Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Cary's Comics Craze ranks the 'X-Men' movies (Finale: Nos. 4-1)

Welcome to the finale of Cary's Comics Craze ranking and counting down the entire "X-Men" film franchise, which IMHO has to include the "Wolverine" films and the loosely related "Deadpool." (Go here for Part 1 — covering the movies I ranked from No. 9 to 5.)
When it comes to No. 4 through No. 1, you can't go wrong with whichever film you rank the best. The truth is these are the best of the best.

Like the "Captain America" trilogy," "The Avengers" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron" — easily the best of the Marvel Studios films, each of the following "X-Men" movies are great and succeed on their own right.

This is a neck-and-neck ranking. And I'm still not sure I chose appropriately! So it all comes down to tastes — and which film I've seen most recently …

4) "Deadpool" (2016): OK, it's definitely not an ensemble "X-Men" movie and granted, even Deadpool says "all these timelines are so confusing," but Colossus trying to convince the mouthy, mutant wildcard Wade Wilson to join Professor Charles Xavier's "boy band" is an ongoing schtick in this delightful and hilarious film.

With "Deadpool," I finally got a movie that gives me enough screen time for my second-favorite X-Man, Coloussus. He's the perfect foil/straight man to the foul-mouthed Deadpool, who could teach nasty sailors the art of cursing and being filthy.

In the unrelated "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (which is lampooned here), Ryan Reynolds' Wilson is OK, but plays a restrained Wilson in his team's mission to Nigeria. And that so-called Deadpool aka Weapon XI is downright weird in the finale. (What's with the sewed-mouth decision?!)

However, this 2016 solo act is the infamous motor-mouthed, "ethically flexible" Deadpool that fans know and love.

Reynolds, who nails the Merc with a Mouth, shines in this game-changing movie; you just can't help but like Wilson/Deadpool who plans revenge on the man who made his face look like … well, you know!

Ryan Reynolds played a different version of Wade Wilson/Deadpool
in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."
This fourth wall-breaking and irreverent film proves you can have fun in the X-Men's world without the heavy tone or guilt — and big budgets. As violent as it is, "Deadpool" indeed is more of a love story than a revenge story — sick and twisted, but a love story nonetheless. Grade: A 

3) "X-Men" (2000): This is a game-changer for a whole other reason.

Director Bryan Singer delivers a truly ensemble superhero film (contrary to what the naysayers at the time said was possible). The story rightly places Xavier's mutants in a world that fears and misunderstands them.

Hugh Jackman's Logan/Wolverine and Anna Paquin's Rogue are the driving characters that define the struggle with embracing who they are and what they can do. Jackman and Paquin's stand-out performances and the way their characters connect with each other are big reasons this film resonates with fans. The duo make it all pay off in the finale.

Logan's antagonistic relationship with Scott Summers (James Marsden) is a nice homage to the fact that Wolverine and Cyclops never exactly see, well, eye-to-eye in the comic books.

Singer firmly plants the seed that Logan has a thing for Summers' "girl," Jean Grey (a smoldering Famke Janssen, who like Marsden's Summers/Cyclops, is underused until "X2" and "The Last Stand.")

In writer Chris Claremont's masterful and unforgettable UNCANNY X-MEN run, Cyclops/Summers is a complex man, a tough, driven leader  and nothing less than an (at times) unapproachable pouter; the cinematic version definitely is the "d***" Logan calls him. In the "X-Men" film, Summers shows little of the leadership and confidence we see in the comics.

Needless to say, the comic-book version of Summers is a complicated, "internal" kind of guy, which is hard to depict onscreen (despite what charm Marsden has brought to his other roles and off-screen interviews). Why Grey is attracted to a man like that is beyond me …, but in terms of what works — and doesn't — in Hollywood, there's no doubt why Jackman, who is as charismatic as any actor I've seen in years, is the one person in the "X-Men" ensemble with the go-to "It Factor." All that being said, there's no doubt why the franchise has made Jackman a major star and Wolverine the focus of most of the films.

Offscreen pals Sir Patrick Stewart (Xavier) and Sir Ian McKellen (Magneto) bring nobility and gravitas their roles, making it completely believable these two older men once were friends who are now at odds.

Singer's "X-Men" quietly heralded the modern age of the superhero film and foreshadowed Marvel's dominance in the genre. Grade: A-

2) "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014): Although more than a bit bleak at times, Singer's long-awaited return to the mutant world has more than its share of fun.

It's a blast seeing what's left of the "X-Men: First Class" cast onscreen with the originals.

With a bit of fudging and rationalizing, fans can be slightly more clear with the franchise's continuity, thanks to Mystique's intervention impersonating Col. William Stryker in the closing seconds. (But I've also realized -- finally! -- is it might be best to enjoy each of the trilogies and "Wolverine" films on their own and consider the loose connections to the other movies as nothing less -- and nothing more -- than homages.)

Logan is the unexpected bridge to the past, but Wolverine is as pivotal to the mutants' future and fate as Fassbender's charismatic Magneto and Jennifer Lawrence's conflicted yet driven Mystique, who is the driving force of this time-jumping story that forces you to pay close attention.

While not as action-packed as "Deadpool" or "X2" — and even parts of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," this enjoyable film deftly balances the suspenseful, will-they-get-it-done moments with humor, drama and what is most often missing from this franchise: Fun. Grade: A 

1) "X2" (2003): Singer does what any great sequel does in the opening moments — he dives straight into the action.

And X-Men fans quickly wonder why Nightcrawler (an outstanding and spot-on Alan Cumming, who sadly declined to ever reprise the role) is "bamf"-ing throughout the White House. The story places Col. William Stryker firmly in the role of the nasty bad guy who believes he's doing the right thing -- even if that means experimenting on, controlling and trying to mass-murder mutants.

Originally known with the subtitle "X-Men United," the sequel ups the ante on characters' emotions, complicates their stories and features better and more interesting fight scenes (especially the one between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike) than the first "X-Men" film.

Consistent with the rest of this trilogy and "Days of Future Past," Magneto and Mystique play both sides from the middle. Their mysterious motives remain their own, yet fittingly, just as it seems Magneto seems redeemable and plays nice with others, his bloodlust overtakes him.

"X2" also goes further with society's misunderstanding of mutants.

Bobby Drake/Iceman's family epitomizes this mistrust and confusion; his mother and brother treat Drake's decision to reveal his gift and skills to them as nothing less than distasteful -- much like narrow-minded "homophobes" who learn a person has decided to embrace his or her homosexuality. This is especially telling as Singer is a gay man. Given the director's delicate handling of the topic, the ultimate message of all the "X-Men" films is one of tolerance, if not acceptance.

Coincidentally I watched "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" earlier in the same day I rewatched "X2," the first time I had done so in years. I pleasantly discovered how well the two films fit together when it comes to Wolverine's past and his history with Stryker.

Seen through the lens of "First Class," there are a few allusions to the psuedo "X-Men" prequel -- even if the "First Class" writers used a line or so from "X2" (Magneto: "Have you come to rescue me again, Charles?") to make those storyline connections. Also, in "X-Men: Apocalypse," Singer takes his idea of using Cerebro to kill all of one population (the mutants via Stryker and then humans via Magneto) one step further by having Apocalypse link with Xavier to create worldwide havoc and nuclear armageddon.

In the end, 'X2" suits the needs of action fans, X-Men comic-book diehards with eagle eyes who will spot Jubilee, Kitty Pryde and a few other mutants and movie critics like me, who are pleased to see Jean Grey, Storm and Iceman have more to do. Even years later, this sequel has a lot to offer and ages well. Grade: A

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