Classic Intel: The X-Men Trilogy - DVD Review

'features the most flawless casting seen in any comic book film before or since: the holy trinity of Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Ian McKellen as Magneto and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine'

Undoubtedly helping to swill away the foul aftertaste of Schumacher’s Batman that lingered at the end of the 1990s, the X-Men franchise is often hailed as the film series that - along with Raimi’s Spider-Man hot on its heels - launched the 21st Century’s ongoing love affair with comic book movie adaptations. Bryan Singer’s inaugural cinematic take on Marvel’s mutant collective is, without overstatement, a key reason that the comic book publishing house has gone from cinematic obscurity in the nineties to being well underway with “Phase 2” of establishing the Marvel Cinematic Universe today, not to mention several commercially and critically successful blockbusters under their belt during “Phase 1”.

Despite its importance in kickstarting the franchise, 2000’s X-Men does have some notable issues. Considering the supposed move away from the day-glo camp action of the likes of Batman & Robin, Singer’s first film retains some distinctly nineties execution particularly during some of the later fight scenes. The plot too ends up as a rather clich├ęd battle of good versus evil, something of an anticlimax considering its stronger, more ambitious political beginnings. There are a couple of dodgy edits and lines of dialogue here and there which show up the series’ slightly tentative beginnings. But there is also plenty here to like a great deal, not least some of the most flawless casting seen in any comic book film before or since: the holy trinity of Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Ian McKellen as Magneto and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. It’s this central trio of such enigmatic presence and pitch perfect performances that allows you to forgive - if not ignore - a great many of the film’s flaws.

X2: X-Men United builds upon the strengths of the first film, and thankfully either repairs or discards most of the weaknesses. Singer feels much more comfortable and ambitious in his direction, and this shows again and again throughout the film with impressive visuals and a more robust plot. Stewart and McKellen are given ample opportunity to develop the great work they began in X-Men, with Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr becoming pleasingly more complex than the characters they were often painted to be in the first film, the lines between good and evil becoming curiously unclear. McKellen is also handed the finest and most shocking scene of the trilogy in Magneto’s brilliant plastic prison break. Whilst Jackman also continues to impress, it’s the new additions or less prominent characters from X-Men allowed to do more here that often make the sequel superior to the original, with the likes of Alan Cummings’ Nightcrawler bringing new dimensions to the franchise. Whilst one or two elements are left wanting a little more development, X2: X-Men United deserves recognition as an ambitious, well-crafted and immensely entertaining comic book film.

Whilst X-Men: The Last Stand can’t live up to the successes of its predecessor, it’s far from the cinematic failure that many have since branded it as being. Brett Ratner, filling the director’s chair vacated by a Superman Returns-bound Singer, still manages to craft an engaging story whilst essentially remaining with the same humans versus mutants story arc introduced in the first film. The first act sees some misguided and heartless character dispatchment that makes Alien 3 seem tame (including the loss of at least one key player leaving an irreparable hole in the film), and too many new characters are introduced far too quickly, many of which are never given any chance to develop properly. But there are also some admirable performances from those joining - Ellen Page impresses a year before Juno, and veteran Kelsey Grammer is an ingenious piece of casting as Beast - as well as those returning: Jackman grows ever more indivisible from Wolverine, although arguably most impressive here is Halle Berry as Storm, a character seen burgeoning throughout the first two films before finally coming into her own in this third instalment. The Last Stand may have some cringeworthy lines (anything Vinnie Jones says) and a few scenes you’d rather forget (again, basically any time Jones is on screen) but still offers a satisfyingly enjoyable comic book romp.

As a whole, the first three entries into the X-Men franchise stand up well, if never feeling like a genuinely great film trilogy. There’s certainly plenty to like here however, with the positives largely outweighing the negatives in each film. The directions in which the series has since moved have ranged from the impressive to the disappointing, although the apparently divergent paths are set to come together with this year’s X-Men: First Class follow-up Days Of Future Past promising to bring several separately developed threads together. It’s important to remember, though, that such bold franchise planning wouldn’t even be conceivable without the X-Men’s cinematic success at the start of the century.


X2: X-Men United

X-Men: The Last Stand

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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