McCoy / Beast), Sir Ian McKellen (Magneto / Erik Lensherr), Vinnie Jones (The Juggernaut – bitch!), Shawn Ashmore (Bobby Drake / Iceman), Sir Patrick Stewart (Prof X / Charles Xavier), Rebecca Romijn (Mystique), Ben Foster (Angel / Warren Worthington III), Josef Sommer (The President), Daniel Cudmore (Colossus), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Dania Ramirez (Callisto), Eric Dane (Jamie Madrox), Aaron Stanford (Pyro), and James Marsden (mopey Scott Summers / dead Cyclops…)
Plot: The franchise that launched the super hero movie craze is murdered slowly before our eyes by a complete and total hack. Beloved characters are literally and figuratively murdered (in one major case off-screen!?), with little or no fanfare or thought. The epic Dark Phoenix saga, much beloved from the comics, is horribly translated to the screen. The Juggernaut is turned into a shitty internet meme. Angel is included, and quickly forgotten. The mutant cure, ripped from Joss Whedon’s excellent Astonishing X-Men comics, is introduced and the public goes ape shit. The X-Men are forced to protect the people that would force the cure on them from Magneto and his now army-sized Brotherhood (without any explanation), now featuring dozens and dozens of faceless cannon fodder mutants! Jean Grey is reborn from the events at the end of X2, and is now eeeeevil and kills people by staring really, really hard.
Erik Smash: Sigh…
This movie is disappointing to say the least. I will say though that it does have it’s moments, but it’s just so infuriating because of how good it could have been. It takes one of the best X-Men comics – nay, one of the best COMIC BOOK story-lines of all time (The Dark Phoenix Saga!) and completely butchers it, with a convoluted script that should’ve been split into two or three movies, a shitty director whose claim to fame was a crappy horror movie called ‘Santa Claws’ and an endless stream of actors phoning it in.
I seriously want to live in the alternate universe where Bryan Singer ended up directing X3… well, at least he redeemed himself with ‘Days of Future Past’…
Comic Zombie: Holy shit sandwich, where to start?
If ever a superhero movie disappointed, it was X3. X2 had set up the Phoenix storyline very well at its end, and had really established a new generation of X-Men joining the team with Rogue, Iceman, and Nightcrawler. So they could have gone in any number of ways. I was hoping to see the new team in action at the start, with Cyclops either just not quite in the game or, even better, acting very angrily and aggressive with their opponents. Then somehow they get word of an event at Alkali Lake, and go investigate to find either Jean herself or clues that she’s alive.
If you wanted to have the whole “Magneto takes advantage of Jean’s power” angle, that would have been fine. Make the movie about Magneto trying to manipulate her and use her to do terrible things, while the X-Men desperately try to stop them and rescue their teammate. This would have allowed Magneto to stay relevant to the story, and would have provided some extra ammunition for the X-Men hating his guts, and would have led to some really cool action set pieces as the Brotherhood play cat and mouse with the X-Men until the big finale.
…Or, they could have by-passed the Phoenix altogether, and focused on the cure storyline. That’s interesting as hell, especially with the newly arrived Beast (Kelsey Grammar is the brightest spot of this movie, BY FAR) and, in this version at least, Nightcrawler and Rogue; all characters that would be easily believed if they chose to take the cure. The government could have even passed a law forcing the cure on mutants after some inciting incident at the beginning (maybe the Brotherhood assaulting a medical facility or something). Then you could keep the whole ‘feared and hated’ thing while really upping the ante and adding some real threats, as one shot from a soldier would take your powers away. And they still could have introduced AND fleshed out Angel, even with Beast added to the mix. Hell, they could have had a nice nod to old school fans with Cyclops, Iceman, Beast and Angel having to do something together, like fight or go on a mission or something.
OR they could have continued with the whole “X-Men vs Magneto” thing and had Mags build his power base to where the Brotherhood is larger and more powerful than the X-Men, who can’t seem to stop Magneto and his goons from doing horrible things. That would have been cool, and would have led to a lot of great action scenes.
But instead they gave us all of those things, and at the same time, NONE of those things. There are so many things they got just completely and totally wrong, and trying to cram all of these stories into one movie means that none of them get any of the time they need (just ask the makers of Green Lantern). So we get a story where Magneto builds an army of faceless goons with generic powers, Phoenix is just a stupid-ass weapon with no emotional attachment to the story (since they killed off Cyclops- OFF FUCKING CAMERA- the person who would have the biggest emotional arch with her), and the cure is introduced and used only to set up a big fight at the end.
Angel is introduced and immediately forgotten, Colossus is teased to have a bigger role, then immediately does nothing, Rogue disappears for most of the movie so Iceman can make kissy faces at Shadowcat (who is actually pretty cool, but we don’t really get to know her at all), Storm gives shitty advice in a terrible accent and very little else, and CYCLOPS IS KILLED OFF CAMERA. So, once again, it’s “Wolverine: The Movie (plus those stupid X-Men)”. Hell, even Pyro gets short changed after his solid role in X2. But, hey, at least we got a truly terrible Juggernaut from all of this.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention, CYCLOPS IS KILLED. BY JEAN GREY. OFF CAMERA! And nobody gives a fuck. Professor X is also killed, and a few people are sad for a minute or two. Like, wtf??? The heart and soul of the team is Xavier, Cyclops, and Phoenix, and by the end all three are dead, and it’s like “Ah, well. At least we got them horribly shitty looking prop headstones. Do you like my god awful wig?” Oh yeah, this movie is full of terrible wigs.
Fuck Brett Ratner. Fuck this movie. It’s such a shit show that after Matthew Vaughn (the original director for this after Singer left, and he wanted to make it about the Phoenix, with part 4 being Dark Phoenix) made First Class, Singer came back JUST TO UNDO THIS MESS. So yeah, this movie sucks.
ES: X-Men: The Last Stand is certainly a low point in the franchise, but to be fair, this was before Iron Man launched the MCU, back in those days we just had the Superman movies (which were mostly awful), the first few Batman movies (half of which were complete garbage), and 2 decent Spider-man movies, plus a lot of barely worth mentioning crap-fests in between. So at the time, I was just thankful to be getting a superhero movie.
I think the reason it was so disappointing at the time though was the way it ended a really promising trilogy. The first two were at one point among my favorite movies so I was really excited for the pay off. Suffice it to say, the movie did not deliver. However, now that we do have more X-Men movies and this entire movie has been retconned into oblivion, it’s a lot easier to accept this movie as part of a divergent dark timeline: the shit timeline if you will.
Comic Zombie really laid it all out, so here’s some things I actually liked about this movie:
- Beast was absolutely awesome and I also loved how they established him as an alumni
- The opening titles and theme music were actually really good (the scenes preceding and following it, not as much)
- The moment where Colossus pulls a fast-ball special and throws Wolverine at the Danger Room Sentinel was a good nod to the comics (I wanted to see more of that)
- Even though it could’ve been done better, ‘The Cure’ storyline was an interesting one
- The movie plays up the whole Professor X / Magneto = MLK / Malcolm X thing
- The title is clever, considering the last battle takes place on Alcatraz Island, where (in the real world) over 400 Native Americans staged a protest
- The fact that the Brotherhood consists of more than two characters
- The scene where Mystique turns human and Magneto turns his back on her
- Kitty Pryde!
- Storm’s look
- The Iceman vs Pyro fight
- And (I know I’m in the minority on this one but…) the scenes between Logan and Jean, including that tragic climactic battle were my favorite parts of the movie by far
Now none of that excuses killing off three beloved characters and de-powering several more, shoehorning in a dozen half-assed cameos, completely ignoring character arcs that were crucial to the last two films (Bobby / Rogue, Scott / Jean, Nightcrawler, etc) and screwing up one of the best X-Men comics of all time.
This movie IS really, really bad, BUT it’s not quite as awful as the next one on our list…
Up Next: Origins, The Wolverine and Deadpool!