Monday, May 30, 2016

Cary's Comics Craze ranks the 'X-Men' movies (Part 1: Nos. 9-5)

Now that "X-Men: Apocalypse" is in theaters, the question may arise as to how to rank all nine films in the franchise.

Wait — nine "X-Men" movies, you may ask? Aren't there just the six ensemble flicks? True. But how can you forget the two "Wolverine" films and the loosely related "Deadpool"?

So here we go, ranking every one from No. 9 down to numero uno. Look for hyperlinks for my original reviews of each movie. Here's Part 1: Nos. 9 through 5 …

9) "X-Men: Apocalypse" (2016): When the main villain isn't viable — whether it's Apocalypse's murky, hellbent-on-destruction motive or equally unclear and vaguely omnipotent powers, it's hard to buy into the concept/storyline.

James McAvoy's Professor Charles Xavier once again is extremely likable and compassionate and his "old friend," Magneto (Michael Fassbender), is as complex as ever. But the heart of "X-Men: Days of Future Past," Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique, doesn't deliver the same "oomph" here, which hurts the poorly paced film. The finale is almost as hokey as the opening sequence, although fans of the X-Men comic books will appreciate seeing the group finally realize the only way to defeat the big baddie is through teamwork.

"Apocalypse" attempts to go big, but goes too grand and dumb and accomplishes little. Grade: C

8) "The Wolverine" (2013): While it's loosely based on Chris Claremont's brilliant, 1982 limited series that remains enjoyable with each reading, the cinematic version doesn't deliver the same intensity, much less the same appeal. (Claremont talks about WOLVERINE in this feature about his Q&A session during the 2014 Great Lakes Comic Con.)

Hugh Jackman and his female lead are a plausible couple. On the other hand, not all the Japanese underworld plot points ring true.

The action sequences, while well choreographed, feel too clean and lack the visceral nature of Marvel Comics' most infamous scrapper. The less said about the final battle, the better. Grade: C+

7) "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006): By now the original trilogy clearly focuses on the Wolverine-Jean Grey soap opera, leaving the intriguing subplot of the struggles of Anna Paquin's Rogue powers as a side note— even though "The Last Stand" is about a controversial "cure" for mutants.

Killing off Scott Summers/Cyclops (James Marsden, whose talents and character are disturbingly underused in this series) after only a cameo undercuts a potentially powerful love triangle. His death also eliminates the tension we might have seen between Summers and Wolverine involving a tough decision on how to take down/defeat the out-of-control Grey.
What is she thinking?! Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) dares Juggernaut to go after her in "X-Men: The Last Stand."
Ellen Page's Kitty Pryde, Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut and Kelsey Grammer's Beast seem to be the only people having fun in their refreshing, break-out performances. Imagine the story possibilities if director Bryan Singer remained on board and kept Summers/Cyclops and Xavier (a perpetually noble Patrick Stewart) alive. Grade: B- 

6) "X-Men: First Class" (2011): This is the first of the "X-Men" period pieces (the early 1960s Cuban missile crisis) — and yet another installment which muddies the continuity.

"First Class" is as much an origin story as the first "Wolverine" film, giving us the stories behind: How Xavier (a surprisingly convincing MacAvoy) and the charismatic Fassbender's Erik Lesherr/Magneto met, how Xaxier got that ultra-suave mansion, Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult)'s creation of Cerebro and Blackbird, why Magneto wears his bucket-like helmet and most tragically, why Xavier can't use his legs.

There are a few pointless deaths of young X-Men, but there's a nice would-be romance between Lawrence's Mystique and McCoy's Beast, both of whom prefer to hide their mutations. Look for a delightful cameo of Wolverine telling off Xavier and Magneto.

Xavier and Mystique's complicated connection as brother and adopted sister and Xavier's philosophical struggle with Magneto over human-mutant relations make for a poignant story. Grade: B

5) "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009): Who knew such a mysterious man had such a heartbreaking and tragic back story? Or that a violent, four-time veteran could get sick of killing?

Unfortunately, trying to place "X-Men Origins" within the continuity of the franchise is problematic at best and unclear, confusing and frustrating at worst, given the cameos by a young Summers, Emma Frost and a cameo by a Stewart-aged Xavier who is bald and walking — not to mention the consequences of the closing minutes of "X-Men: Days of Future Past." It's best to discount their appearances, enjoy the many good parts of "X-Men Origins" and celebrate what it does well instead of overthinking where it fits in the "X-Men" film chronology (which it only partially does at the end of the day).

Jackman's unbelievable charisma again is in full power and this film proves he delivers his most intriguing Logan/Wolverine when he has other great characters as foils. Grade: B

I did two reviews of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" on the original CCC website since I struggled with getting my fanboy brain around the mostly enjoyable movie: 1) Sept. 17, 2009: "‘Origins’ Wolverine is different from ’80s Logan, but familiar" and 2) Aug. 29, 2009: "the rough draft DVD review." (Now, why I called it that is beyond me at this point!) 

On a related note, see why I say Wolverine's full origin, much like Darth Vader's, is a story best left untold. 

Come back to CCC for how I rank the last four "X-Men" films!

What did you think of this ranking? Let's talk shop in the comments section below. …

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