X-Men: Days of Future Past comes out next week, which gives me the perfect opportunity to ask a simple question: Are the X-Men movies really any good? Counting DoFP there have been seven X-Men films so far, starting with director Bryan Singer’s 2000 original X-Men, the film to praise or blame for the irrepressible big budget Hollywood comic book movie takeover of the aughts. There will undoubtedly be more of them on the way, including potential standalone installments given the long and storied history of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s complicated mutants. This all brings me to my main point aside from my previous question. It would seem that despite their relative staying power, it’s dubious to say that the seven X-Men movies truly capture the essence of the narrative on which they’re based and, taken alone, maybe it might be best to put the X-Men movies to rest.
I haven’t seen Days of Future Past yet, so most of the yammering in these paragraphs has to do with the previous six films. Save for particular merits found in details here and there and taken as a whole, the previous X-Men movies are generally nothing more than a hodgepodge of narrative beats purloined from the best of the best comic book storylines and done poorly. The Phoenix Saga, Gifted, Logan in Japan, and to a lesser extent First Class are but a few. It may be the burden of coming from such a rich comic history—call it a limitation or even a fault of the feature length cinematic medium—but they mostly lack a central cohesion or a true sense of duty within the subtext, or even a recognition of the narrative value behind the familiarity in X-Men’s inherent mythology.
Even with a murderer’s row of talent (Ian KcKellan, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, and James Marsden among the original group and Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and James McAvoy among the new group) these movies have never really gelled into the pure but meaningful spectacle they should have been to truly endure.
Arguably the closest films to approach this were Singer’s first two installments, which are generally considered the strongest because of that, but otherwise who can really say that the remaining films offer worthwhile stories about these characters? I personally haven’t been invested in these movies since X2 which, given eleven years and five movies, makes me kind of sad because nothing else has earned my attention or interested me enough to bring me back on board. First Class, with its knowing retro kitsch and categorical acceptance of being a quote/unquote “Comic Book Movie,” came the closest, and yet whenever it pops up on cable—which it does frequently—I can’t help but feel the urge to change the channel to look for something better. It’s a one-off installment meant to introduce a younger cast. Blame my whiny inability to connect with the films, or perhaps rightfully blame the films themselves.
We can look at a more statistical approach to prove a sort of mutant exhaustion, if you will. Critical consensus points to critics doing what they do best by praising some bits while bashing others, but the overwhelming feeling coming from them proves my point. The X-Men films are occasionally thrilling and sometimes poignant, but they’re unnecessary on the whole and no one will think twice about the majority of them after the credits roll. Tell me, has anyone you know legitimately revisited X-Men Origins: Wolverine other than to marvel (no pun intended) at its pure awfulness?
Even further, North American box office totals for the series are on the decline since X2, but international totals are shakily increasing. The Wolverine’s admirable $414,828,246 worldwide total is second only to X-Men: The Last Stand’s $459,359,555 haul, but any true movie fan wouldn’t be foolish enough to qualitatively trust the numbers. That kind of thing can be explained using the paradox of the inverse gross and quality law or what I like to call “The Michael Bay/Transformers Syndrome,” which means the higher a big budget film grosses the shittier it essentially is.
But comic book fans may keep their hopes up. All the Bryan Singer lawsuits aside, [X-Men: Days Of Future Past](movie:203942) is attempting to bring another famous X-Men storyline to the big screen back in the capable directorial hands of Singer (though he did just do Jack the Giant Slayer, a truly awful movie). He is someone who christened the storyline in the first film with a relatively small but arguably huge impact with what came after it. The new film is also looping in the talent and characters across all of the previous films, which hopefully won’t suffocate the narrative simply because of the shear number of them (like in The Last Stand). It has enough elements to offer up a more sturdy foundation to make the inevitable next X-Men films a boost, which could hopefully meld into a sort of Marvel Cinematic Universe approach in order to give the story a much-needed coherence.
There have been a ton of X-Men movies, admittedly too many X-Men movies. Hugh Jackman must be exhausted from playing Wolverine so much. The saga’s grand shortcomings are, in retrospect, nitpicky. There’s nothing we can do now because it’s all said and done, but that doesn’t mean the future films can’t do better in giving the X-Men a basic, necessary focus again. We need them to make us want to watch them for more than just the explosions or the SNIKT or the McKellen vs. Stewart battle of wits. We need films that capture the essence of the X-Men, and if they don’t then maybe we don’t need any more X-Men movies. After all, quantity does not equal quality.