My views on the movies in the X-Men franchise are rather mixed. On the one hand I consider it a far more promising series from the early 00s era than the Blade movies or Raimi's Spider-Man. On the other hand, when "X-Men: The Last Stand" came out I didn't find it a horrendous disappointment by comparison to the previous two instalments. When Matthew Vaughn released the semi-reboot "X-Men: First Class" I considered it by far the best in the series.
So, with "X-Men: Days of Future Past" featuring both the old and the new cast members, I felt it was a good idea to refamiliarise myself with the old movies.
It's interesting that, while the original X-Men is a fairly by-the-numbers action movie, I find a lot here that I look back on fondly now that this is a huge money-making franchise.
The best parts of the story here all concern the relationship between Rogue and Wolverine. It's actually possibly not such an unusual set-up. An older figure looks out for a younger figure and then discovers how important the younger figure is. Heck, that's practically the plot of Disney's "Sword In The Stone". But Wolverine is no wise mentor figure and it's the flawed aspects of both characters that makes them compelling, particularly when they first meet up.
Even more remarkable however, is the opening scene of the film displaying Magneto discovering his powers within the context of the holocaust. It's remarkably subtle considering that we don't find out straight away that the boy is supposed to be a young Ian McKellan.
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X-Men 2 (2003)
Now this was quite a surprise. Admittedly I'm still not entirely sold on X-Men 2, but it's a lot better than I remember. X-Men 2 not only has some spectacular action sequences, but it also does a very good job of building on the characters and themes of the first instalment. Watching the two movies close together this time, I realised that this was rather more subtle than I remembered.
In the end though, the real appeal of these early X-Men films remains the solid central performances from Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman and, in this film, Brian Cox. I will also note that the backstory for Mystique established in "X-Men: First Class" meant that I was looking at her character rather more closely than before. While Ian McKellan has always given Magneto greater depth, Mystique had always come across like an especially athletic henchman. This time I was looking out for clues to her character's motivation and while there's not much here, the additional interest in this character produced by the later movie made her scenes a lot more exciting. I was invested in this movie more than I have ever been before.
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X-Men 3: The Last Stand (2006)
X Men 3 is a film that has received a bad press, but I haven't always understood the criticisms. One criticism is that it kills off the least popular of the X-Men. I cannot say that upset me much. Essentially the writer decided to fridge an unpopular male character. This happens to female characters all the time, often far more interesting female characters too, without much upset from fans. Another criticism is that Jean Gray's "Dark Phoenix" transformation isn't an alien possession like in the comics. Once again, I'm not personally terribly upset by this.
I heard that it didn't make sense for Dark Pheonix to be working with Magneto, but actually she's not really controlled by Magneto at all. She's simply spending time with him while she works out what to do next. Really the problem here is not with Dark Phoenix at all, but rather with Magneto. But first let's talk about Mystique. Now Mystique has generally been portrayed as a ruthless henchman rather than as a character with complex motivations in these early X-Men films. But in the third movie she's actively threatening to kill people violently. Sure she's always been ruthless but she hasn't been promising to kill people before. Magneto's rescue attempt is also pretty violent, almost certainly killing at least 10 people. Later on, Magneto would claim that the humans had drawn first blood, in spite of his own mass-murder which they were retaliating against.
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X-Men: First Class (2011)
When I first watched this in the cinema I was rather distracted during the big finale by a desperate need to use the facilities. This doesn't happen often. So while I stuck out through those later scenes I wasn't able to focus as well as I'd have liked. I still maintain that having Magneto do a big speech towards the end feels unnatural. Yet on a second watch it's not anything like so problematic as I originally thought. The whole missile-exchange section in the final act (he says, avoiding spoilers) seemed overblown on first watch, but revisiting it now it feels a lot more successful in producing tension.
(My original review is here)
Okay, yeah, sorry for TMI elements there. First Class is a much more character-focussed X-Men movie than we'd ever had before. Sure, there have always been character moments, but First Class is the first of the movies to successfully focus on ALL of the characters rather than just a select few. It's funny actually, since the big complaint about "X-Men: First Class" always seemed to be the number of different characters it tries to juggle and the inevitable lack of attention the movie can give to all of them. Yet on a second watch, it seems like they all have clear character traits and they all manage to develop themselves in some way.
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