Three(!!!) years ago Mike & Matt celebrated the conclusion of their X-Men podcast with an aggregated ranking of the films. In that time they got a better logo, two more movies have come out and some of their opinions have changed. Matt’s anyway. Mike writes his ideas in ink.
In any event, they did it again just in time to have missed the 20th anniversary of the first X-Men film by a few days. Wouldn’t have it any other way!
12. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Mike: This movie is MISERABLE!!! It is so bad that I will never pretend to re-watch it for the rest of my life. There is NOTHING of value in it.
The only reason I can pretend it’s not worse than The Last Stand (which at least has Kelsey Grammer in it!) is because it is very easy to pretend this one did not happen.
11. X-Men: The Last Stand
Matt: What more can really be said about this disaster of a film that took two of the most beloved X-Men stories ever and merged them into a comedy of errors of infamous proportions. From Brett Ratner’s soulless rush-job direction to Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn’s terrible script to some of the most embarrassing performances the major actors have put forth, this really is almost entirely irredeemable.
People freaked out about a de-aged Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen at the time, but ironically the effect hasn’t aged that well. Still, the notion of the two rivals once being good friends always goes down well, and the handling of Charles’ death is one of the better moments in the film. McKellen also gets to sneak in some of his trademark dry humour with such killer lines as “in chess the pawns go first”.
But I mean… Angel is terrible. Our beloved James Marsden bites it in the first half hour due to a petty grudge about Superman Returns. Jean Grey, an unstoppable cosmic badass, is reduced to standing mute next to Magneto. The Juggernaut quotes his own meme. Halle Berry continues to play Storm. And your mileage may vary on Kelsey Grammer’s Beast. Still, how about that ending?
10. The Wolverine
Matt: Is it better to be boring than bad? That’s the question that has always weighed on me when trying to critically assess this film. The notion of rewatching this plodding retelling of the classic ‘Logan goes to Japan’ story that helped make the character so popular never fills me with excitement. It’s slow, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t really do much with that slowness unlike its eventual sequel. It’s also difficult to care about the majority of the characters, who are generally paper thin, existing only to orbit around Logan as with the worst Wolverine stories.
Still, I’ve likely been overly harsh on this Very Okay flick over the years, because there’s not very much actually wrong with it and it certainly has a cohesive vision, albeit one centred around Wolverine bleeding a lot. There is an inescapable white saviour narrative (also present in the original source material), but it’s handled about as well as one of those can be and in places Logan is a respectful little gaijin.
The driving factor of the plot being tied to Logan’s longevity allowing him to be present throughout world history is good, as is his general distrust of others being proven right once again when the villain selfishly turns on his one-time protector in the hope of stealing his healing abilities to cheat death. It’s just a bummer that Wolverine and Mariko have zero chemistry, especially in comparison to the more chaotic big brother/little sister dynamic he has with Yukio.
9. Dark Phoenix
Mike: While FAR from a perfect flick or even great (and with plenty of **glaring flaws**), this film really did a ton of things well and notably improved from previous X-Men movies (while also separating itself from the other comic franchises). The best element in this film was that the two action set pieces genuinely felt a bit gnarly and dangerous.
They wisely leveraged all the positive feelings possessed for the few remaining characters in the franchise and set them against each other in (mostly organic) ways leading to a genuine feeling of unpredictability when they faced off.
The margin of error for critical adulation for the X-Men films is so small that the mistakes made in this one never gave it a chance. It’s a shame as there was lots of great stuff here.
8. X-Men: Apocalypse
Matt: So much to like. So much to roll your eyes at. If ever a movie needed another pass it’s this one. Apocalypse is a great character and they found a great actor to play him in Oscar Isaac… but that costume… His Four Horsemen have led to some fantastic comic book moments… but one of them is Angel, who sucks (again), and another is Magneto who just cannot escape this cycle of trying to go good only to befall another tragedy and switch sides. There’s also Psylocke who looks great but does very little, and young Storm who does slightly more, but still needed twice as much screen time in her two outings.
On the hero side we’re finally focusing on the kids again, and I like everyone they cast. It still bums me out that they cut a lot of the scenes of them being teenagers in the 80s, especially given where that time goes: Too much of a Jennifer Lawrence performance she no longer cares about, and a shoe-horned Wolverine cameo they gave away in trailers right before release, complete with a quasi-creepy moment with Jean.
McAvoy continues to crush it though, and I will admit that the prequel trilogy’s focus on Charles being a terrible person has been one of its better through-lines. I also really like how they portrayed the psychic battles on the Astral Plane, though not as much as I like them in Legion. Overall it’s a classic mixed bag that I wouldn’t begrudge anyone liking or hating as there’s an abundance of arguments for both.
7. Deadpool 2
Mike: This sequel essentially was a remake of the first one.
It took out a lot of the boring stuff, inserted some problematic shit, cribbed from better films (Logan and Hunt for the Wilderpeople), and left everything in not too different of a place than the first one did. And that is okay!
It in no way felt fresh or new, but it was genuinely actually quite fun and a much more successful version of what the first one was attempting to do.
Matt: When we reviewed Deadpool 2 for the podcast I threw my hat in the ring for the sequel being better. But about a year ago I gave Deadpool a full rewatch and cannot help but walk that opinion back. This really is the lil’ superhero movie that could, both in terms of how long it took to get made, and how much it does with so little.
There are so few characters, no marquee villains and the love interest gets damseled in the third act. And yet! A CGI Colossus and the relatively obscure Nega-Sonic Teenage Warhead are break-out stars. Few comic book movie villains earn as much disdain as Ajax with his brutal torture and taunting of Wade, bolstered by Ed Skrein’s inherently punchable face. Gina Carano crushes it as his heavy despite minimal screen time and dialogue. And the chemistry between Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin is electric, with their unorthodox meet-cute and year of holiday-themed banging being perhaps my favourite stretch of the film. Like Deadpool says right at the start: This is a love story. And for as much as I like the sequel I don’t think it can match it for heart.
Ryan Reynolds was born to play this role, blending his cocky comedic Van Wilder persona with a propensity to “Jim the camera”, with his so-so foray into the realm of having an 8-pack in movies. Like Hannibal King but better, basically. I also think he grounds it with some legitimately good acting as Wade’s body breaks down from cancer.
Mike: When I look back at this film (as I have done ad nauseum whether it was called for or not), my appreciation of it only grows. The weaknesses are clear: the action is uninspired and there is probably just not enough for the supporting players to do.
That being said, the strengths of the film are so overwhelming that not only are the weaknesses easy to forgive but I look around and feel sad that essentially nothing this film did well is emulated today in modern comic book flicks. The tone, the look, the small scale, the patience, the fact it feels like human adults are populating the world, and that computer CGI was limited as much as possible.
This movie is undeniably good and largely ignored in terms of how to do these things to the detriment of all.
Matt: They did it. The bastards finally did it. On his third try, Wolverine finally got an Actually Good solo movie. With superhero films swelling to a critical mass of homogenous, formulaic PG-13 safety, this movie responded by leaning hard into genre. Specifically a western. For as much as I love Marvel’s machine, this was a welcome change of pace that Warner Bros. have somewhat adopted themselves with Shazam! and Joker. It still has some generic superhero moments, and the very notion of the evil digitally de-aged clone fills me with dread, but the emotional weight is unmatched in the franchise, and contends with anything the MCU/DCEU/Spider-Verse has put to screen.
Logan’s depressed isolationism is nothing new, but it’s done in a more quiet, confident manner this time, weaponising its pace and not-quite-apocalyptic setting, with much of the film taking place out in the wilderness. Patrick Stewart gets to have a comical amount of fun in his final outing as a senile, foul-mouthed Charles who is more of a nagging parent than he is a wise leader, though seeing that spark to mentor re-ignite when he meets Laura is legitimately touching.
Laura ❤ I’ve made my love for X-23 known in the past, and I am so thankful that she got to explode into the mainstream with such a show-stealing performance from Dafne Keen. Logan acting as a surrogate father to young female mutants is such a lay-up, and Jackman’s scenes with Anna Paquin are probably the best in X-Men, so it’s surprising it took them so long to return to the formula. These two have incredible chemistry and it drives the entire film forward as well as ensuring both of the major death scenes have maximum impact.
3. X-Men: First Class
Mike: On an artistic level, the X-Men franchise was dead in 2011. The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine were body blows to the credibility of the films, and it seemed that Fox was completely lost in regards to what to do with this property going forward. Things seemed to be getting worse with the decision to fast-track this origins story/prequel/reboot. “Fast-tracking” is basically always a bad thing… but somehow this worked.
This was the breath of fresh air and a sign of life that X-Men desperately needed. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender managed to craft interpretations of Magneto and Charles Xavier that were wholly their own. Kevin Bacon delivered a shockingly fun turn as the James Bond Villian. They even managed to luck into locking Jennifer Lawrence in to a three-film contract before she truly broke out. (Though they never managed to cash in on whatever starpower she had, and her performances got progressively more and more lifeless.)
This was a major turning point for a franchise that threatened to never recover.
2. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Mike: The beauty and tragedy of this story has only increased with time. If First Class was about Erik becoming Magneto, Days of Future Past was about Charles becoming Professor X. That should be a celebratory moment based one everyone’s nostalgia for the character, and it certainly felt that way at the time.
Charles was never meant for power though, and this film put him on a misguided path to that very power. The “hope” that inspired him led to the false “equality” that was achieved two films later that revealed the character’s folly. For a moment though, there was a great peace achieved in the heart of Charles Xavier though and that was what this film was all about. The consequences of it though would be far-reaching and long-lasting.
1. X2: X-Men United
Matt: Fox spent 16 years chasing this high and for good reason. It threaded the needle on every element people love about the franchise:
Humans are the real monsters, with Brian Cox’s more military take on William Stryker standing tall in the pantheon of reprehensible villains as he exploits his own son to further his anti-mutant agenda. This lets Magneto operate in a more morally grey area, working with but openly mocking the heroes as only McKellen can. (Plus his breakout of the plastic prison is ridiculous in the best possible way).
This means bringing Mystique along for the ride for one of the best short action scenes in superhero film history. That allows her to have a brief bonding moment with Alan Cumming’s iconic Nightcrawler, whose assassination attempt in the opening scene was the confident statement of intent that sets the whole movie up. This leads Halle Berry to her most passable performance as Storm to date, as she and Jean try to bring him in. Jean gets her big teased Phoenix story, flirting with unlocking more power, culminating in an emotional sacrifice and a final tease that pre-dates The Mid-Credits Scene.
That brings the feuding Wolverine and Cyclops together for their best performances in the franchise (until Logan). Wolverine moves from reluctant outsider to unlikely teacher following a shockingly brutal scene as they escape the school. The school gives focus to a group of kids with fun powers who find themselves drafted to the big leagues prematurely, and one of them is recruited by Magneto who returns to his antagonistic role by the end.
Overall, that is a sublime interconnected structure that unlocks this franchise’s true potential and allows fertile ground for action, drama, emotion, comedy, winks and nods and set-up for future movies. It’s so good that Kelly Hu being under-utilised as Lady Deathstrike doesn’t even matter.
The Dark Knight is The Dark Knight and the MCU have refined their business model to deadly efficiency, but for a long time this was the best superhero movie of them all.
Speaking of Batman, Matt has just launched The Matt Signal, a Batman The Animated Series recap, with new episodes covered each Saturday and Sunday.
Ben & Matt’s There Will Be Movies has returned for volume 2, covering 25 of their favourite films from 2010 – 2019.
Jerome presents his 100 Favorite Movies Ever several times a week.