Thursday, April 06, 2017

The X-Men Films, Ranked Worst to Best

This afternoon I finished watching my way through my boxed set of the eight X-Men films (it didn't include "Deadpool" or, for obvious reasons, "Logan"). Having just finished that, and since it makes for a good topic for a post, here's my ordering of the films from worst to best:

#10: "X-Men Origins: Wolverine": I have a theory that the fourth film in any series always sucks. It's not an absolute rule, but does seem to hold very well - "The Phantom Menace", "Lethal Weapon 4", "Superman 4", "Batman and Robin"... "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". That seems to be the point where a series really starts to lose steam, where the creative barrel has really run dry, and where it needs to find new direction. And this film doesn't find it. It does have some good moments, but there's a lot of wasted potential here. And a lot of it is just bad.

#9: "X-Men: The Last Stand": If the fourth film is where the creative barrel has run dry, the third film is often where is starts to run low - all the best ideas have been used, you've got the end of the story to tell but have, if you're lucky, built enormous expectations, and it's just hard. X-Men 3 had it particularly tough, following the exceptional X-Men 2, and also because the studio insisted on getting the film out before "Superman Returns". Couple that with the loss of the director, and that one of the key characters (Cyclops) was only available for little more than a cameo, and you have problems. A real shame, because the worst thing about this film is the glimpse of what might have been.

#8: "The Wolverine": I generally take the view that there are six 'good' films, two 'okay' films, and two 'bad' films. "The Wolverine", then, is the weaker of the two 'okay' films. I definitely like it more than the other two, and could sit down to watch it reasonably happily, but there are a few things that just don't work, mostly in the conclusion - one heel/face turn has no coherent build-up, and one of the fight scenes is extremely well-shot but makes no narrative sense. Plus, it features one of my cardinal sins in story-telling - where a character does something stupid for no other reason than that the plot requires it of him (in this case, Wolverine walks through a gauntlet of bad guys rather than either trying to fight his way through or, better, sneaking past).

#7: "X-Men: Apocalypse": The most recent film isn't bad, but it's over-long, and it suffers from basically just showing us lots of stuff we've seen before in other films, but mostly done better. By this point, we've seen Magneto do his thing, we've seen Logan hack his way through bad guys, etc etc. They really need to do something different next time out.

And so, on to the 'good' films.

#6: "Logan": In terms of being a good film, this should be higher on the list. However, "Logan" wasn't enjoyable - I could appreciate how well made it was, how excellent the performances were, and everything else about it, but I didn't enjoy it. Hence the relatively low rating.

#5: "X-Men: First Class": The first of the 'beginnings' trilogy, this film had a lot riding on it - after two poor films in succession, they needed a win. And "First Class" is that win - a reboot for the series that got it going again, introduced a new cast, and told a solid story. I like it. But I don't like it quite as much as...

#4: "X-Men": The first X-Men film has the big advantage of being the foundation on which all the rest are built, which means that much of the good stuff that follows is founded here. But the big thing that makes this film work is the gravitas provided by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, which helps anchor the philosophical underpinnings of the series in something solid - they elevate this from being just another superhero movie into something more.

#3: "Deadpool": Remember how I said that after "X-Men: Apocalypse" they really needed to do something different? Well, "Deadpool" (and "Logan") have the distinct advantage of being examples of 'different'. That doesn't mean that I think the next X-Men film should just copy those - there are lots of ways to do 'different' - but it does give this film room to breathe. And after years of very serious superhero films, with the world being saved dozens of time, and so on and so on, it's nice to have a breather, have a laugh, and just have some fun. So, yeah, I like this one.

#2: "X-Men: Days of Future Past": I don't have much to say about this one - it's just a great film.

#1: "X-Men 2": Likewise, I don't have much to say about this film. For a long time, this was my top superhero film, and although it has since been eclipsed (as I've mentioned before), I still count it as one of very few 'perfect' films (others being "The Empire Strikes Back", "Back to the Future", and "The Wrath of Khan"). Though 'perfect' is perhaps the wrong word - it's not that the film is without flaws, but rather that it's extremely hard to see how it could be improved, because any change you make would probably make it worse (even fixing a flaw, since that will probably take time, affecting the pacing).

And that's my list. Naturally, I don't expect anyone to agree with it, since where would be the fun in that, but I think I'll stick with it. At least until I go through the series again and change my mind, of course!

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