I had promised in my review of Days of Future Past that I would do an overview of the entire X-Men franchise. Having just released his most recent instalment, Bryan Singer is set to return for X-Men: Apocalypse, but we will have to wait a while for film number eight, and now that the excitement and hype from number seven has dies down a little, this seems to be as good an opportunity as ever to examine all the ups and downs of this landmark film series.
Many people give credit to The Dark Knight for making superhero films darker and more realistic, which in many ways it of course did. However, when you look back at the original X-Men film it is a big step forward from campier comic films such as the old Batman and Superman series’. Think about it carefully, the film opens during the Holocaust, quite a dark setting for a film based on characters from a comic read by children. The film also pokes fun at the old setup in the comic, remember the ‘Yellow Spandex’ conversation between Wolverine and Cyclops. Furthermore, Bryan Singer was not even a fan of the X-Men comics, but he was still fascinated enough by the potential of struggles for equality. In the end that’s all that X-Men was, it translated real issues and made them appealing to a mass audience, it was conceived in the sixties, racial equality was a very prominent issue at the time.
Anyway, to the actual film, the plot introduces us into the conflict between the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants. That is basically all you need to know if for some reason you have not yet seen this film and want information about it. Two teams of people with exceptional abilities, each with very different ideologies. It grabbed the attention of the viewers with an interesting setup, and even though we had to wait a while for any action, it was still interesting to watch. As a standalone film it might be viewed in quite a harsh light, but as a setup to a franchise it is the best any studio could hope for.
Then we were treated to X-Men 2, or X2. This is without a doubt still the most popular film of the first trilogy. In this instalment the cast that we witnessed battling in the last film must now put their differences aside to face a common enemy who threatens to wipe out mutant-kind. Looking back many of you will probably be thinking, ‘God, this was a lot like Days of Future Past, just without the time travel’. In many ways that is true, no wonder they have been compared so often since the newer films release. But putting that aside, like all great sequels this was darker and more mature than the first film. X2 also strongly demonstrated the themes prejudice and discrimination, acting as a strong contender for one of the greatest Marvel films of all time.
Sadly, things could not improve for the sequel, The Last Stand. At the time this was thought to be the last film in the series, as it was set to conclude the trilogy. To be honest though, I maintain it was still far from terrible, it just could not live up to the hype created by the success of the first two. A controversial mutant cure is discovered which leads Magneto to finally take direct action against humanity. On the face of it this plot had great potential, there were some elements of the film that worked very well, such as the small signs of each character facing a personal dilemma over whether or not to take the cure. The action was good as well, and it still felt like a climax to the story that had been building up for a while.
However, there were still problems. Brett Ratner should really have stuck closer to the Dark Phoenix storyline as it was very well known and expertly done in the comics. Speaking of Brett Ratner by the way, he is only half the director that Bryan Singer was. The man who brought us The Usual Suspects was sorely missed under the rather shambolic direction of Ratner. There should have been a lot more emotional depth as well, it was not as if there was no time left, and the film was half an hour shorter than the previous instalment. Many people argued against killing off a lot of characters, but actually I did not mind that. It is the unspoken rule of trilogies that you have to kill off some main characters in the third film.
I would not worry that much about it wither, because things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Part two will be posted soon.