It might seem hard to believe but on Friday, May 23rd, Hugh Jackman is suiting up for the 7th time as Wolverine. Yes, the ‘X-Men’ franchise is back on the big screen in the ambitious “X-Men: Days of Future Past” which aims to bring together the past and present of the series by taking the recent franchise reboot with younger stars, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, and marrying it to the previous franchise, starring Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, via time travel.
Yes, this premise sounds pretty goofy; at the very least outlandish. With that said, the trailers and marketing for ‘Days of Future Past,’ have been quite impressive in both drama and action. With that in mind it’s as good a time as any to look back on what got us here. Here are the ‘X-Men’ movies, bottom to top, ranked by quality.
6. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine
The failure of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” can be pegged to many things but for me it was the placement of the colon in the title. Where exactly does the colon go? After ‘X-Men’ or after ‘Origins? Or after each? I realize this debate has little to do with the film itself and indeed the posters and marketing materials for the film do offer a definitive answer to this question but I found this debate in my mind over the colon in the title far more interesting than anything in the movie and that for me makes it a significant, even defining, failure.
5. “X-Men” 2000
The first of the ‘X-Men’ movies is a nice if somewhat overwrought introduction to the franchise. With half the movie tied up in introductions of the characters and their mutant talents, things tend to bog down. The film reveals a solid base of talent with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine as the standout, even as Halle Berry’s Storm seems to have the more powerful, and indeed useful talent.
4. “X-2: X-Men United”
Charting the top 5 ‘X-Men’ movies does play a little like an evolutionary chart, though the deviations from the chart are coming soon, “X2: X-Men” United did indeed improve on the original and provide just enough hope that the series could continue to improve. The action in ‘X2’ tops the original in both ambition and coherence and a more confident Hugh Jackman carries the burden of star even better than he did in the 2000 original.
3. X-Men: The Last Stand
The ‘X-Men’ comics have never shied away from politics even as they are thrilling in their adventure but it wasn’t until the third movie that filmmakers began embracing the mutant as political metaphor. “X-Men: The Last Stand” is thick with politics relating to homosexuality, equal rights, the politics of science including the sticky wicket of genetic research, and, of course, the ongoing debate over the length of Wolverine’s sideburns; the thorniest of all. It seems ludicrous to say state that Brett Ratner’s take on the ‘X’ universe is better than Bryan Singer’s first two outings but that is where this writer comes down. Ratner’s marriage of simple political metaphors and spectacular special effects works better than Singer’s more tenuous explorations of character with equally spectacular effects.
2. “The Wolverine”
Speaking of ludicrous, the idea that a filmmaker would want to or even get the chance at a do-over on the solo Wolverine franchise after the abysmal “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” seemed, well, ludicrous. However, thanks to the collective talent and passion of star Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold the ludicrous became a reality and “The Wolverine” became just the Wolverine movie people had been hoping for. While it lacks the lacks the social conscience of ‘X-Men: United,’ “The Wolverine” more than makes up for it with ninja battles and a star-turn by Jackman that is his most forceful take on the character yet. Less concerned about connecting emotionally with the rest of the cast, Wolverine is free to be the badass audiences have longed for and the payoff is pretty solid.
1. “X-Men: The First Class”
It does seem strange that the one ‘X-Men’ movie not featuring Jackman as Wolverine would be the best ‘X-Men’ movie but here we are. “X-Men: The First Class” takes us brilliantly back in time and resets the playing field of the ‘X-Men’ universe placing the action in historical context, The Bay of Pigs plays a big role in the finale, and clearing the decks for a sequel that looks truly epic. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender aren’t so much improvements on Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as they are logical and prettier to look at extensions of those characters that enrich all that came before.
The addition of Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, a role played previously by model Rebecca Romijn, is not merely an improvement, it’s an order of magnitude improvement that gives depth and pathos to a character that was mostly eye candy for mouth-breathers in the earlier films. Lawrence’s chemistry with Nicholas Hoult’s Beast, is worth it’s own movie and is yet but a very minor subplot of ‘First Class,’ a film that has the remarkable care to craft such a subplot without it becoming distracting.
The look and feel of ‘First Class’ is, fair to say, first class. Director Matthew Vaughn and his team do a tremendous job of giving the film the feeling and look of a 60’s crime thriller with just the right hint of muddy visuals mixed with proper dose of CGI enhancement. The period trappings of ‘First Class’ give it depth and character and enhances and enriches the experience of the film helping to seal it as the best of the ‘X-Men’ franchise.