The X-Men Movies Are (and always have been) Three-Star Movies And You Guys Need To Let It Go

1 Feb


This has been a long time coming, I know. But I do this all by myself and I have a bunch of stuff to do and, well, cut me some slack.

Anyway, Twenty Thirteen (which is now long over) saw the release of The WolverineA James Mangold Film, starring Hugh Jackman.

And there now brews a lot of internet heat surrounding Bryan Singer’s proposed blockbuster for the season of Summer. Some magazine covers have come out that have pissed people off because they were photoshopped in a bad way and they look kind of corny; and this clearly indicates the movie promoted by those pictures – created by people who had nothing to do with the actual production of the film – will be bad. Oh, also something about how the costumes look terrible and, because of that, there’s no way the movie can be good.

Because movies are all about their costumes. Bad costumes = bad movies.

Case in point.

Case in point.

It’s a film called X-Men: Days Of Future Past ­– A Bryan Singer Film, starring Hugh Jackman, which will be a sequel to The Wolverine (as evidenced by that nice post credit tag, which was arguably the best part of the whole movie, no not really but whatever); but it will also be a sequel to the very celebrated Summer blockbuster from a couple of years ago – X-Men: First Class A Matthew Vaughn Film, featuring Hugh Jackman in a cameo, while ALSO serving as a sequel slash reboot slash spin-off for the already extensive series of popular X-Men films starring Hugh Jackman, which includes the critically reviled X-Men Origins: Wolverine – A Gavin Hood Film, starring Hugh Jackman, which was a prequel to the aforementioned The Wolverine.


For your eyes only...only for you.

For your eyes only…only for you.

All this is to say that X-Men fever is upon us once again. And maybe it would have been better to wait until Summer for this blog to really place everything into context. But, fuck it, I want to talk about this NOW and I can do that because I call the shots.

Actually, I would have preferred to talk about this about six or seven months ago, when I saw The Wolverine; but I couldn’t find time to squeeze this particular ramble in between my college and film work, and I had to prioritize all those other things because I don’t call the shots.

But anyway… I did watch The Wolverine when it came out last summer. And I did enjoy it. And, in preparation for watching it, I went back and revisited most of the X-Men saga (I skipped First Class because, as of now, it still falls outside of the immediate continuity…I think. Or maybe I was just lazy. In any case, it doesn’t matter.)

But, yeah, I watched all the X-Men movies. And you know what I discovered?

They’re really not that great.

Sure X-Men Origins: Wolverine tends to be universally singled out as an abomination. And I suppose it’s only fair to acknowledge that most fans like to say X-Men: The Last Stand is a horrible movie because of the mad, irrational hatred they have towards Brett Ratner.


Can we have a parenthesis here?


 I’m not saying Ratner is a brilliant filmmaker. But I have yet to see a movie directed by the man that I can say is, like, terrible. Like… Unforgiveably bad… Like Uwe Boll bad, you know?


Even if it’s arguable that Uwe Boll makes very watchable bad films, he really doesn’t. We just think they’re watchable because we’re masochists.

But the movies Brett Ratner has made are in no way horrible (and one of them is actually quite a bit better than its reputation). What they are…is competent. They are efficient programmers that have no soul. Just like about 70% of glossy Hollywood product. So, really, I don’t know what the big deal is and who cares about Brett Ratner.


But what I’m saying is it doesn’t matter because the entire X-Men film series is a real pile of meh to begin with, and not worthy of such scrutiny in the first place.

People like to hail X2, for instance, as some big paragon of what a comic book movie should be. But that movie has a lot of problems. They all do. They’re all kinda okay and that’s about it.


And that’s what I want to discuss today.

I loved X-Men when it came out.

Loved it.

Saw it three times in theaters back when people still did things like that. Back when tickets didn’t cost FOURTEEN FUCKING DOLLARS ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS? in the US, and American films would be released Subtitled and STAY FUCKING SUBTITLED for their entire period of release in Bolivia.

Back then, I used to be the film critic for a little weekly news magazine called Bolivian Times.

Well… Guess fucking what? I gave X-Men a FOUR-STAR review. It showed up on my top ten list for that year.

I had credibility… Had been a critic at that place since 1995. Eventually, my reviews were translated into Spanish and showed up on a daily newspaper called La Razón. In 1999, I wrote an article about The Top 25 Films of the Century or something like that… I don’t know. I don’t even understand how the fucking hell I even had the balls to do something like that, but my point is that list was fucking framed and displayed on a wall at one of the local video rental clubs (back when people still rented videos instead of buying DVDs off the street for the equivalent of a dollar).

I guess what I’m trying to say is if I said that “X-Men is one of the best films of the year! – Erik A. Didonna, BOLIVIAN TIMES” people listened.


And I remember…

I was impressed by its attention to character in a genre usually more concerned with set pieces. I liked how it functioned as an entertaining sci-fi adventure even if you didn’t know anything about the characters; and didn’t particularly care for comic books and superheroes. I felt that Bryan Singer had applied his gritty, indie-noir sensibilities from The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil to a slick Summer blockbuster, effectively elevating the material. I appreciated its lean pacing that set up an elaborate world, took the audience on an intense ride and left them “hungry for more” or “ready for the next adventure” or some other quote whore slice of hyperbolic shit I probably wrote back then.

So, yeah… Top Ten of the Year. American Psycho got the number one slot. This one was up there too, probably closer to number 7 or 8, but it was up there. It made the cut.

X-Men One

X-Men One

But when I watched it again a few months ago, I didn’t think it was one of the best films of 2000. In fact, I wouldn’t even consider it one of the best comic book movies.

The first glaring issue I had with it this time around is that it felt like a fucking TV show.

And I know that’s a strange thing to say in this age when TV is often better than the movies. When we have stuff like Breaking Bad or Orange Is The New Black to dig into, saying “it looks like TV” in detrimental fashion might seem odd or wrong.

But not all TV is like that.

Sure, we’ve got those shows; and all the other cable shows people like so much. But we also have stuff like Arrow, which – admittedly – I haven’t seen. But I can’t see how it would be all that much better, stylistically and tonally than – say – Smallville. And I’ve heard The Flash is coming back to a TV set near you; and I doubt it will be all that much more exciting or innovative than the 1990 season of television starring John Wesley Shipp. (And AMANDA PAYS, please let’s not forget Amanda Pays)

Never forget.

Never forget.

X-Men looks and feels kind of like the pilot episode to an exciting new, critically acclaimed superhero TV show now airing on the CW network. In fact, at 99 minutes of running time, all you have to do is splice some commercial breaks into the fucker and that’s EXACTLY what it will feel like. Go ahead. Do that. Make a little fan edit of the thing… Use iMovie or whatever to insert the CW or FOX watermark onto the image, add some fades and commercials (be sure to include one for microwave pizza, as well as one for sneakers) and you’ll see what I mean.

It takes an hour to introduce all the main characters and set up their world. Including setting up a potentially juicy “will they or won’t they?” romantic tension subplot between Wolverine and Jean Gray – to carry you throughout the season, right? Right up until that cliffhanger where she’s stuck in a tornado and Wolverine has to decide if he’s going to blow his cover and rescue her…

Anyway, the first hour of the movie is all setup. Setup and a thoroughly uninvolving subplot about an asshole senator (“Special Guest Star BRUCE DAVISON”). There is a climactic action sequence at a train station (which will probably be the breaking point when the movie-length pilot is split into two episodes for syndication on the USA Network) and then, the final 40-odd minutes of the film concern Magneto’s cockamamie plot to mutate all of the world’s politicians or something, using a device affixed to the Statue of Liberty… It’s pretty lame, man. Pretty bad.


Moving right along…

X2 is frequently hailed as a great film. Superior in every way to the first and just about one of the all time classic comic book movies. Part of that is valid. It is superior to the first film in the sense it’s legitimately cinematic. It has also aged a lot better. You can watch it now and it doesn’t really feel corny. There are some expertly done action sequences… Like the opening siege on The White House and the attack on the mutant compound.

The X-Men Part 2

The X-Men Part 2

But it’s front loaded.

And it doesn’t need to be two hours and fifteen minutes. Especially since hour number two is spent interminably at an extremely hideous location where nothing particularly interesting happens and, worse, there isn’t even a climax.

And then… something terrible happened.

Rather than make X3, or whatever, Bryan Singer decided instead to go and make an excruciatingly boring Superman film for Warner Brothers… Leaving the Fox people with the not at all enviable task of trying to find a suitable replacement for this genius filmmaker who had delivered unto them two very profitable films.

They chose Brett Ratner.


The result was X-Men: The Last Stand. And a lot of people hated that movie and got really pissed off. (There was bitching about the corny-looking pre release teaser posters and magazine covers too).

Now then, I want to say something controversial: I actually find it to be the best one.

Hold your horses, I’m not finished… When I say that, I want to make something crystal clear: The title of this article makes allusions to the entire series being made up of “three star movies” at best. I firmly believe that. And so, I would have to say in all fairness that number three is just about on a par with the others.



But, conceptually at least, it is most definitely the best of the bunch. Because, in difference to the others, it’s actually an X-Men movie.

As many better writers than myself have already pointed out, the first two X-Men movies are really that in name only. The dramatic focus of those films was never this super team of individuals who all band together to battle an evil and save humanity. That’s what they seem to be. But, really, that isn’t the case.

X-Men is about this team of social outcasts, recruiting a Canadian tough guy with powers, codenamed Wolverine, to join them; and it’s also about how he reluctantly comes to embrace these people as a kind of makeshift family, before saving all their lives and then heading off to discover unknown secrets about his past.

X2 is about this team of social outcasts, teaming up and venturing into the Arctic to help their new friend Wolverine discover some things about his past and settle old grudges.

Which is to say, Wolverine – played by Hugh Jackman – is the star… The protagonist of these adventure films.

Call a spade a spade...

Call a spade a spade…

He’s definitely still the “star” of The Last Stand. But there’s a crucial difference: The movie is actually an epic story, with far reaching consequences. It’s actually about the community of mutants and how they are affected by government policies… It’s about a giant catastrophe that is about to befall them, the ramifications of which will have an impact on every sector of humanity; and it climaxes with a grand war in which “good” mutants must band together to protect normal citizens from the “bad” mutants who want to establish a new world order… It features subplots about mutants involved in the government – one of them played by Kelsey Grammer (R), U.S. Virgin Islands  – and how Ben Foster (as mutant child of the scientist who wants to “cure” mutation) rebels against his dad and shows him the error of his ways… All weaved around an apocalyptic personal narrative about one of the heroes turned rogue, the resolution of a grand romantic storyline; as well as an observation about the flip side of mutation and those that embrace the possibility of living a normal life…



…and all in just about an hour and thirty-two minutes.

The problem with The Last Stand is not that it’s “bad” per se… Just that it’s too much. I mean, all the ideas in the film are exciting and interesting. There’s a lot of compelling material here. This is the movie that should be two and a half hours long.

But, because it isn’t, it feels rushed. And, ultimately, nothing is given any weight or resonance. It bounces from one story beat to the next in a race to hit the closing credits at the 100 minute mark.

So, where am I going with this?


I’ve lost the plot a little, I know. But basically what I’m trying to say is the X-Men movies have never really been all that great. 1 and 2 were already pretty flawed, so that when 3 came along it really shouldn’t have felt like that much of a letdown for people.

I’ll agree with the consensus that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is definitely the worst of the lot. Because it basically stretches to feature length the already redundant and boring flashbacks from X2. And there is a revisit pending for First Class to see if it still holds up and is as good as I thought it was that one time I saw it when it first came out a couple of years ago…

X-Men Begins

X-Men Begins

I’m not holding my breath because none of these movies have really held up.

The Wolverine had a good chance. For a good stretch, that’s a really good movie. It’s James Mangold doing a comic book version of Paul Schrader’s The Yakuza and actually pulling it off. Then, they have to bring in a giant fucking robot at the end; along with this evil plant girl or whatever the hell she’s supposed to be – and they completely fuck it up. Add to that, the little teaser at the end for the apocalyptic blowout coming this summer and you can be reminded: “Oh, right… That’s what all this shit really is.”


And so goes my long-winded rant about why I think it’s stupid that people are making such a big deal about corny publicity photos. What were you expecting from Days Of Future Past in the first place? You already have six films as ample evidence of what this series is. Were you expecting some kind of masterpiece before you saw the lame magazine covers?

Bryan Singer is back in the saddle! Then: Oh no! Bryan Singer clearly fucked it all up!

How is this different from 2000, when he gave the heroes lame costumes in the first X-Men movie? And hasn’t his stock already fallen? Didn’t he make that awful Superman movie and a forgotten Nazi thriller with Tom Cruise and a Jack and the Beanstalk movie nobody saw or liked… I mean, what was the criteria here?

So, let’s all come back to Earth and take a deep breath. There should be no expectations here. Days Of Future Past is either going to be an entertaining, fun adventure movie… Or not.

The Adventures of X-Men Episode VII... Coming This Summer.

The Adventures of X-Men Episode VII… Coming This Summer.

And no flashy costumes are going to make a lick of difference.


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