logan j. fowler looks back at all the X-Men movies in honor of X-Men: First Class’ release this Friday …
It is hard to believe that the X-Men movies started being released 11 years ago. I saw the first one when I was a junior in high school, and now X-Men: First Class comes four years after I attended my second college commencement, earning my my Master’s Degree. God, that previous statement makes me feel really old. Anyway, speaking of X-Men: First Class (which is being released this week), this edition of Link to the Past will revisit each of the films released prior to the upcoming prequel, which has been getting nothing less than stellar reviews. Let’s hope what the critics say are true, as the second half of the already existing franchise probably has Professor X himself want to question his own advanced form of human evolution and how bad it has gotten. But let’s take it from the top, shall we?
Before the movie market was being flooded with comic book films, X-Men came out in summer 2000 to much fanboy and fangirl delight. The story introduced major characters that we would see over the course of two more films as part of a trilogy, and was directed by Bryan Singer, who helmed the crime drama The Usual Suspects. The mutant population is becoming a major problem for politicians, who believe that a mutant registration act must be passed. The idea is spearheaded by Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison), who believes that the world should know what the mutants can do, power wise. Following that, we meet two “captains” of sorts who are on either side of the mutant issue. One is Charles Xavier (no brainer casting in Patrick Stewart), who believes that mutants and people can co-exist peacefully, while Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellan) thinks that mutants are more superior to people and that the human race should not exist. Eric’s power is that he can bend and form metal, while Charles can read minds and control their way of thinking. The two former friends respect each other, but their difference in thinking set the stage for the first movie.
Xavier runs a school in New York for “gifted students,” which is actually an institution for mutants who are taught how to harness their powers. Doctor Jean Grey (Famke Jannesen) has powers similar to Xavier, and she can also life objects with her mind. Teacher Scott Summers/Cyclops (James Marsden) can shoot optic blasts from his eyes. Ororo Munroe/Storm (Halle Berry) has the ability to control the weather.
A young girl named Marie (Anna Paquin) is having a get together with a boy she likes. She ends up kissing him, causing the boy to seizure. She runs away and in her travels encounters a man named Logan (Hugh Jackman) in the Canadian mountains. Wolverine shows off his mutant power in a brawl between another man, where he showcases razor sharp claws. He is told to exit the bar and Rogue follows him, but Wolverine finds her in the trailer hitched to his car. He eventually lets her stay with him, but in due time the two are attacked by Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) , a towering bearded brute with sharp claws and some teeth to match. During the attack, Rogue witnesses Logan’s rapid healing power. Before things get worse, Cyclops and Storm show up to rescue the two, and they are brought back to New York where the both in time decide to stay in the mansion.
Magneto learns of this two new mutants and attempts to kidnap Rogue, planning to use her mutant ability on himself with the machine he created to artificially turn humans into mutants. He is successful in his kidnapping, and his plan goes into formation when the world’s leaders meet on Liberty Island, when Eric plans to use the machine and Rogue. Jean locates Rogue using Cerebro, Xavier’s machine that helps him find mutants wherever they are. The X-Men (Jean, Cyclops, Storm, and Wolverine) set out to rescue the young mutant. Magneto is defeated and by the end of the film put in a plastic prison.
When I first saw X-Men, I must admit I was a little underwhelmed. The dialogue is, at points, hokey (especially the whole “Do you know what happens to a toad when he gets struck by lightning?”line) and the action is sub-par, especially for a comic book film. However, X-Men, on repeated viewings, really begins to work as a exposition film, setting up its characters in the first act of a trilogy. I recently watched the movie on TV lately, and it has grown on me with time, especially after seeing X3: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But we’ll get to that later.
X2: X-Men United
Released in 2003, X2: X-Men United is by far the standout in the X-Men movie franchise. It is perfectly paced, has some kick ass action sequences, and completely surpasses its predecessor in every way, shape, and form. The movie starts off in the White House where a mysterious blue creature (Alan Cumming) is lurking. He is able to teleport, and begins to make his way to the president, roundhouse kicking secret service men in the process. He comes face to face with the nation’s leader, and pulls out a knife, attempting to stab the president. However, he is shot by a remaining secret service agent before he “BAMFS” out of sight.
The president later meets with Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox) and Senator Kelly, who meet to discuss reform of the mutant population. The colonel tells the president of the school Xavier has founded, discussing it underground jet, and that he is unsure what the school is used for primarily. He wants to give it a look over, and he is given permission to search the mansion by the president, with the warning: “We don’t need a body of a mutant kid on the six o’ clock news.”
We meet up with Wolverine again, who is still searching for answers of his origin, as his past is shrouded in mystery due to a one bout of amnesia. He travels back from Canada to New York, and it seems just in time, as the Xavier’s school is in need of a babysitter. Charles and Scott are off to visit Magneto, while Jean and Storm fly off to find the mutant we encountered at the beginning of the film. Stryker’s men invade the school while Wolverine is holding down the fort, and he goes into berserker mode (much to the audience’s delight), kicking ass and taking names. He meets up with Stryker finally, who has some knowledge of Logan’s past, but before he can learn more Bobby Drake/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) freezes the hallway shut and the mutants escape to Boston to meet up with Jean, Storm, and the newest mutant, Nightcrawler.
While Scott and Charles were visiting with Magneto, they are overtaken by Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), Styker’s sidekick. Stryker’s plan starts to form as he gets to layout of Cerebro. Stryker’s son, Jason, also a mutant, uses his power to infiltrate Charles’ thinking, and putting all these elements together, the colonel uses his fake Cerebro, his son, and Charles’ mind to kill off the entire mutant population.
But the X-Men are able to infiltrate the dam where Stryker has set up base and set things right, but not before the X-Men are put in danger. Jean uses her power which is hinted at throughout the whole film to save her gang, but ultimately sacrifice herself. X2, without a shadow of a doubt, is one of the best comic book movies ever made. The action is epic, the story is very well written (based off an actual X-Men story arc called “God Loves, Man Kills”), and we realize the true power of Charles and how, while he aims only to do good, in the wrong hands he can be supremely dangerous. It is also cool to see the mutants on both sides work together to save their own existence, only to see Magneto use the power of Charles for his own personal gain towards the end.
Singer definitely gave us a sequel that is comparable to Empire Strikes Back, with major revelations and a downer ending. Fans loved it, critics loved it, and it is perfectly balances spectacle and substance.
Unfortunately, the franchise goes on a downhill slope from there. Buckle your seatbelt, bub. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride!
X3: The Last Stand
Following the greatness that is X2: X-Men United, a lot of people had high hopes for the threequel. But the geeks started to get worried, as acclaimed director Bryan Singer moved off the project (he helmed Superman Returns in place of X3) and Rush Hour series director Brett Ratner moved in. Still, I personally held out hope, as I’m sure many other fans of the franchise did, but unfortunately lightning didn’t strike twice for Wolverine and company.
The film brings in a few new mutants, one who is seen cutting off his wings in the bathroom at the beginning of the film, trying to hide his newfound body parts from his dad. His father, Warren Worthington, works to create a mutant cure following the discovery of his son. The movie’s introduction also provides us information of how Xavier and Lehnsherr encountered Jean Grey in the first place, which ties into Grey’s “demise” at the end of X2.
Jean’s first real big moment on the screen is when she kisses Scott in a rendezvous, only to make him taste death following the intimate moment. Wolverine and Storm go to check out the scene, finding the X-Man they thought dead unconscious. Xavier tells of how Jean became the Phoenix and how he has had a hold on her powers, but when Jean awakens, he wants Logan to kill her. He does not comply, and she goes back to the home she was born in. Magneto heads there too, as well as Xavier, Storm, and Wolverine, but in the process Jean kills Charles and joins Eric’s brotherhood. Both sides of the mutant issue meet up, with a few new mutants in tow, one of them being Beast (a surprisingly awesome Kelsey Grammar), who ends Magneto’s reign as he injects him with the cure. The school continues on sans Xavier, although at the end of film it is hinted that Charles may have found a way back.
X-Men: The Last Stand is such a mess. Characters are killed off so quickly, X-Men are stripped of their powers left and right, characters are “introduced” but their screen time is limited (see: Colossus and Angel, the character previously mentioned whose younger self was “clipping his wings”) The danger room appears with a “hinted at” sentinel (aka WEAK), and the movie clearly does not have Singer’s flair or passion for the material, and while Grammar’s Beast is the highlight, a group of s & m clothed mutants, a viral video line spouted by Vinnie Jones’ Juggernaut, and a complete disregard for everything that makes X2 good really makes Grammar’s performance all the more sad in how well he does. Not to say that the actors don’t try to give it their all, they do, but the writing really does not do any favors to end the trilogy.
However, as bad as Last Stand was, it is nothing compared to the train wreck that was Wolverine’s origin story. A fastball special should have been used on the team that put that one together. Rounding out the four X-Men movies is …
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Throughout the aforementioned trilogy, Wolverine’s story has always been hinted at in flashbacks, or in dialogue. So in 2007, Logan’s story was finally told to general audiences, and the result was a horribly, sloppy mess.
In 1845, James Howlett (a very young Wolverine) see his father killed in front of him, and proceeds to end the life of his father’s murderer, who is named Thomas Logan. However, Thomas reveals that he is James’ real father, and James flees his home. Thomas’ son, Victor Creed, says the two must stick together, and they stand side by side fighting in wars. During their time in Vietnam, Creed (Live Schrieber) kills a senior officer after attempting to rape a local village woman, and while Wolverine is not proud of his brother’s actions, he stands by him, and the two are put before a firing squad which they both end up living through, and Major William Stryker approaches the two, asking them to join Team X, which is a team of mutants including Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds who, after finally reading comics featuring the hero, is a perfect choice for the character). The team’s stance on taking human life and not having any respect for moral values causes James to depart the team. Six years later Logan is living in Canada and Stryker meets up with him. He warns of Team X members being killed, but Logan doesn’t seek any further information. He later finds his girlfriend Kayla dead by Victor’s hand and the two duke it out. Stryker offers Logan a chance to be part of the Weapon X program, which will make his skeleton infused with the metal adamantium. During the procedure, Logan overhears Stryker saying to erase his memory, and he escapes the facility.
Wolverine meets up with former members of Team X to learn about Stryker’s new base, simply referred to as “The Island.” He is told to find Remy LeBeau/Gambit(Taylor Kitsch) who knows where Stryker’s laboratory is located. The two battle it out as LeBeau doesn’t trust him, and Creed, on the hunt for Logan, finds him. Remy continues to attack Wolverine and Creed escapes, but eventually Logan convinces Gambit that he is only looking for Stryker’s location and the two set out for it.
Logan enters the base alone is surprised to find Kayla, who made a deal with Stryker in order for her sister to be safe. When Victor asks to undergo the procedure that his brother did, Stryker said he would not be survive it. Kayla persuades Victor that Stryker wronged both of them, and when Victor goes to kill her, Logan returns, removing Victor from the situation only temporarily. The two stand side by side one more time when Stryker unleashes a new and improved Wade Wilson, who sets out to fight both of the brothers. Deadpool is defeated and Victor departs the scene, and Gambit comes to rescue Wolverine. As Wolverine makes his exit, he is shot by a silver bullet to the skull, rendering his memory a clean slate. He walks off, searching for answers, and the film ends.
Whew, just typing that all out gives me a headache. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is silly, has horrible CGI, characters that are introduced and then gone within seconds (Deadpool and Gambit, two much loved comic book heroes, have throwaway roles, fan service be damned) and the movie is such a rip off of Watchmen. “Former team member is hearing that members of said team are being assassinated, where have I heard of this before?” Wolverine runs naked through a field, mutants pop up that don’t even belong (Cyclops? WTF?) and the movie just … well, it makes X-Men 3 look like an Oscar award winner. It’s a shoddy mess, and I honestly walked out of the theater post viewing scratching my head, with more questions than answers. It’s a disappointment that should not have been, and while I was too full from X-Men movies when news of First Class came about, I must admit that this franchise needed a kick to the balls to get on the right course again. If First Class is as good as they say it is, then there is hope. And for fans of the X-Men, as I am, hope would be the best thing for this franchise, as two terrible follow ups to one good film and one great film have left made people more angry then Wolverine on a bad day. The only way the future of the X-Men can evolve is to bring it back to the past, so while I’m not trying to get my hopes up to high, First Class may have resurrected the franchise, much like a Phoenix rising from its ashes.