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In preparation of being dragged to go see Days of Future Past by my friends, even though I remembered not particularly liking the X-Men movies, I decided the re-watch all the movies in the X-Men franchise (and in the case of X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine, watch for the first time) because I love superhero film universes. My thoughts on Days of Future Past mainly stem from my thoughts on the X-Men Trilogy. Why, you ask? Read on and find out.
Something noteworthy here is that this is not criticism from an X-Men fan. I've never read an X-Men comic in my life nor have I ever spent a significant amount of time reading story summaries on Wikipedia. My thoughts throughout this retrospective are purely from a story lover and a film fan's point of view. Now, let's begin with:
The X-Men Trilogy
People love film adaptations of stories, it's hard not to, they're people's favourite tales being told to a whole new audience with the epicness of the spectacle amplified through the budget and size of cinema. And from an outsider's perspective, it's a gateway to gaining a firmer understanding of a subject close to people's hearts, without being weighed down with mountains of history to understand.
As with most people, I knew the basics of the X-Men before going into these movies: mutants exist in the world, Professor X is pro humans while Magneto is definitely not, Professor X assembles a group of mutants, etc. I only figured out the main problem I have with the X-Men Trilogy recently. And it's all in the title. X-Men. What I looked forward to with these movies was finally having all these concepts and ideas explained to me, which I ultimately didn't get. I was promised a movie about the X-Men, and I was interested to learn about them and to learn why I should care about them, and what I got instead was "Wolverine and Friends." I felt like I had been lied to.
Now don't get me wrong, I like Wolverine as much a the next person. Hugh Jackman with an adamantium skeleton and memory loss? That's pretty interesting. But I lose interest when he's 80% of my "X-Men" movies. It's entertaining watching a mysterious Wolverine question his past, but it's entertainment factor quickly dwindles once you realise how much screen time he's taking away from the rest of the titular characters. If you want to make it the focus of your movie, make it the focus of your movie, don't reduce what we've been promised into side characters of The Wolverine trilogy you obviously wanted to make.
And there lies another problem with the movies: the rest of the X-Men. I know near nothing about them all. If after 3 movies I can't provide more than a one line description of any character besides the main one, you've messed up making a movie series with a large cast. That problem is highlighted especially in the case of the X-Men, when the appeal of the X-Men in the first place is a large, varied group of superpowered beings, and we don't see nearly as much X-Men as we should, and the ones we do see are ridiculously two-dimensional. Nightcrawler is introduced and quickly forgotten, Beast isn't properly introduced until The Last Stand, Colossus and Storm get hardly any lines and Shadowcat gets recast twice. X-Men Trilogy, if you don't care about the rest of the X-Men, why should we?
Watching the first X-Men movie always made me feel a little lost and I only grasped why recently too. I felt like I had missed a movie. To me, the first X-Men movie feels like it's a sequel to an X-Men movie we never saw. When it introduces characters, it feels more like its a re-introduction of characters from the missing first X-Men movie. It plays out kinda of like this:
"Hey! Cyclops is back! And he still doesn't get along with Wolverine, but that's okay because we explained why they don't get along in the first movie, right?"
"Hey! Wolverine has a thing for Jean Grey now, but that's okay because we saw the basis of their relationship form in the first movie so this doesn't feel like it's based on nothing here, right?"
It's feels like the first movie was in a rush to establish everything we knew about the X-Men just so we had more time to focus on Wolverine. If I go out of your X-Men movie knowing the exact same amount of information I knew going in, and l've learned nothing substantial, you've failed at making an engaging adaptation. I simply don't know who these characters are or why I should care about them.
Now finally, "X-Men: The Last Stand." People don't like this movie. And now I understand why. Nothing highlights the problems with the X-Men Trilogy more than The Last Stand. Wolverine's position as the main character is increased even more than the last two, and now 90% of the movie is about him and his relationship to Jean Grey/Phoenix. I've heard that this movie botched the Jean Grey/Phoenix story arc, which is probably due to also trying to combine it with the "Mutant Cure" story, so what we get now is a cluttered, unsatisfying mesh of the two as the Mutant Cure is reduced to a sub-plot. How two-dimensional the other X-Men have been up to this point is now even more apparent as Cyclops, Jean Grey and Professor X are killed off and no-one actually cares. Beast is introduced, but his introduction totally contradicts his cameo in X-2 as he is now blue and furry and comments on how it's been a long time since he's seen his own skin even though he was perfectly fine in X-2. Altogether it's a messy movie.
Do I hate the X-Men Trilogy? No. They're completely average movies. But they're popcorn flicks in the worst definition of the term as they're very shallow movies with no depth whatsoever, but hey, there's some pretty fun action scenes I guess. It's a sign of how mediocre they are if as a completely random movie watcher with almost no prior X-Men knowledge that I feel like they're a betrayal to it's source material.
Now at this stage I'd accepted that I wouldn't like the rest of the movies in the X-Men franchise, thanks to a desperate need for heart and charm. Boy, was I wrong...
Part 2 of my X-Men Movies Retrospective will cover: X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, and Wolverine's unnecessary trip to Japan.