It is downright amazing that 20th Century Fox has made six “X-Men” films thus far. The seventh, “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” opens this Friday, and it deals head-on with the history of these movies, toying not only with the already-established mythology, but reintroducing old characters, introduces us to new ones, and making us realize that a ton of mutants have hit the big screen since this franchise’s inception in 2000.
Going back over the films, which include “X-Men,” “X2: X-Men United,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “X-Men: First Class” and “The Wolverine,” you can kind of develop your own inventory of which characters were essential and which weren’t. For every character like Nightcrawler, who blazed onto the screen and made new fans immediately, you had someone like John Wraith (played by will.i.am) in cowboy duds not even Don Cheadle’s Buck Swope would wear. We thought we’d compile the X best out of a massive roster of X-characters, some popular, some obscure, but all whom were able to establish their own identity onscreen away from pre-established continuity. With apologies to Spike, Mutant 143, Jubilee, Leech, Mastermind and Marrow, because your seen-in-passing characters onscreen were so null and void, we can’t even consider you here.
40. The White Queen
Notoriously one of the worst performances in an “X-Men” movie character to date, January Jones’ Emma Frost, The White Queen, is indeed the worst-ever mutant character to ever grace the X-screen. It’s a problem with both her vacant and totally bored performance (she seems either checked-out mentally or very ill at ease) and her totally underwritten character that essentially just serves to slink around half naked and act vaguely sultry and sexy. The White Queen, essentially, flaunts her sexuality as power, at least on the page. In the film, Jones just looks endlessly bored, as if all these special effects shenanigans are entirely beneath her.
One of the myriad problems with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” other than being completely worthless — is that it tries to stuff in every mutant character that hasn’t already been seen in the series. So that means sticking in one of the most popular characters, Deadpool, for really no good reason. And so the “merc with the mouth,” played by Ryan Reynolds is just one of the many baddies that Wolverine is tasked with facing. And yes, in the movie Deadpool sort of eventually becomes the lead villain in the end — or at least the villain Logan faces off at the movie’s crescendo — but he’s just a big ol’ mess of a character not really resembling the comics’ guy at all. He’s sarcastic and quippy, but he’s really just a cipher for the bad plot. In fact, in the movie, Deadpool is “activated” to become Weapon XI, a "mutant killer" with the powers of multiple mutants that doesn’t resemble the character at all — just an excuse for Logan to battle a super mutant. Just terrible on all fronts.
38. The Morlocks
This group of street punks surfaced in “X-Men: The Last Stand,” threatening the heroes less like they were the poor and impoverished mutants, but more like they were the cast of “Rent.” Led by tough-talking Callisto (Dania Ramirez), the group is mainly artificial sneers and leather jackets. When they begin grandstanding about their “cause,” Magneto is quick to side-eye them with his “Bitch, please” sarcasm, easily enlisting them to his side. But other than Callisto, who apparently has super-speed and the ability to sense other mutants, what do these guys do? Arlight’s (Omahyra Mota) concussive force is called upon precisely once. Psylocke (Meiling Melançon) doesn’t even speak, and Ken Leung, poor, underused Ken Leung, plays a bad guy who can make spikes shoot out of his skin, dangerous to anyone within a lethal one-foot radius! Called the Omegas in the movie, this group eventually, happily, lines up to become the first casualties of Magneto’s army.
Read the original Christopher McQuarrie-penned “The Wolverine” screenplay, the one that Darren Aronofsky would have directed. Unfortunately, it’s not very good either, but it doesn’t include Viper. And that’s because — as you can tell from the James Mangold effort which has a turd-dumping third act — the movie becomes written by committee after a few drafts and Fox execs get their hands on it. Played by Svetlana Khodchenkova, Viper is everything that the would-be more realistic and dialed-down “The Wolverine” movie is supposed to shun (it’s really just about love and honor and a fish out of water in Japan, until Fox was like, “mutant this baby up!”). And so her character is cartoonish and silly and the female equivalent of a bad guy twirling his moustache only she’s just being faux sexy evil. We’d get into her powers, but this character is total balls and represents how Fox just fucked up Mangold and Jackman’s intentions to make a proper Wolverine movie (and perhaps represents their lack of cajones/poor judgment to fight against it).
36. Multiple Man
As smarmily played by “Grey’s Anatomy” star Eric Dane, the infamous Jamie Madrox hit the screen as a total douchebag, a leather-jacket-clad member of Magneto’s Brotherhood whose sole contribution is to provide a diversion and later get apprehended. The abilities of the character are so cinematic, but “X-Men: The Last Stand” was content to have him smirk and joke as the laughable body-double effects allowed him to multiply. Hey, maybe this would have been useful in the final battle when the X-Men were running right through your troops, Magneto. Just thinking out loud.
35. The Rest Of The Mutants From “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”
We’re mostly ranking everyone, so for the sake of completion, all the lesser characters in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (and there are many of them) are lumped together. The biggest character Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins) is a telepath and a love interest but she’s really just a script pawn with little to no personality. So pointless they should barely get a write-up, Team X recruits Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), and Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan) just exist, more than anything, as additional plot obstacles to be dispensed with immediately than as fully-formed characters. A young Scott Summers (Tim Pocock) shows his face for a second in the movie, but that’s really for nothing more than a “hey, look it’s Cyclops” cameo for the fanboys.
A mutant with the ability of "reactive evolution." — essentially an involuntary mutant reaction to evolve, however necessary, against any threat — this is the only thing remotely interesting about the character of Darwin and rather hilariously, it fails the character almost immediately. Played by Edi Gathegi, despite these would-be all-encompassing super powers, the character is killed by Sebastian Shaw in what is really his one and only scene.
33. The Lame Members of The ‘First Class’ Hellfire Club
Jason Flemyng as Azazel and Álex González as Riptide are great visuals and nothing more. Azazel is basically just a plot tool to make life easier by having a teleportation mutant (which is what almost every X-Men movie now does, just as the easiest excuse to get characters out of any sticky situation). His devilish look is pretty outstanding, but then you realize he has just about no lines and all the Nightcrawler-esque features pretty much go to waste. As for Riptide, we’re glad the fifth member of the Black Eyed Peas is getting work.
There is very little reason to rank the two X-Men Toads as two separate characters. The more memorable version is the one from the original 2000 “X-Men” movie played by Ray Park. But as evinced by pretty much every role Park has ever played (including Darth Maul), he is really just a stuntman and martial artist that’s so good, they’ve cast him as villains because all he has to do is wear make-up, jump around and look menacing. In that regard, Toad from “X-Men” is fine, but not particularly special. Toad from ‘Days of Future Past’ (played by Evan Jonigkeit) is slightly different and gets a neat little scene, but it’s nothing to write home about.
A mess of a movie, “X-Men: The Last Stand” was, in many regards, the writers’ excuse to go, “ok, what classic X-Men have we not used yet?” That meant the hasty and underwritten introductions of Colossus, Kitty Pryde and Angel. Played by the excellent character actor Ben Foster, Angel aka Warren Worthington III doesn’t have a lot to do, and yet he’s also the richest of the new additions. As a child, the character tries to cut off his own wings in shame which is the one of the best, most affecting parallels to self-loathing for any outsider of society. But the writing of ‘Last Stand’ isn’t particularly nuanced so Angel, essentially playing a gay character who would love to just be straight or normal, is a little whiney and anguished in a way that isn’t very sympathetic. And really, his character just exists to create the genome macguffin of the movie — a “cure” for mutants. Yes, he flies around and saves his father’s life, because redemption or something, but Angel is sorely underserved by his one “X-Men” movie appearance.
As Alex Summers, it’s unclear if this character is related to Cyclops as he is in the comics — chronologically it wouldn’t make sense, but this is movie comic logic so you never know — but it matters little. In “X-Men: First Class” Havok is really just a character to be trained and have laser blasting abilities for whatever action he faces. Other than being a little cocky, Havok (Lucas Till) serves little to no function in these movies that often just love to pile on the mutants because they can. Havok appears in “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” to essentially set up what could be spin-off films for other characters, but it’s hard to see any real appeal for a guy that looks fresh off "High School Musical" and actually has to embarrassingly shimmy-shake to deliver his power.
29. The "Days Of Future Past" Crew Of Warpath, Sunspot and Bishop
Unlike Blink, who has a unique and relatively new-ish special power, Warpath, Sunspot and Bishop are the muscle of “Days Of Future Past,” but they are all essentially security guards. They probably have a line here or there, but they’re just special effects, brute force against a wave of Sentinels who repeatedly dominate and brutalize them. Harsh, but at least they have their defining traits: Bishop absorbs power and carries a massive gun, Warpath brandishes a massive knife, and Sunspot is basically the opposite of Iceman, taking flight and shooting flames. All three exist to be pawns, and they succeed admirably, though it would be cool to see a sequel where they all have something to contribute beyond violence.
There are a dizzying array of characters introduced in the first few minutes of "X-Men: Days of Future Past,” but the character with the coolest powers has got to be Blink (Fan Bingbing). Blink’s nifty power, realized through incredibly expensive visual effects, is the ability to create little portals. This opens up the sequence, quite literally, and allows for the characters to teleport around via these glowing black holes that zap them from one location to another. (Very handy when you’re battling the silvery Sentinel robots that want to kill all mutants.) While her character doesn’t have a whole lot of depth (none of the future-mutants do, really), she looks really stunning, with hieroglyph-like tattoos and jet-black hair and her power is nearly hypnotic. What makes Blink’s abilities even more fun is that the other mutants are able to utilize it as well, leaping through the portal to arrive in another place altogether. It makes the teamwork of the future mutants feel alive and well -ehearsed, like they’ve been doing it a long time. And, thanks to Blink, it’s just so, so cool.
We’re still unclear if there are two completely different Sabretooth characters in the “X-Men” universe. The first one is played by Tyler Mane in “X-Men” and is simply a growling beast henchman, one who tangos with Wolverine enough to steal away his dogtags: this would have more significance if this Sabretooth was at all talkative, but instead he’s limited to posing and brawling. But in the ‘70s-set “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” Liev Schrieber plays the villain, Wolverine’s half-brother, as a demented bully, a grunt beset by jealousy that his little brother gets all the attention. It’s sort of a part without dignity for Schrieber, and he doesn’t get a chance to use his snark or physically impress, as the movie’s just forever desperate to move from one set-piece to the next. Sabretooth’s actions are evil, if unnecessarily convoluted: Schrieber’s performance, meanwhile, seems irritated, dismissive, like he’s trying to screw Wolverine out of a promotion, not actively murder him.
Taylor Kitsch, we barely knew ye! It looks like we’ll be getting a new Gambit, thanks to Channing Tatum’s weirdly overwhelming hard-on for the character. As such we’ll be ignoring Kitsch’s performance as the Ragin’ Cajun in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” The crimes this movie commits are many, and some are against Gambit: his New Orleans location looks just like a crappy back alley, he wears a stupid hat, he inexplicably owns a private plane and gets knocked out of an action scene with ease. Kitsch isn’t to blame for any of this, as he brings a sexy drawl to the character, making Gambit the smooth criminal he should be. And the way the film visualizes Gambit’s ability to charge cards and throws them is imaginative, turning Gambit into more of a musician instead of a card shark who read “The Game” way too much. As much as the entire human race wants to pretend “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have minded seeing Kitsch return as the card-throwing thief.
One of the many kid “X-Men” that didn’t exactly excite audiences, Banshee represented something a little different amongst the many tortured mutants: a sense of excitement. Unlike Ben Foster’s dour Angel from “The Last Stand,” who looks as if he’s flat-out shitting his pants as he flies, Caleb Landry Jones’ Sean Cassidy is absolutely tickled to take to the skies. He does so using sonic waves that come from his voice-based superpowers, a sensible power on the page, but fairly odd once you see it on film. It’s interesting that Jones has gone on to such dark and demented roles in movies like “Antiviral” and “Byzantium,” because as Banshee, he represents one of the few mutants actually having a great time with his powers, bringing some lightweight energy to the ‘First Class’ threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction. Jones is not around for ‘Days Of Future Past,’ but we hope that future films will remember that Banshee was a pivotal member of the “X-Men” mythology and he’ll be back in those yellow gliders soon.
Not so much a character as a blunt instrument, Vinnie Jones’ Cain Marko is an invincible force. His membership in the Brotherhood Of Mutants is contingent upon him being the muscle, blindly charging into battle and punching everything that stands between Magneto and the goal of total mutant domination. Juggernaut has a great comic booky look, all straps and bold red, with a ridiculous phallic helmet to protect Jones’ memorably gnarled mug. They aimed low with this character in ‘The Last Stand,’ and one could argue they certainly hit their mark: the characters’ single purpose at one point is to run straight into a sea of security guards, batting them off like flies to clear a path. Juggernaut doesn’t get a proper send-off, but he does live, which means there could be plenty more stuff to break in the near future, provided Jones stays his ornery, paycheck-seeking self. There’s also time to get him into a scrap with Wolverine and Colossus, FYI.
Oddly enough, the one person to emerge unscathed from the shit-show that was “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was Kevin Durand. Massive, sexually raw and with a troublemaking sneer, Durand would have been a natural for any comic book movie. Instead, the first portion of “Wolverine” has him as the bulky tough guy Fred Dukes, an immovable force who enters situations and gets them unscrewed in a hurry. It’s only in the latter part of the film where we meet his true incarnation, the bloated, grotesquely obese Blob. The girl that Dukes had casually mentioned as his lover has left him behind, and now that he’s no longer a part of the Canadian government kill-squad, he’s got no one and nothing to call his own. Underneath those thick slabs of makeup, Durand is somehow able not only to emote, but to engender sympathy as a once-unstoppable behemoth that has permanently gone to seed. His performance is so weirdly sad that it’s almost unpleasant to see that the only purpose he serves in the narrative is to be bullied by our clawed hero until he releases key information.
22. Angel Salvadore
In one of the many moments in “First Class” nodding to the kinky history of the comics, Magneto and Professor X skeevily pick Angel Salvadore for the team by visiting her at a strip club and watching her private mutant show. As one of only two major “First Class” mutants of color, the catty remarks about her wings seem to especially cut her to the bone, and when she responds to them by defecting to the side of Sebastian Shaw, it speaks to her inner conflict as both Latina and black: here she is, working alongside Xavier in an arrangement with a government that, during the sixties, was memorably hostile towards her kind. Director Matthew Vaughn’s flying sequences with the character are different from the way other characters in these films take flight, her insect-like appendages fluttering softly and quickly, cutting through the air with grace as she attacks in a halter top and go-go boots.
The “X-Men” films have done a pretty good job as far as casting decisions, picking a few no-brainers for certain roles like Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier. But none have been as obvious as Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Henry McCoy, known to die-hards as Beast. Grammer’s turn as the furry blue hero is unfortunately undone by obvious writing, terrible makeup and costuming, and Grammer giving a fairly ineffectual performance. You just can’t squeeze an acclaimed actor into a too-tight suit and slap a rug on his face and chest and find Beast. However, Beast does get to utter the immortal Beast line, “O my stars and garters!” and Grammer’s delivery of that moment is surely worth the price of admission. Points off, strongly, for going back to work for the government even though they just weaponized the cure and basically started World War III with mutants.
20. Kitty Pryde
Hard to believe, but at one point Kitty Pryde was one of the most popular “X-Men” characters, maybe even the most popular. The movies certainly haven’t acted that way: the character makes brief appearances in the first two films before Ellen Page stepped in for the third film and now “Days Of Future Past.” Credit must be given to perfectly ace casting, since the forever-young Page makes a superb Kitty, all plucky intelligence and resourcefulness. Unfortunately, during the over-crowded third film, she’s given two dubious tasks: one, to break up Iceman and Rogue, giving Rogue the motivation to spring for the mutant cure. And two, battling Juggernaut, a one-on-one decision that makes no sense and demeans both characters (while allowing her to be called a “bitch”). ‘Days Of Future Past’ ends up even more crowded than “The Last Stand,” and ultimately Page is left in the on-deck circle while other characters steal the spotlight.
One of the most beloved X-Men, Colossus has nonetheless drawn the short stick as far as the movies. He first appeared briefly in “X2: X-Men United” where he gets to show off his powers as well as the character’s artistry, doodling drawings of Rogue and Iceman making out. Sadly, at the midway point he departs. He returns in the third film, but doesn’t really get much to say or do there either, though at least he gets to join the main team. What’s worse, he’s placed on the same battlefield as the Juggernaut and at no point do they fight. How criminal. Regardless, Daniel Cudmore returns for ‘Days Of Future Past’ and still looks as massive as he should, even if he’s no longer the heavily-accented Russian of the comics. And the metal effects don’t stray too far from the comics, which is to say it is totally awesome to see a dude become an all-metallic badass onscreen.
Sorry, Iceman, but you just have got nothing going on. The character has popped up in the first three “X-Men” movies, and each time you needed to remind yourself he was in them. Shawn Ashmore’s characterization ended up being miles away from the more fun-loving version in the comics, as he became stuck to Rogue’s side as a love struck teammate frustrated that there was distance between them. In actuality, there was more chemistry between Ashmore’s Bobby Drake and Aaron Stanford’s Pyro, particularly as they duke it out a couple of times during the second and third movies. Ashmore’s stick-in-the-mud persona has softened for the new film, where he’s finally able to take the full-on ice appearance of the comics and pull off a couple of ice-related stunts. But he’s basically dead weight, particularly unlikable for basically cheating on Rogue in the third film, then coming back to her just because she took the cure.
When pre-production photos were released showing fan-favorite Quicksilver, the silver-haired speedster played by Evan Peters who also appears in Joss Whedon‘s upcoming "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" (in that film, he’s essayed by "Godzilla" lead Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the character looked downright embarrassing. A truly awful burger commercial seemed to solidify this character’s place as one of the more laughable additions to "X-Men: Days of Future Past." But the damnedest thing happened: he ends up being the movie’s undeniable highlight. Not only is Peters’ performance spry and spritely, full of humor and wit, but he’s also involved in the most thrillingly-constructed set piece in the entire movie: a breathless jailbreak sequence (the less said the better) that is punctuated by a gorgeous and hilarious moment scored to Jim Croce‘s "Time in a Bottle." In a weird way, the Quicksilver character represents everything right about "X-Men: Days of Future Past:" a willingness to experiment, the introduction of beloved characters that doesn’t feel like fan service, and the presence of actual humor.
It’s not your fault, James Marsden. We like you — everyone likes you! — but there was just nowhere to go with an underwritten character and the lack of eyes to express yourself. It didn’t help that somehow these movies have never been able to figure out what to do with the visor-sporting leader of the team. The alpha-male one-upmanship with Wolverine in the first film crackled appropriately, and he even gifts Wolverine with an opportunity to have the best line (“You’re a dick”). But by the second film, he gets conked out and disappears from the narrative, only returning in the third act under mind control. By the time the third film came around, Cyclops was a boozy mess following the loss of Jean Grey, though why she ends up killing him remains something of a screenwriter’s secret, since nobody seems to know why that was necessary. Though he gets a gravestone next to Professor Xavier, no one ever mentions that he’s actually dead, no one mourns him… does he even get a funeral? Raw deal, Cyclops. Later a young version of him showed up in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” where again he is unable to use his powers to the fullest extent and is basically led around in the darkness by Wolverine.
Unsheathing her adamantium fingernails, Deathstrike’s appearance in “X2: X-Men United” immediately made her the most fearsome of Wolverine’s foes. Shorn of her complex comic back-story, Deathstrike is sadly reduced to being a henchman in the film, brainwashed by Col. Stryker’s mind-control serum. Kelly Hu’s rare moments when Deathstrike gains control of her mind reveals a quiet, wordless vulnerability, bringing unlikely pathos to such an underwritten part. And when she lets loose, taking the fight to Wolverine, it’s a spectacular throwdown, the best one-on-one fight of the Singer films thus far. Death has a certain ambiguity with this crowd — we wouldn’t mind Deathstrike somehow returning to the “X-Men” world, particularly considering Hu’s always been signed to multiple films, and her character has a secret past we’d all like to know about.
Because she’s had such a diverse history, the filmmakers behind the “X-Men” films were able to have Storm develop her own identity within these films independent of continuity. How peculiar that they opted for aggressive malevolence: Storm’s had plenty of dialogue scenes where she basically whispers her opposition to humans and her hope that she might one day give in to her anger and take her fury out on the human race. In the first film, she gets snippy with Senator Kelly, to the point of delivering veiled threats. In the second film, she actually suggests to Nightcrawler that he open his heart up to hate against their human oppressors. And in the third movie, she’s so defiant against the “mutant cure” that she basically walks around Xavier’s Mansion throwing hissy fits. The new movie shows that her militancy wasn’t a front, so at least there’s consistency there. But they really missed a chance to make her formidable on the battlefield: she’s basically a plot device these films, asked by others to create rain or dissipate fog like she was a machine.
The movies’ biggest departure from the comics has to be Rogue, the Southern belle of the page turned into a much more demure younger woman. As played by Oscar winner Anna Paquin, Rogue is a scared runaway in the first movie, hanging out with Wolverine as she attempts to distance herself from her home life, and an accident that may have cost a boyfriend his life. Unfortunately, the movies end up trapping her in love triangles, without establishing if she’s part of the main team or just another student. In the second film, she finds herself attached to Iceman; even though it’s clear Pyro sees chances to impress her. And in the third one, she has to deal with Iceman straying towards Kitty Pryde, eventually opting to change herself to better suit his needs and keep his affections. It’s just one of many questionable creative decisions that the third film makes in regards to the female characters, turning Rogue into not a hero or independent woman, but someone who needs to alter the essence of their being just to be with a boy.
Though he only had one shot at playing the character, Alan Cumming created a pretty unique Kurt Wagner in “X2: X-Men United.” The movie decided to chuck the humor and peculiar sensuality of Nightcrawler in the comics, instead taking things in another direction, creating a character of strong, overly guilty Catholic faith. While this dour reading meant that any arc he underwent would be truncated, limited to that film’s fifth or sixth most pressing storyline, his appearance was notable, from the sharply-detailed body paint and hoof-like fingers to his intricately designed tattoos. Of course, there’s also that first scene in “X2: X-Men United” when Nightcrawler lets loose in the White House, BAMFing all over the building in an impressive display of power, showcasing not only his dynamite teleportation skills but also the lethal aspects of his prehensile tail. Though he had some good material with Halle Berry’s Storm, Cumming did not return to the role, which is unfortunate since his powers skill set would have definitely granted him membership on the team.
11. Sebastian Shaw
In the midst of every civil rights struggle, there are opportunists. Such is the nature of Sebastian Shaw, a sniveling salesman who manages to capitalize on both World War II and the Cold War. When he threatens Magneto during the Holocaust, you realize this is just the latest of several mutant children he’s captured and tortured, physically and emotionally. His jackboot authority suited him well during the war, but when the sixties rolled around; Shaw switched gears and sexualized his act, becoming a swaggerlicious vanilla ice cream suit-wearing slime ball who attempts to maneuver the world into nuclear war that would allow the remnants of a nuked society to be ruled over by the Children Of The Atom. In Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class,” the film cannily argues that, unlike previous comic book villains, Shaw’s style is based in the seeds of capitalism, desires that lead him to betray his own kind with a smile on his face, making him maybe the most insidious of X-baddies. True to form, Kevin Bacon adds to the colorful roster of bad guys on his resume, playing Shaw as a slime ball with genuine threat, a guy who’ll make one effort to recruit you before crushing you underneath his foot. If Shaw wants you on his team, best to join or pay the price.
10. Young Beast
More successful than Grammer at capturing the intellectual, erudite complexities of the Beast is Nicholas Hoult. His performance is nothing like Grammer, oddly enough, but he still creates a characterization that’s both vulnerable and intellectually curious. By the time he completes his furry blue transformation in ‘First Class’ you feel bad not for his further mutation, but that he just couldn’t fathom how that would go wrong. While there is some dubious wirework at play, the movies at least do well by capturing Beast’s wild agility and ferocious fighting ability. Grammer’s physicality limited him in the earlier movie, but Hoult lets loose and presents his genius as someone who has found his gift to be a curse, shaping him unrecognizably with his hormones at peak levels. He can invent almost anything in the world, but he can’t find a taker for his heart.
9. Jean Grey
Famke Janssen was given a difficult task right off the bat with the “X-Men” movies. While Fox was merely crossing their fingers hoping for sequels, Janssen was working to place a hint of the emergent Phoenix Force with every major use of her powers, starting with the Statue of Liberty scene in the first movie. It’s difficult to give a performance as someone holding back an evil force, so in some ways, Janssen’s turn is not unlike Mia Farrow’s in “Rosemary’s Baby.” She’s a wonderfully skilled actress, having grown leaps and bounds since her breakout role in “Goldeneye,” but in the “X-Men” movies she had to register the sort of inner strength that allowed her to convincingly seem as if she’s holding something more powerful at bay. It’s disappointing that the third film turns her into a mindless killing machine, but her moments of serenity in dream sequences in “The Wolverine” are hallucinatory highlights.
One of the more satisfying arcs of the earlier films, Aaron Stanford’s Pyro begins life as a disillusioned member of the “good” mutants, lightly sparring with pal Iceman as his sociopathic tendencies grow. Slowly, you find out that he’s the type that will never accept that there’s anything bigger than himself, and that he’s got to get his: the moment when Magneto brings him close and tells him he is a “God amongst insects” is the ultimate trigger. But before that, watch his discomfort in the sequence at the Drakes’ house. Iceman’s parents are understandably troubled by their son’s mutation, but they’re still a loving and supportive family. And yet Pyro looks on, and without dialogue we know he resents this domesticity, this relatively settled calmness, the support system one can guess he’s never had, and ultimately sees in Magneto. Stanford’s a lot of fun in the role, definitely a mutant with a nasty streak, but still a budding villain as opposed to the malicious agent of death he becomes in the third film.
7. Young Professor Xavier
You’re bound to have a lot of love for messy, swinging James McAvoy, who brings a sexy rogue appeal to his characterization of the Professor. Particularly in the recent film, as he shows that Xavier has become a broken husk of a man, a man who traded all of his principles just to keep himself above water, losing a pivotal friendship in his life due to his beliefs. Knowing McAvoy grows up to become the responsible, mature Patrick Stewart interpretation of the character you root for him to succeed. In fairness, he is obliterated off the screen by Michael Fassbender, and like Fassy his accent slips from time to time. But it’s McAvoy’s charm that leads you to believe he could inspire a cutting wit and leading man chutzpah that makes you want to hitch your wagon to Xavier’s School with ease.
6. Young Mystique
As played by Jennifer Lawrence in the new films, she initially seemed a bit too lightweight and hormonal in comparison to the driven young Professor Xavier. But as the new film shows, she’s now a principled, lethal weapon, able to change the course of mutant history and loathe to obey the orders and demands of bloodthirsty humans. Lawrence’s performance in the last two films captures the birth of a radical, first as a loner seeking somewhere to belong, and then a mobilized freedom fighter with no doubts about what is right. She gets more to do in ‘First Class,’ learning how to find comfort in herself and her skills, but she gets to play more in ‘Days Of Future Past,’ revealing someone who preemptively takes the fight to those that would persecute her. They’ve probably overdosed on the martial arts, and it’s unclear how much oppression Mystique has really experienced in her earlier days, but Lawrence gives this character a sharp edge she often lacked in the comics.
5. Professor Xavier
The story of Charles Xavier in the movies seems very much like the more contemporary comics, spotlighting a born leader who nonetheless remains loaded with contradictions. Patrick Stewart’s debates and discussions with Ian McKellen’s Magneto bring out the fire in the first two films, the two of them having obvious respect for each other, if distinct disdain for the other’s politics. Stewart brings such gravitas to the role that it’s almost startling to see Xavier’s common sense and rationality plunge out the window in the third film, which depicts Professor X as a schoolmarmish jerk who forces himself onto the mind of Jean Grey and eventually brings about the Phoenix. In a series filled with tumult, questionable continuity and tragedy, Stewart’s Xavier feels like a constant, a reminder that in the end, the mutants always have a home at his school.
4. Young Magneto
Michael Fassbender took over for Ian McKellen in ‘First Class’ and ‘Days Of Future Past,’ adding untold levels of sexuality to the character’s mutant leadership. You didn’t just want to follow Magneto into battle, willing to take any sort of bruises for his quest for mutant domination. You also wanted to jump in bed with him. Sure Fassbender’s accent flags considerably, but his Magneto is equal parts Malcolm X and Che Guevara, absolutely magnetic in his conviction. The first chunk of ‘First Class,”’where Fassbender tracks his Nazi tormentors, is some of the best material in these films. The manner in which he savagely executes these villains are sharp stabs at violence with considerable, cocky wit carried out by an actor at peak physical charisma.
Given a massive facelift from the comics, the movies’ version of Mystique is a real show-stopper. Ostensibly the second in command to the Brotherhood of Mutants, Magneto’s bosom buddy in the first two films, played by Rebecca Romjin, is a convincingly dangerous zealot, a skilled martial artist, and a sexual nightmare: the moment where Mystique infiltrates Wolverine’s tent in “X2: X-Men United” is the most sexually-loaded moment in all superhero films, as she leafs through a list of Wolverine’s friends and enemies to find a persona that excites him. She has a real mic drop moment when approached by Nightcrawler, responding to his question about appearances with a defiance that suggests years of hard-fought oppression. The earlier films had the older Mystique as a Swiss army knife villain, one of mystery who didn’t let her facade slip. While we’re glad the new films reveal some newer aspects of her character, a little bit went an awful long way.
Oh Hugh Jackman, you devilish stud. You may not be the dream Wolverine — you’re far too handsome, and not at all close to Wolverine’s infamous 5”3 height from the comics. But we were really only a few breaths away from getting Dougray Scott as Wolverine, and if production on “Mission: Impossible 2” didn’t run long, that’s exactly what would have happened. Perish the thought. Jackman’s rise to the A-List coincided with his placement as Marvel’s treasured mutant anti-hero, and he brought a tremendous amount of loner sex appeal to one of the most beloved characters in the Marvel canon. And wouldn’t you know it, the films actually gave him an arc, as we met Logan in 2000’s “X-Men” as a troubled loner only to find him growing into the role of leader during “X-Men: The Last Stand,” a move that was later echoed by the comics. And in “The Wolverine,” it convincingly shows that arc unraveled in the wake of Jean Grey’s death, Wolverine resorting back to his hairy wanderer status as if it were some sort of lone man prophecy: he’ll live forever, which means things will keep getting taken away from him, and he’ll keep reverting back to the animal inside of him.
It was “X-Men: The Last Stand” when Ian McKellen’s super villain answered a snobbish question about tattoos by rolling up his sleeve, revealing the numbers the Nazis had imprinted on his skin. This was following him interrupting a paranoid town meeting suggestion about genocide by stating, “No one ever talks about it. They just do it.” Right then and there, with Magneto making his pitch to the disenfranchised as the government planned to use the “cure” as a weapon… THAT’S the point where you stop rooting for the X-Men and realize you’re on Magneto’s side. It isn’t just that the humans are demonstrably monstrous in these films, nor is it that Professor X is so unconvincing as a leader. Rather, it’s the magnetism of McKellen, who wears his cape not as a portrait of comic excess, but because he believes the mutants should have a throne, and few have made as many sacrifices as he has in the battle to liberate mutantkind and eradicate the human threat.
Well, there we have it, thoughts? Weigh in below as usual and try not to freak out too much. – Gabe Toro, Drew Taylor, Rodrigo Perez