FOX’s X-Men Cinematic Universe spanned 11 films starting from 2000’s X-Men and 2018’s Deadpool 2.
While most of the films had Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine/Logan anchoring them, it will be interesting what will happen if the FOX-Disney deal completes to how Marvel Studios will integrate the X-Men and Fantastic Four.
Without further ado, here are my rankings for the X-Men films.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Jackman’s first solo outing as the title character is insanely underwhelming. I understood recasting Victor Creed/Sabretooth from Tyler Mane, who played the character in X-Men, for a more polished actor in Liev Schreiber; it seems some of the menacing physical features were lost in the process. We may never know if Mane could deliver the lines the way Schreiber in Origins given what little lines he was provided in X-Men.
In the film, Logan’s been pursuing a life of normalcy with a chip on his shoulder knowing there will be those after him for being different as a mutant with regenerative abilities and bone claws. Upon joining the Weapon-X program led by William Stryker (Danny Huston), Logan discovers the depths of depravity humanity will go through to exploit his kind.
While it feels like a bunch of mutant loose ends that didn’t make the cut for X-Men: The Last Stand, we’re finally introduced to some of the X-Men universe’s more recognizable faces with Remy LeBeau/Gambit (Taylor Kitch), Fred Dukes/The Blob (Devin Durand) and Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds).
Speaking of Reynolds, he would go on the take every opportunity to make fun of how his character was portrayed in Deadpool in a rare second chance the proved to be arguably the best gem of the X-Men cinematic universe.
While the sense of epicness wasn’t as urgent as in The Last Stand, it felt like it was a very poor attempt at recreating the tension of X-Men 2 between Stryker and Wolverine. While Huston did provide a respectable performance as the character, Bryan Cox did far better with quality material.
This felt like things were shoehorned in and the penultimate enemy was done just for shock value. It was basically a grotesque videogame boss fight.
This is the worst of the bunch not only because of the “Been there, done that” lack of inspiration, but also it was a squandered opportunity to really establish the character in a powerful way. Looking at the creative minds behind the film with director Gavin Hood, there really isn’t much you can say that he’s done that’s overtly positive. The only other project of note he’s directed was Ender’s Game and the reception was mixed at best. Writer Skip Woods, who had previous experience with Jackman with Swordfish, has turned two other videogame adaptations (big shocker there) with Hitman: Agent 47 and the announced Kane and Lynch. He also wrote the lackluster 2010 film adaptation of The A-Team.
The only person who really saw success to better things is David Benioff, who went on to create Game of Thrones.
Jackman and Schreiber were the bright spots in a really flawed film.
X-Men: The Last Stand
It was hard to determine, which was worse between The Last Stand and Origins. There are some things about the film that do give it the edge over Origins and I’m laying out the factors.
First, there was likely some expected drop-off considering the director of the first two X-Men films in Bryan Singer left to make Superman Returns, which turned out to be as equally unremarkable as The Last Stand. Brett Ratner took over directing duties, while writers Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn joined him. Penn was the lone holdover creatively from X2. Kinberg would go on to influence future films of the franchise.
While there was a rush and urgency to conclude the original trilogy in a grand fashion, it’s hard to really to do the Dark Phoenix saga justice since the universe takes place solely on earth whereas in the original comic book, it was more a galactic-scale. We see Jean Grey/Phoenix (Famke Janssen) almost doing a 180 from becoming the climactic hero of X2 to becoming an uninhibited threat to all life on the planet.
If that’s not contrived enough, you have Wolverine play up this non-existent tension and relationship since Jean never really let him in due to her marriage with Scott/Cyclops (James Marsden), but hey since it’s a suspension of disbelief, we’ll just interpret subtle flirting with a deeply passionate bond.
Oh and Magneto (Ian McKellan) somehow convinces Phoenix to join the mutant uprising to stop this “cure” humanity developed against their kind.
So we see a who’s who of auxiliary characters in X2 graduate to do a little more. I can forgive up to a certain point given how much of a build up X2 was. It had its memorable moments, but like another film of a popular trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, you just see it to get it over with. Also helps going for it that it’s the second highest grossing film of the franchise.
A film that can be best described as disappointing, 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse wasn’t as much a letdown as X3, but it sputtered as far as the momentum it was building up from a far superior predecessor in Days of Future Past.
It was the fourth go-around for director Bryan Singer of the franchise and attempted to shift leadership role from Wolverine, who made a brief cameo as Weapon-X, to Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). As a mutant, who always sided with her own kind, it was weird seeing the reluctant anti-hero shift roles as primary protagonist. Given Lawrence’s star status, the move does make sense from that perspective.
The story follows Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) as the first mutant who has the ability to enhance other mutants’ powers and enthrall them. As an immortal, he chooses four mutants to carry out his bidding. In this case, he picks Angel (Ben Hardy), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender).
It’s up to the X-Men, who are still learning to be a cohesive team, to stop Apocalypse’s plans for mass destruction. Joining Xavier (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Havoc (Lucas Till) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) are Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smith-McPee).
Apocalypse comes off as bland and cookie cutter as they come. It’s an excuse to explain why Xavier doesn’t have hair. We also see no growth with Fassbender’s Magneto as he’s predictably becomes seduced evil shifting his focus to help mutantkind exclusively to Apocalypse’s nefarious plan of indiscriminate destruction. As with X3, the film is loaded with characters, but lack quality exposition.
This sort of letdown makes you wonder if Singer directed X3 instead of Brett Ratner, if the result would have been the same. Only Simon Kinberg from Days of Future Past was retained to help write the story and screenplay along with Singer. Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris previously worked with Singer writing the disappointing Superman Returns, the film Singer left for in lieu of X3.
Director James Mangold made a great back to basics film for Logan/Wolverine that told an original story. In keeping of the theme of being a loner trying to escape his past, Logan returns to Japan to pay respects to a former soldier he saved as the US dropped one of two atomic bombs during World War II.
The film scaled everything back from number of mutants and allowed the main character to develop a kind of humanity you never really had a chance to experience before due to the bloated nature of the X-Men franchise. Everyone had powers to play around with and there was always something going on to distract the audience, not with The Wolverine.
One of the biggest aspects of the character was his ability to heal almost instantaneously, but Mangold would take this away for this film to see Logan actually struggle psychologically from the trauma of the events of The Last Stand to trying to uncover a conspiracy to give his life purpose again.
The other mutants aren’t overtly powerful as in the other films. Yukio (Rila Fukushima) has precognitive abilities and Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) is an expert in poisons and exhibits reptilian characteristics.
As predictable as the villain came to be, the film defined Jackman as Logan in such a way not seen since X-Men, despite what the box office says as the lowest grossing X-Men film. Credit goes to Mangold and writers Mark Bomback and Scott Frank.
Jackman knocked the performance out of the park as Wolverine, which given the character’s popularity in the comics was a pretty high bar. Of course, it helps having the supporting cast he did with the likes of veterans like Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Halle Berry as Oro Monroe/Storm.
It is a near-perfect origins story where everyone had a chance to shine given their time. Written by Singer, Tom DeSanto (his only writing credit) and David Hayter, the film help set precedence as a model to what team superhero films can be. It was ambitious for its time, but worked on all cylinders.
With Jackman and Stewart shine as driving forces of the story for the protagonists, McKellan and Rebecca Romijn deserve equal credit as the primary antagonists. Magneto and Mystique really aren’t what you define as typical antagonists as they’re reacting against the bigotry and fear humanity give them. Another key element which helped build Jackman’s Wolverine is his relationship with Rogue (Anna Paquin), which created a unique bond between recently lost souls trying to fit like the audience acclimates through the mutant world through their eyes.
Jackman’s Wolverine with his snark and everyman ways lives on the border between the two worlds. As much as he wants to live a normal life, he knows there will be those who will never accept him as he is. While Professor X/Charles Xavier believes in humanity’s capacity for good, the forces of mutant separatists and human bigots has been a persistent eternal struggle.
X-Men: First Class
What was once thought dead was revived with director Matthew Vaughn taking charge as the prequel to the films in 2011 when Charles Xavier/Professor X and Eric Lensharr/Magneto meet to form the first incarnation of the X-Men. We also see Xavier bond with the shapeshifter Raven, his childhood friend.
The story worked for a number of reasons. We see the primary protagonist’s struggle mastering their powers. We also see the trio grow together and understand their motivations as mutants struggling to co-exist with humanity. Along with Havoc, Beast, Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Angel (Zoe Kravitz) and Darwin (Edi Gathegi), the team is filled with youthful exuberance make this origins story superior to Singer’s 2000 X-Men. Sure technology has come a long way in 11 years, but better storytelling always surpasses improved CGI.
On the opposite side, you have Sebastian Shaw, played infernally by Kevin Bacon. Only Willem Dafoe and Tom Hiddleston comes to mind when comparing any other Marvel supervillan performance on film. He’s joined by Riptide (Alex Gonzalez), Azazel (Jason Flemyng), and Emma Frost (January Jones).
The cast mesh well together from heroes and villains alike. It’s a shame how many of these characters get thrown away with Days of Future Past.
The film is so fun, it even includes Hugh Jackman’s funniest line in the X-Men franchise despite it being a cameo.
Another reason why the film worked so well is the collaborative efforts of Singer and Sheldon Turner for the story and Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Vaughn, himself, to write the screenplay. Goldman and Vaughn would collaborate again to write Days of Future Past under Singer’s direction.
It is by far, the best of the original X-Men trilogy. While it was fun to see mutant versus mutant fighting throughout every film, we often don’t get to see something as just as Magneto’s greatest fears come true.
Humanity was more an ignorant bystander in the first film, but their fight against mutantkind was front and center led by Stryker (Cox), who’s arguably the best pure villain of the X-Men franchise. When I mean pure, there’s really no allusions to him being a misguided anti-hero. He wants to enslave mutants to be his soldiers and kill those who oppose them.
The relationship between Stryker and Logan appears to be a really dysfunctional father-son one that we’re often told and teased about Logan’s involvement with the Weapon-X program, but we never knew the depths of how the Wolverine carried missions for them.
The story is layered with the return of Singer, Penn and Hayter on the story, while Michael Doughterty and Dan Harris were brought in to help with the screenplay.
X-Men 2 fits as an act II to the franchise much like Empire did for Star Wars. It provided a definitive Wolverine-centric story which was teased from the first film. It set itself nicely tease what they could have done with Phoenix before Ratner and co. squandered it.
Jackman really owns up the leadership role and showed again why Fox made the correct choice for the role.
The film marks almost a complete redemption for Ryan Reynolds’ contemporary lackluster work. You can’t really define the 2016 film as a career revival, because he never went away. One thing it certainly did is provide Reynolds a perfect venue to be himself while poking fun at the superhero genre clichés and his ill-fated career decisions, especially his 2011 performance in DC’s Green Lantern.
Following Reynold’s role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, test footage directed by Tim Miller surfaced as a proposal to FOX, which ultimately became the opening sequence. Instead of just being unmasked and reimagined as a pasty-albino supermutant like he was in his first attempt, Reynolds was clad in Deadpool’s signature gear.
The “leaked” footage served as an impetus for the film. True to the raunchy and off-the-wall nature of the character, FOX allowed Miller and Reynolds autonomy to make the film R-rated with a February release.
Deadpool became the second highest grossing R-rated film with little competition to derail its success.
Reynold’s fourth wall jokes making random references to past X-Men films and consistent story more than made up the budget constraints the film had, which was alluded to by the character when he said, “It’s like the studio can only afford two X-Men.”
All the supporting cast from Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Stefan Kapicic, Gina Carano, Leslie Uggams and Brianna Hildebrand complement Reynold’s most signature performance since Van Wilder. Skrein is as intense as he is serious as Ajax, an ideal contrast to Reynolds’ Wade Wilson/Deadpool. Ajax even has a fourth wall moment himself when there’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to sewing Wilson’s mouth shut, which happened in X-Men: Origins.
Despite all its humor, it doesn’t get carried away as films like these can easily do especially given how grotesquely unfunny parodies gotten. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who also wrote the popular Zombieland, know when to evoke the proper emotions when needed to drive the story.
As a standalone film, it was surprising that they veered away from Deadpool’s origin as having his healing powers granted from a glorified hyperbaric chamber that triggers mutant abilities instead being given Wovlerine’s healing powers as in the comics.
While Deadpool 2 isn’t as groundbreaking as the original as far as breaking boundaries, it shows how much more layered a story can be with additional resources.
The film’s theme is family or to put it more eloquently, a sense of belonging. You get your build-up of new characters and an unexpected villain.
Replacing Tim Miller is David Leitch, who manages to further polish the film to give it more focus providing the balance it needs without the overwhelming the audience. The characters that needed to be focused on were and the characters that needed to stay in the background, did without any unnecessary exposition. It also helps Reese and Wernick returned to write the film with Reynolds.
The sequel’s additional budget and higher profile status as a franchise also lent to some surprise cameos, which help make it feel more connected to the X-Men universe itself. While the first film was overly humorous with just enough seriousness plot to drive the story, the sequel goes in a refreshingly different direction than the formulaic tired revenge plot.
The film has far more heart and Josh Brolin’s Cable is a welcome addition to the cast as a straight man to Reynolds’ antics. Zazie Beetz does a commendable job as Domino, but they could have given her more to do. Everyone who was retained from the original cast were given more to do, except for Morena Baccarin, who was really used more as a plot device than what her character was in the first film.
We do see Deadpool grow as a more fleshed out character while he explores the limits to his regenerative powers and comes to terms with his immortality and his humanity.
Special mention goes to Julian Dennison, who plays Firefist. While his performance isn’t as memorable as Dafne Keen in Logan, his presence is a reminder to the bleak reality since the first X-Men that mutants still face a world full of xenophobes among those who wish to exploit their abilities.
The post-credit scene also is worth mentioning, because it’s not just some throwaway scenes or some allusion to a sequel. Without revealing much about it, it does serve to remind the audience how you can’t take anything too seriously especially with a protagonist like Deadpool.
Jackman’s declared swan song for the character (for now) was a tour de force and back to basics story of Logan’s persistent struggle to live in the real world suffering so much loss as a retelling of Old Man Logan.
As the third and final solo film, it also serves as his finest outing in the role unless FOX and Marvel reach an agreement for him to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The R-rating is nothing more gratuitous than previous outings rather it’s a creative change to serve the grit of the character.
When it was announced it was R-rated, I was afraid it wouldn’t be for the right reasons. I want whatever reason it had to be served the purpose it benefitting the film. What we have here is a tour de force of grit between two grumpy old men with Logan and Xavier. Both showing how broken down their bodies and minds are given the unavoidable bleak future mutants seem to suffer in all known timelines.
It wasn’t shock for shock’s sake, but the bitterness really came through naturally and the chemistry showed a dynamic that was really refreshing, I never thought Jackman and Stewart’s chemistry has ever worked as much it has at any other point of the franchise.
A certain plot point in Origins about a crop of young mutants was recycled for Logan, but unlike the shoehorned cameos, the children actually have substance in the characters. It felt like Mangold and Jackman wanted to make it up to fans for Origins.
Mangold brought back Scott Frank from The Wolverine to write. Michael Green was also brought onboard to write and his previous experience writing DC TV and film definitely helped here. It’s almost as though Logan helped vindicate him for Green Lantern much like Deadpool did the same for actor Ryan Reynolds for Origins and Green Lantern.
As the superhero genre for acting achievements is iffy at best, Jackman certainly does deserve serious consideration. I have more confidence he’ll be nominated for a Golden Globe than an Oscar.
The supporting cast was on par with previous films and whether or not they decide to recast Laura/X-23 in the future all grown up, Dafne Keen really turned up a wonderful breakout performance. It would be a shame if she didn’t continue on in the universe as the successor as Wolverine. She delivers the youthful exuberance and ferocity not seen since Jackman’s debut as the character in 2000.
What differentiates Logan from the rest of the films is how vulnerable the character is. The theme that ultimately hits home is time always wins.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
What is considered the most complete film of the X-Men franchise combines the bulk of the original trilogy and First Class casts in a race against time where sentinels, adaptive robot soldiers, have murdered the bulk of humanity.
The byproduct of mutants and human ingenuity, sentinels deem both humans and mutants to be threats in a dystopian future where earth is mostly desolate wasteland. A band of the last remnants of mutantkind led by Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto attempt to repair the timeline to stop the sentinel program from ever being implemented.
Using Wolverine as a self-healing conduit, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) uses her phasing powers to psychologically teleport Wolverine to his younger self in the 1970s to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating the inventor of the sentinels Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).
Days of Future Past is arguably the best X-Men story in the comics. It acts as ultimate and proper closure for the original trilogy cast washes what stink was on The Last Stand. The film marks Singer’s directing return to the franchise and almost pick up where he’s left off. Singer brought back Kinberg and Jane Goldman, who helped write First Class.
The strength of the film lies in the balance and depth of the characters. There’s a deep appreciation in the chemistry between the casts of the two timelines. As tragic as you see things become like Groundhog Day for the future timeline, you also get to build off of the existing First Class cast with Lawrence, James McAvoy as the younger Xavier, Michael Fassbender as the younger Magneto, and Nicholas Hoult as Beast.
It provides a happier ending and an official passing of the torch of sorts. It’s the most definitive of X-Men films.