I'm taking a short break from reviewing movies this week to talk about the X-men movies. Why? Because since I started reading comics I've been thinking more about these movies. The more I think about them, the more I don't like them. I'm breaking this up into two different posts. For this post, I'll mostly ignore the comics and just talk about the movies themselves, in order of release. The second post will only compare them to the comics and will be nerd rage.
Before I start tearing them apart, let's focus on the positive.
It's easy to argue that the first X-men movie revived comic book movies back when it came out. To the average viewer, it wasn't all that bad. Hugh Jackman was great as Wolverine, Proffesor X and Magneto were perfectly cast, and the rest of the supporting cast was relatively strong, save for a few (I'll get to that later.) Another strong point for this movie is Wolverine's relationship with Rogue. In the comics, Wolverine often hangs out with teenage girls. He's not a pedophile; he acts more like a father to them, because being around teenage girls brings out his better side. He'd be a much more savage man if not for hanging around people like Jubilee and Shadowcat, and this movie does a good job at portraying that.
The second movie improved on the first in pretty much every way. It showed off a bit of Wolverine's savage side while showing his gradual shift towards becoming a better man. The cast was bigger, but never felt overcrowded. Every important character had enough screen time to give them a personality and their own motives. The story was epic as were some of the action sequences. Heck, the assault on the school was pure awesome. I still argue that X-Men 2 is the best X-Men movie yet.
X-Men 3, as problematic as it was, did a few things right too. The action was good...most of the time, and you really felt it when Wolverine was forced to kill Jean Grey. Also, Kelsey Grammar was awesome as Beast. I honestly can't think of anything else.
What was good about Wolverine: Origins? Well, um...it ended. X-Men First Class pretty much ignored it, that's a plus. Wait, that's a plus for First Class, not Origins.
As for First Class, the relationships between Xavier, Magneto, Mystique and Beast were pretty much perfect. Heck, Mystique was portrayed better in the movie than she ever was in the comics and that's certainly a plus. Magneto also felt more realistic in this movie than he usually does in the comics. First Class at least gets a pass because of how well Magneto was portrayed. The storyline also felt closer to home since it based itself on real historic events, and the movie had a much more serious tone than any of the previous X-men movies. If they can continue this while fixing the problems, things are looking up for the franchise.
Now for the part where I tear these movies apart in order of release.
X-men was somewhat low-budget, so some of this can be forgiven. The special effects were weak as was the soundtrack. Again, that can be forgiven due to the low budget. That said, some of the dialogue is downright atrocious.
"Do you know what happens to a toad when it is struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else."
Seriously, what is that crap? Jean Grey and Storm are also vastly underpowered in the movie as well. Jean's telekinetic powers barely do anything, even though she's supposed to be one of the most powerful mutants on earth. All storm really does is summon fog and strike Toad with lightning. Overall though, the movie wasn't all that bad. Most of its problems laid in its budget and scripting.
X-men 2 has the least problems of all the movies if you ignore the comics. The special effects, while better, were still pretty bad.
(This girl was responsible for the best fight in the series so far)
The real problems come with Jean Grey though. First of all, why did she sacrifice herself needlessly at the end? She could just have easily stopped the water and raised the jet from the inside. Worse yet, while she's able to stop that much water, stopping one missile wears her completely out...how? And yet in a deleted scene, Wolverine says "that was some display of power" to Jean Grey after disabling one missile, even though Storm summoned up 100 tornadoes in the exact same scene. That's what I would call a display of power, not telekinetically disabling one out of two missiles.
Other than that, I really can't think of any problems with X-Men 2.
(Wolverine going berserk in X2 for the win)
X-Men 3 on the other hand...oh boy. The most evident problem is that the movie is simply overcrowded. There are far too many characters, especially for a 90 minute film. You have nearly everyone from the previous movies, plus at least five new X-men and 5 new villains. Let's break this down.
For the X-Men, the first movie introduced (in order) Rogue, Jean Grey, Xavier, Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm. Iceman and Pyro had very minor rolls, and anyone else just had cameos. For the villains, you just had Magneto, Mystique, Sabertooth, and Toad. Magneto and Mystique was the only ones really focused on, the others were just minions. That's easy enough, keeps thing simple. X-Men 2 expanded on all the X-men characters and didn't add anyone new besides Nightcrawler. Magneto and Mystique join the X-men, and the only real villain was Stryker. Sure it's a larger cast, but with 150 minutes enough time was spent on everyone.
(How do you balance this many characters in a 90-minute movie)
In X-Men 3, they added Beast, Shadowcat, Angel and Colossus to the main X-men team. I don't think Colossus even got any lines, and Shadowcat exists only to make Rogue Jealous. Angel barely does anything besides escape his father and save his life later - he gets less than two minutes of screen time for frick sake. Cyclops is killed off 5 minutes in. The actor apparently wanted to bail, but they could have easily hired someone else (better) instead. Xavier is killed off before the half-way point too. Rogue gets cured (more on that later.) The only characters that get any real focus in this movie are Wolverine, Storm, and Jean Grey. As for the villains, holy crap!
(This is the guy's only real, and he's one of the main villains?)
Magneto and Mystique have added Pyro to their little gang. They gather a bunch of other angry mutants to their cause. So who do we have? Callisto, a speedster who can sense mutant powers (vastly different from the Comic version, but I'll get to that next time.) Juggernaut, Multiple Man, Some guy with quills so that he can hug them to death - seriously? All of these characters are named and given speaking roles, but none of them have any kind of character development. Heck, Pyro seems one-dimensioned here, and he was a complete character in the previous movie. Mystique is disposed of fairly early on, and Magneto's plan simply doesn't make any sense.
(How do you balance this many villains in the same 90-minute movie?)
What's Magneto's plan? Well, he's going to attack the island where a cure is being made. What's the cure? It cures mutants and makes them like normal humans. Why does he want to attack the island? Because he thinks the cure will be forced on all mutants. How does he attack it? By lifting the Golden Gate Bridge and dropping it by the island. Why he doesn't just crush the building with the bridge? No fricken idea. Also, how exactly will this end your problems? If anything, they'll analyze the cure they already have and figure out another way to produce it.
Beyond this, you've got the side plot of Jean Grey losing control and becoming the "phoenix." I'm quoting phoenix because it has absolutely nothing to do with the phoenix in the comics, but I'll get to that next time. What we have here is two major plot-lines constantly colliding and overcrowding an already overcrowded movie. That's X-men 3's main problem - stuffing way too much into one movie and failing to deliver on anything. The only characters given any kind of justice are Wolverine and Storm. After Xavier dies, Storm becomes the leader of the X-men and Wolverine finally decides to join them permanently.
Bad dialogue also makes a return here, with the painful "I'm the juggernaut, b!**#" that references a stupid internet meme that died several years before this movie released.
The worst part though, was the lost potential. There was so much potential behind the phoenix story. Heck, the Dark Phoenix Saga is still often considered the greatest X-men stories ever, and the cure was another famous storyline. This should have been two separate movies, and it should have been at least 30 minutes longer than it was.
Wolverine Origins time, and where do I start?
Might as well start with Wolverine himself. In the first X-men movie, Wolverine was a monster slowly learning to tame himself. Through the trilogy, he calmed down and related to others better. For some reason, they continued in that direction even though this movie should have shown how he became a savage beast. He's calmer here than he was at the end of X-Men 3, save for one scene at the end where he goes "berserk". Heck, we even see Wolverine crying in the rain; he hasn't just lost his savagery - he's a complete wimp.
(Liev Schreiber Is a fine actor, but he's no Sabertooth)
This movie's inconsistent with other X-men movies. For example in the previous movies, Cyclops's eye beams were concussive, yet for some reason they're heat-based in this movie and vaporize things. Why? In X-Men 2, Wolverine was knocked out by a bullet to the head, yet here, he just shrugs any headshots off as if fly landed on his hand.
The special effects are awful, from Emma Frost's lazily designed diamond form, to Wolverine's incredibly fake looking claws, to horrible green screen explosions.
(These look more like adamantium claws than the fake CGI claws in this movie)
Many things don't even make any sense. Wolverine cuts down an escape ladder from a building by cutting the ladder. That wouldn't do anything considering the platform would be bolted to the building. In another scene, Wolverine is shot in the head by a bullet made of the same metal in his skeleton. The bullet somehow breaks through Wolverine's skull. Really? The bullet might dent the metal, but it wouldn't travel through. It'd be like banging two rocks together.
Really though, the worst part of the movie is not only that nobody get any kind of character development, but everyone is completely different than their comic book versions. I'll have to get into that next time, but to sum it up, nobody is in character - in fact some characters are downright betrayed in this film.
(This is Gambit in name only. I'd rather call him Card Boy. For a better Gambit, read the current X-23 ongoing series. Seriously, X-23's series has the best written Gambit in over a decade.)
With X-men First Class, I really only have a couple complaints. They're all big complaints, but they're still few.
First of all, the movie feels kind of racist. The X-Men franchise was originally meant as a parallel to racism. The Mutants were to represent black people in the sense that they were a repressed minority. In X-Men First Class, there are two black characters: Darwin, and Angel Salvador. What happens to these two characters? One is killed off in a way that breaks the movie's own rules, and the other betrays her friends and joins the bad guys for no apparent reason.
(Emma Frost seemed to disappear in the second half of the movie. Why wasn't she able to escape?)
Darwin's powers are to evolve to survive. For example, you try to hit him with heavy blunt force and he'll morph tougher skin to shrug it off. If he's underwater, he develops gills to breath. If falling, his bones soften and he elasticizes to cushion his fall. How does he die in this movie? Sebastian Shaw Shoves a bunch of energy down his throat and he kind of explodes. He should have developed a way to either dispose of that energy or temporarily transformed into energy himself. In the comics, he would have easily survived that, and he should have survived the movie as well. His ability is purely instinctive and he doesn't consciously control it. Instead, he joins the stereotype of the black man always dying first - a cliché that really needs to die.
Secondly, while the movie did an excellent job with Xavier, Magneto, Mystique, and Beast, every other character seemed flat and wasted. All their development amounted to a five minute training montage and a "party" scene. The villains had it even worse off, as Sebastian Shaw and Emma Frost were the only villains that even had dialogue.
The part that made the least sense of all is that Emma Frost didn't escape. She was captured by the CIA at one point in the movie and didn't even attempt to escape. Simply put, she's a very powerful telepath with a Diamond form that can cleanly cut through glass and protect her from any kind of harm the CIA can deal her. She can telepathically command a high-ranking officer to order her release, possess someone with a key to her cell, or simply just shut down everyone in the building and walk out. There is nothing the CIA could have done to stop her from escaping and she doesn't even try.
Besides that, I don't have too many complaints about X-Men First Class (if I ignore the comics.) These complaints are fairly minor, save for Darwin being pointlessly killed off. My nerdy post will likely be more long-winded and angry, but for now I'll just rank the movies as movies.
X-men 2 is easily the best, X-Men First class is the second best followed by the first movie. X-Men 3 is barely tolerable, and Wolverine: Origins is simply bad.