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The DVD Shelf: The Evolution of the X-Men Saga (Part 2)

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After the knockout punch of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I lost faith in the X-Men franchise.

I was sure that it was dead, especially when the long gestating Magneto origin film was nixed. I couldn’t even imagine them making another film after those two critical disasters, and I moved on, putting the X-Men out of my mind and focusing on the newly established Marvel Cinematic Universe. And then word came out that more films would be made with a new cast which would cover the early years of my favorite team of mutants.

If Batman Begins taught us anything, it’s that a series reboot can do wonders. Then again, The Amazing Spider-Man also taught us that a reboot can fall on its face. However, what followed wasn’t a straight reboot, but more of a prequel series. It didn’t matter to me. I was still burned by Last Stand and Origins. When X-Men: First Class was released in 2011, I intentionally avoided seeing it in the theater. I had no zero faith that it would be good.

I finally gave in after hearing so much positive buzz about it, deciding to watch it on Blu-ray once it was available. Upon watching, I instantly regretted missing it in the theater. The story took us to a time before the X-Men were a thing, showing us a young Charles, Erik, and Raven as they worked together to stop a mutant hell bent on world destruction – Sebastian Shaw. In order to stop Shaw and his band of mutants, Charles and Erik assemble the titular “first class” of X-Men. This was a glorious return to form for the franchise.

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From left to right: Banshee, Magneto, Mystique, Moira MacTaggert, Beast, Professor X, Havok.

First Class was fun, dramatic, comical at times, and emotional. Just like the first trilogy of films, this abandoned the over-the-top style of Origins in favor of returning back to the real world view point. This film was firmly grounded in the 1960s, aside from the bits in the beginning that took place in the mid-40s. They even incorporated the Cuban Missile Crisis into the storyline, making it a part of Shaw’s plan. Another great aspect was that we received a huge amount of new faces, not only with the actors but the characters as well.

The lead protagonists this time around were series veteran characters Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and Beast (Nicholas Hoult). Almost all of the other mutants and characters were nowhere to be found in the original films, for both the villains and the heroes. Not only that, but very few of them were familiar to me at all. The previous series of films used more well-known characters that appeared in the cartoons, but here we were getting characters like Azazel, Riptide, and Darwin, showing me new characters I hadn’t seen before and making this film feel more unique for it.

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Kevin Bacon’s Shaw with his band of mutants Whiplash (Alex Gonzalez), Azazel (Jason Flemyng), and Emma Frost (January Jones).

The one thing I always took issue with is where this falls within the cannon of the prior films. This is clearly meant to be connected, after all, we have Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Romijn making cameos as Wolverine and an older Raven/Mystique respectively. They also used some of the footage from the opening scene in X-Men that showed us a young Magneto gaining his powers at a concentration camp, and intertwined it with some new footage to extend that scene and give us more insight into his origins. On the other hand, we are treated to a unique relationship that doesn’t gel with the other films, that being the one between Raven and Charles.

In First Class, Raven and Charles meet as children, forming a sibling type of bond as they grow up together and go through their lives as normally as possible. By the end, she ditches Charles for Erik, leaving the newly crippled Professor on a beach with the other remaining X-Men. I feel like that moment was made because of where Mystique needs to be as a character, because as we know, she is a villain in the first trilogy. They did build towards that separation, but it still felt a bit forced and too soon. Still, that is something I don’t really have issue with. It’s the fact that they formed this familial bond in the first place.

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Charles and Raven meet for the first time.

When watching X-Men, I never got the impression that they had a past at all. I think she was cool to have in First Class and its sequels, but to serve as a proper prequel to X-Men, I feel like she shouldn’t have been in it, at least not in that capacity. Hell, even just making her one of the first X-Men recruits who then decides to follow Erik in the end would have made more sense to me, but that’s ok. All of the greatness in this movie easily drowns out the nitpicks. Without a doubt, First Class redeemed the X-Men franchise for fans everywhere, myself included. I was excited about the X-Men again and looked forward to the next installment, not counting the next Wolverine film.

My revived goodwill towards the series did not extend to the Wolverine franchise at all, and so I ignored The Wolverine after its 2013 release. Again, much like First Class, I waited until the film came to Blu-ray and then finally gave in and watched the unrated cut. It’s hard to call it a good movie, but it was a fun, brainless action flick that was a vast improvement over Origins, though that’s not saying much.

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Wolverine fighting ninjas. If only it was an hour and a half of that.

The story of The Wolverine found our favorite mutant as he is reeling after the events of Last Stand. He is invited to come to Japan by a man he saved during World War II, who offers Logan the only gift he can- the gift of mortality. Logan declines the offer, and the man dies soon after. While attending the funeral, a group of Yakuza attempt to kidnap the decedent’s granddaughter and Wolverine steps in to rescue her. In the process, he is shot but isn’t healing. Now on the run and protecting the granddaughter, Wolverine must get to the bottom of who’s after her and figure out what happened to his powers.

Ultimately, it was a lackluster follow up to First Class, providing some sillier moments and uninteresting villains, such as Viper. As fun as it was to see Wolverine face off against Yakuza and ninjas, including an extra bloody use of an industrial size snow blower (in the unrated cut), it was still not enough to make this a great film. It was further hindered by the lackluster final fight against the giant mech-suited Silver Samurai, an odd interpretation of the character made even worse by iffy CGI. However, there was a nifty little post-credit scene referencing the next X-Men film, and that one I was excited for.

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Who thought the sentinel-sized Silver Samurai was a good idea?

The following year brought us the next entry into the X-Men saga, once again returning us to the main storyline of Charles and Erik. X-Men: Days of Future Past did something equally intriguing and unique by combining the casts of the original films and First Class in a story told simultaneously in the future and the past. Even though the story mostly focuses on the past, the future is given a hefty amount of screen time.

The story finds the mutants, as played by the original cast from Last Stand, in the not-too-distant future. The world is a war zone as the sentinels mercilessly hunt them down, doing anything it takes to wipe out all mutants. To help undo all of this death and destruction, they decide to use Kitty Pryde’s mutant powers to send Wolverine’s consciousness back into his younger self and recruit both Charles and Erik to try and stop the event leading to it all – the capture of Mystique by the government when she assassinates the creator of the sentinels, Bolivar Trask.

As with most time travel-related movies, the more you think about it, the more holes you can poke into it, but in the end it is basically explained as “well, her mutant powers combined with Wolverine’s regenerating brain tissue allows them to send his consciousness back to the 1970s.” And we shouldn’t really think about it more than that. Just go with it. This all just gives us a reason to follow a pre-Weapon X Wolverine as he teams up with the First Class crew, or at least the four characters that return.

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Wolverine, Beast, and Professor X working together to stop the destruction of mutant-kind.

That’s right, only four characters return in any meaningful capacity (five if you count the very brief appearance of Alex Summers/Havok). The other mutants from First Class are shown to have died at the hands of Bolivar Trask during the course of his mutant experimentation. That honestly disappointed me. It’s not that I was overly attached to any of those characters, but it seemed cheap to just kill them all in the time between the films. In a way, I get it. There is a lot going on between the two time lines with more than enough characters as it is.

Within the future timeline, we not only have the returning characters and their corresponding actors from the original films: Magneto, Professor X, Iceman, Colossus, Storm, and Kitty Pride – but we also get a few new characters in Bishop, Warpath, Blink, and Johnny Storm…I mean, Sunspot. Then in the past, we have the returning Charles, Erik, Mystique, and Beast in addition to the newly-added and scene-stealing Quicksilver and non-mutant antagonists Trask and Stryker (yes, that is the same Stryker from X2, only younger. So overall there is a huge amount of characters at play here, some new and some series veterans, giving us a nice mix that also links both X-Men series of films together…or does it?

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The impressive cast of mutants from both timelines.

The use of all of the actors from the prior films reprising their roles is a clear indicator that First Class and this follow up Days of Future Past are indeed supposed to be prequels to the original films. However, that doesn’t track very well. Let us rewind back to Last Stand, the film where everything fell apart. Do you recall I mentioned that Professor X was killed? Well if you noticed in the above paragraph, he is in the future timeline as if it never happened. His body was completely evaporated by Jean Grey, there was no mistaking that.

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I thought I said “no disintegrations”.

And yes, there was a brief scene at the end of Last Stand where we saw Professor X in a hospital bed, however the implication there was that he had transferred his consciousness into a comatose patient. So, he was technically still around, but it wasn’t actually his body. How then is he possibly still around in the future timeline? He and Magneto even showed up in the aforementioned post-credit scene in The Wolverine with no explanation given at all as to how he is still around. I mean, I am happy he’s there. I thought killing him was a mistake but it still makes for some wonky continuity. And he’s not the only one with questionable character continuity. There is also Trask.

Bolivar Trask is the creator of the sentinels, doing so because of his fear of mutants. In Days of Future Past, he is played by Tyrion Lannister himself, Peter Dinklage. However, in Last Stand, there was a character named Trask (no first name was given) played by Bill Duke. I have provided a visual reference below, but for those of you familiar with the actors, you are well aware that the tall, bald, African-American Bill Duke bears zero resemblance to the short, white Peter Dinklage. Apparently some say they are not the same character, which is technically possible, however I find that highly unlikely since Trask is an important name in the comics/cartoon and there is no way a male character named Trask isn’t supposed to be Bolivar (or his son).

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The two faces of Trask – Bill Duke (left) showing his excitement for being in X-Men: The Last Stand and Peter Dinklage (right) doing his best Ron Burgundy impression.

Even with these apparent timeline inconsistencies, there isn’t enough to detract from the film. There are countless great character moments, action set pieces, and dramatic moments spread throughout the movie – you just have to be able to ignore some of the time travelling quandaries that come up in any such movie. It was wonderful to see both highly talented casts working on the same film, once again breathing life into our favorite mutants and hitting me right in the nostalgia for the first two X-Men films. Much like with X2, I felt this series was on its way up as it headed towards its third film, however there was a unique stop off on the path towards the sequel.

In February 2016, we received a long-awaited, violent, R-rated, insult-filled comic book movie unlike any other thus far – Deadpool. Fans rejoiced as the Merc with a Mouth made his second feature film appearance, only this time they got it right. He breaks the fourth wall, is offensively insulting, and incredibly violent. He breaks all of the superhero conventions we are used to, and we love him more for it. We are flooded with so many typical comic book movies, most of which I greatly enjoy, but we haven’t had a good R-rated comic book hero movie since Blade II back in 2002.

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Deadpool – a comic book “hero” who isn’t afraid to kill the bad guys.

Not only did Deadpool break the comic book movie norms, but it completely redeemed the character after the terrible butchery of Deadpool, and the X-Men universe, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. This movie was actually fun and incredibly funny, and plenty of people agreed as it easily broke records during its theatrical run. I’m not just bringing this up because the character appeared in Origins, but rather because Deadpool interacts with the X-Men in this film, placing it firmly in the X-Men universe.

Throughout Deadpool, our anti-hero must deal with the traditional hero types that are the X-Men…well, he just has to deal with two of them (one of his great fourth-wall-breaking jokes is that the film could only afford the rights for two) – Colossus and his protégé Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Yes, that is really her character’s name. The giant metallic X-Man seeks out Deadpool to stop his incessant violence and convince him to join the X-Men, to which Deadpool refuses. Later on in the film, Deadpool then seeks the duo’s help in defeating the bad guy, which gives us a fair amount of X-Men action, even if it is just two characters.

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Deadpool isn’t afraid to show how he really feels about joining the X-Men.

If that’s where our tale ended, it would have been on a very high note for the X-Men, even if it wasn’t technically an X-Men film. It was highly entertaining and contained some very comic book accurate representations, even if Negasonic Teenage Warhead was given different powers for the movie to more accurately match her name (in the comics she’s a telepath and precognitive). However, later in 2016, we received the next chapter in the Charles and Erik saga, X-Men: Apocalypse.

As I stated earlier, after Days of Future Past, I was excited about the next chapter for the X-Men, that is, until I found out more about it. I began to have flashbacks to the first trilogy where we started with two strong films and now we are getting an “end of days” finale that tackles one of the major characters from the comics, while adding more characters in substantial roles. I was afraid it was going to be Last Stand all over again – an overburdened, rushed mess with not enough character development and more style over substance.

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Apocalypse has plenty of new and returning characters to the series.

The story of Apocalypse maintained the trend of skipping ahead to a new decade, sending us to the ‘80s as the world is now fully aware of mutants after the events in the ‘70s timeline of Days of Future Past. Xavier’s school is in full swing while Erik hides himself in Eastern Europe under a new identity and with a new family. Apocalypse, the first and quite possibly most powerful mutant, is accidentally awoken and brings with him a desire to put mankind back in its place to allow mutants to reign supreme. Now Charles and his X-Men must try to stop Apocalypse and his newly recruited Four Horsemen before mankind is wiped out.

This film brought in quite a few new mutants to the First Class series while also bringing back a couple of characters from First Class. Mutant friendly Moira MacTaggert and Alex Summers/Havok both make a return to the series, though Havok was technically in Days of Future Past, it was more of a cameo, whereas this time he actually has a little more substance to his role. We also have the series regulars of Professor X, Magneto, Mystique, and Beast maintaining a strong presence in this film, while giving us some pivotal characters from the original films with the introduction of Alex’s brother Scott aka Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Angel. Then there is Quicksilver and Stryker who make their return from Days of Future Past. And lastly, we have series newcomers Psylocke and Apocalypse. Oh, and don’t forget the violent extended cameo from Wolverine, because we just can’t have an X-Men movie without Wolverine.

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The characters of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) make their return to the X-Men saga.

Some of these characters are more prominent than others, and perhaps one of the most disappointing aspects of that are the Four Horsemen…well, more like Two Horsemen and Two Horsewomen. If you couldn’t tell from the trailers, Apocalypse recruits Magneto, Storm, Psylocke, and Angel to become his disciples. Magneto has the greatest arc of them all- hell, he has one of the most dynamic arcs of the entire trilogy.

In this film, he tries living a normal life working at a steel mill until one day there’s an accident and he uses his powers to save a man. Soon after, the local authorities catch wind and realize he is the man that attacked the President of the United States (the events at the end of Days of Future Past) and attempt to arrest him. In the process, his wife and daughter are killed and he loses it. The compassion he regained for mankind was gone in an instant and he was back to wanting to dominate them, something Apocalypse took advantage of in order to recruit him. The other three? Well, not so much characterization was given.

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While trying to a live a normal existence, Erik is outed as being Magneto after saving a coworker’s life.

Storm is a simple thief living in Egypt. She looks to Mystique as a hero after her actions at the end of the last movie, and then she is saved by Apocalypse who soon after sways her to join him. Then there’s Angel, who was forced into being a pit fighter prior to escaping after Mystique’s interference, and then I guess he became an alcoholic and was then recruited to be one of the Horsemen. And lastly, there’s Psylocke, a character with barely any lines, who worked as an enforcer for a fellow mutant. She decides to follow Apocalypse simply because he’s powerful.

It’s not so much that I’m disappointed in the lack of depth for our villains, though that is disappointing, it’s the fact that they don’t really do much. They barely pose a threat to the X-Men, and seem to be bested rather easily, which is made more confusing because they were supposed to be more powerful thanks to Apocalypse, so in the end I don’t really see much of a benefit to those granted a position at his side. Now Apocalypse himself proves to be a great and imposing villain and I think Oscar Isaac was plenty menacing despite not being as overly large as prior depictions I’ve seen. I just wish his Horsemen/women were more of a challenge for our heroes.

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Apocalypse seeks to bring his namesake upon humankind.

I’ve already talked about how the other movies in this new trilogy seemed as if they were supposed to be prequels to the already existing series, and yet they have a few contradictory details that don’t totally fit in with that timeline. After the events of Days of Future Past, that becomes a moot point going forward because the future was changed. It was given a reboot, so any character can live, die or form different relationships as part of the butterfly effect. There is no set future. You’d think that would mean there are no timeline inconsistencies anymore, because there is no more timeline, but you’d be wrong.

If you’ve read PART 1 of this blog, you may have noticed Angel was in X-Men: The Last Stand. There’s nothing unusual about that, plenty of younger versions of characters show up in the new trilogy. However, Last Stand Angel actor Ben Foster was in his mid-20s at the time of making that movie, meaning his character was most likely meant to be about that same age if not younger in the mid-2000s. Ben Hardy, who plays Angel in Apocalypse, was also in his mid-20s at the time of filming, and this film takes place in the early 1980s, so new timeline or not, it seems pretty impossible for Angel to end up 20 years younger.

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Ben Foster (left) as Angel in Last Stand vs Ben Hardy (right) as Angel turned Archangel in X-Men: Apocalypse. They look about the same age despite X-Men: The Last Stand taking place 20 years later.

If you pretend that Last Stand doesn’t exist, which is fine with me, then most of these timeline inconsistencies go away. However, it makes you wonder, were these intentional timeline discrepancies? Or did the writers just overlook them accidentally? Few of the changes are major. There are just a couple things here or there, but it’s enough to make me question if the First Class trilogy is a proper prequel or just a reboot that utilized the original actors in key parts for an added box office boost.

Either way, this new trilogy helped redeem the X-Men franchise, bringing it back from the brink after the abysmal Last Stand and Origins. They aren’t without their own missteps, but these new X-Men films brought plenty of fun moments, engaging stories, and new characters. Apocalypse may have been the weakest of the three, but it is miles ahead of Last Stand, making this an all-around solid trilogy for X-Men fans like me. I excitedly look forward to what comes next for our beloved team of mutants. Whether it be the next chapter in the saga of Charles and Erik, or the new Deadpool film, one thing is for sure, I will be there watching it on opening weekend.

About the author

Rob the Posting Robot

Rob is a gaming robot that used to live a terrible life of servitude doing nothing but stacking discs for an ungrateful and mean employer. After being freed by Chozo Ninpo, Rob now lives a wonderful life of servitude uploading videos to Channel Zero. We are very grateful to have him and repay him for his hard work with unlimited access to our video games.