X-Men : Apocalypse took the team back to the 1980s and recasting fan favorites, Storm (Alexandra Ships), Nightcrawler (Jodi Smit-McPhee), Havoc (Lucas Till), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Jubilee (Lana Condor) as teenagers and introducing Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) as En Sarah Our, the original mutant, set on destroying the world. Director Bryan Singer started the franchise with this ambitious introduction into the world of Marvel’s X-Men comics.
With acclaimed thespians Patrick Stewart and Ian McAllen in the lead roles, X-Men established itself as an adaptation of depth and gravitas. Hugh Jackman launched himself into superstardom in his breakout role as Wolverine, the main star of the film beside Anna Paquin's Rogue.
But it worked beautifully, and landed in the top 3 highest ranked films of the X-Men franchise among IMDb users. Days of Future Past is the Goldilocks film that successfully found a way to combine both the original X-Men and new casts, acting as a sequel to both The Last Stand and First Class.
This is the third collaboration between Hugh Jackman and James Man gold, having previously worked together on Kate & Leopold (2001) and The Wolverine (2013). It’s been almost 20 years since the mutants created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby got their first big screen treatment, and since then there have been 10 more movies featuring various characters throughout X-Men canon.
However, unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not all of these films have been massive hits, at the box office or otherwise. And when you botch the biggest, most important story arc in franchise history, that’s a sin that cannot be forgiven.
After setting the tone with the first two movies, Bryan Singer decided that he’d rather direct Superman. Then Matthew Vaughn, who’d much later direct X-Men : First Class, had to drop out as his replacement because of family issues.
Instead, fans got Brett Rather, whose style and approach just didn’t work for this universe. The writers had to fight FOX executives on the script and ultimately diverged too far from the Phoenix Saga canon.
Pretty much the only non-terrible thing about the movie is Hugh Jackman, but even he has trouble selling some silliness this script calls dialogue. Days of Future Past erased this film from the official canon, and Deadpool 2 went one further, and it’s best to just continue pretending like it never existed at all.
And while Days of Future Past had a lot of characters, the fractured time periods served as a great way to focus the narrative. It wants to have the grounded reality of the first X-Men by showing Erik with a family and literally returning to the concentration camp where his parents were killed.
Evan Peters is actually kind of the best thing about this movie, as the Quicksilver sequence is once again downright thrilling, and the balance of comedy and drama with which he plays his search for his father is spot-on. There’s a lack of cohesion that prevents any sense of satisfaction from the story, and as the tone shifts wildly from deep emotional drama to disaster epic, nothing really sticks.
As a longtime fan of the X-Men franchise (for better and worse), it is a supreme bummer to discover that the series' likely final proper installment is as limp and mediocre as Dark Phoenix. There's an interesting angle in regard to Xavier's (James McEvoy) plot line and digging into the character's ego-centrism, but again the film isn't elegant enough to ever really pay it off satisfyingly.
Ironically, Dark Phoenix suffers many of the same issues that plagued The Last Stand, as the befuddling villain plot not only wastes Jessica Chastain's talent but detracts from the main story at hand while also managing to go absolutely nowhere. But after developing the picture for a few months, Vaughn departed to attend to personal matters, and Rather hopped into the driver’s seat of a fast-moving train.
Marie Beets is effortlessly winning as Domino, a character you're dying to see more of by the film's end, and Josh Brain brings a gravitas to Cable that serves as a vital foil to Deadpool's silliness. The film's emotional centerpiece is also admirable, grounding Wade Wilson's journey in his desire to be reunited with Vanessa while teaching him the value of Family with a capital F along the way.
And while in retrospect the scale of X-Men feels quaint, its impact is still felt to this day, and as a standalone film it actually holds up pretty well. X-Men’s greatest asset is Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, and it was a stroke of genius for the filmmakers to hinge the whole movie on this character whose entire lack of familiarity with the mutant world mimics the vast majority of audiences.
He’s our “in”, and Jackman plays it perfectly while also setting up a tremendous dynamic with Anna Paquin’s Rogue, the emotional center of the film. Rogue epitomizes the fear and self-loathing that comes with being categorized as “different” and/or “dangerous,” and the film doesn’t shy away from the real-world parallels of the marginalization of this particular group of individuals.
And the dynamic between Patrick Stewart and Ian McAllen as a parallel of the Martin Luther King Jr./Malcolm X relationship is yet another one of the unique touches that made this film such a landmark achievement in its day. While pretty much all involved would improve upon the foundation that was built with X-Men in future installments, it remains an effective and refreshingly (in hindsight) intimate superhero tale all the same.
Granted, Deadpool is leagues different from any X-Men film thus far, and the first to be R-rated, but director Tim Miller’s foul-mouthed adaptation struck a major chord with audiences. Ryan Reynolds was pretty much born to play this character, and he injects Wade Wilson with the humanity necessary to emotionally ground the film.
And while getting Vanessa back ultimately serves as the driving plot point of the film, the character reacts to Wilson’s selfish actions appropriately. But the juvenile nature of the humor tends to get a little monotonous, and the comedic dynamic between Deadpool and his blind roommate is one heavily relied-upon gag that simply doesn’t land.
Nevertheless, the movie works more often than it doesn’t, and the violent and humorously antiheroic nature of Wilson provides a delightful change of pace for the X-Men universe. It marked director Bryan Singer’s return to the series after departing following X2, and it finally melded together the old and new cast into one massive, All Star ensemble.
The future-set sequences are wonderfully dynamic, and showcase various new mutant powers with the added bonus of killing characters over and over again thanks to the introduction of time travel. And the scorched earth setting is a terrifically unique touch that brings new shades to X-Men lore, giving fans a glimpse into a more sci-fi-leaning X-Men movie.
But the bulk of the film takes place in the 70s, and that’s where it shines thanks once again to tremendous performances from Michael Fassbinder, Jennifer Lawrence, James McEvoy, and Nicholas Holt. McEvoy in particular gets the chance to stretch here as we’re introduced to a barely recognizable Charles Xavier, one riddled with guilt, shame, and exhaustion.
The film does start to drag a bit towards the end and Peter Linkage is wasted as Bolivar Track, and it’s not as visually arresting as its predecessor First Class. But for the most part Days of Future Past is a compelling and entertaining watch, with the slightly lengthier but more cohesive Rogue Cut actually turning out to be a smudge better than the theatrical version.
And that only makes his actions and motivations that much more empathetic, as Jackman turns in his (second) best X-Men performance to date as a lonely, wounded, and world-weary Wolverine. And while the film disappointingly devolves into a more traditional superhero movie in its third act, the majority of its runtime is devoted to revealing new shades of Jackman’s iconic character through dialogue and character interactions, with Riley Fukushima’s fellow mutant Audio in particular providing a fantastic companion to The Wolverine.
Brief but key appearances by Fame Janssen’s Jean Grey haunt the film and its hero, and indeed upon release The Wolverine in many ways felt like a culmination for the franchise given that Jackman’s character was our first introduction to the world of the X-Men. In a less ambitious filmmaker’s hands one can imagine the rote and opportunistic version of the Japan-set The Wolverine, which makes Man gold’s iteration of the film all the more impressive.
And yet, this is a strange instance of a follow-up film somewhat diminishing the merits of its predecessor, as you get the feeling watching Logan that you're seeing all the things Jackman and Man gold wanted to do with The Wolverine, but weren't allowed to attempt. This film's issues become a bit more glaring in hindsight, but still, The Wolverine laid the ground that made Logan possible, and it still remains top-tier X-Men material.
The filmmaking team proves adept at juggling even more mutants this time around without the film ever feeling overcrowded, and indeed Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Fame Janssen’s Jean Grey in particular get the most TLC, while Halle Berry actually gets a story arc this time around as she’s closely tied with Alan Cumming’s impressive turn as Nightcrawler. But what’s impressive about the sequel is that the film manages to continue this thread while also fleshing out the supporting characters around him, with Brian Cox’s William Stryker serving as the franchise’s best non-mutant villain ever.
Man gold hits upon a number of touchstones here, from Paper Moon to Shane, and while the simplicity of the story can give way to predictability, the performances and raw aesthetic keep this thing interesting. The mixed bag that precedes Logan franchise-wise is a bit of a hindrance, but Jackman and Man gold do their best to ignore the missteps and focus on telling a full, complete, satisfying, and most importantly honest concluding story arc for Wolverine.
By the time X-Men Origins: Wolverine rolled around, the particulars of the X-Men franchise were so muddled that it was not only tough to keep track of whose done what, but it was hard to care. So going back to the beginning via a prequel seemed like a solid enough idea in order to offer new shading to some of these iconic characters, but the masterstroke came in setting Matthew Vaughn to direct and co-write the picture with Jane Goldman.
Vaughn has a blast capturing the entire film with nods to classic 60s cinema, though he’s careful never to devolve into parody or kitsch. The formation of the team and origins of these central characters are joyful to behold, but beneath it all there’s an air of despair and tragedy, foreshadowing the schism to come.
Vaughn uses the large ensemble cast to acknowledge the varying ways people handle being different, and it concludes in an appropriately operatic finale that’s simultaneously triumphant and heartbreaking. It’s this confident handle of tone, phenomenal performances, and wildly entertaining story that make X-Men : First Class the best X-Men movie thus far.
He's the creator and author of Collider's “How the MCU Was Made” series and has interviewed Bill Harder about every single episode of Barry.