What makes a good X-Men film?

9 Jul

With the release of X-Men: First Class, and the success that it has achieved, both critically and commercially, it is now time to ask the question that is on everyone’s lips: what makes a good X-Men film?

There have been a total of five X-Men films now, all of them are linked and all of them share cast members. Each has a large cast and across the life of the franchise no less than four different directors have transitioned the characters to film. Brett Ratner, Bryan Singer, Danny Wood and Mathew Vaughn have all helmed, however out of them, there are those who are clearly better at directing superhero films.

So, let’s start with the directors. Danny Wood directed X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Mathew Vaughn directed X-Men: First Class, Brett Ratner directed X-Men 3 and Bryan Singer directed X-Men and X-Men 2. Prior to X-Men, Danny wood directed the Academy Award winning Tsotsi, Brett Ratner had cut his gums on the Rush Hour series, Mathew Vaughn directed the superlative Kick-Ass among others and Bryan Singer broke into the scene with The Usual Suspects. These are all very different films, and indeed none are specifically similar to any of the X-Men films. Yes, some elements are comic, as in Kick Ass,  some are touching as in Tsotsi, some are very action orientated, as in Rush Hour and the intrigue present in The Usual Suspects is very much alive in the X-Men films. Does that mean that anyone of these directors has a different expertise that benefits the franchise more? No, it does not.

On closer inspection, it can be seen that one thing holds two directors above the others, that is a love of comic-books. Matthew Vaughn and his writing partner Jane Goldman have in the past adapted the work of Neil Gaiman and Mark Millar for the silver screen to explosive effect and clearly love the genre, their dialogue and understanding is near unmatched in the film industry. Bryan Singer is a comic-book geek, he loves the characters and has grown up with them. Alone, a love for the genre and the characters does not guarantee a good superhero film, Zack Snyder loved Watchmen a little too much, suffocating the film while Christopher Nolan, only vaguely interested in Batman beforehand, revolutionised the genre. What elevates the films of Singer and Vaughn is the balance between love and technical ability. While Wood and Ratner are both technically competent directors, they don’t care much for the characters, and indeed X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine are very much exercises in style over substance.

That is not to say that the characters present in X-Men aren’t exercises in style over substance themselves. Who among the X-Men has real depth? Xavier is an all-powerful rich boy, Wolverine is nigh-on indestructible, Storm is Halle Berry and Mystique can become anyone. There are those who have suffered real trauma and difficulty, such as Magneto, Nightcrawler, Rogue and Beast, yet they are never truly the focus. It is when an X-film gives more breathing room to its more troubled characters that they truly begin to rise. After all, that is what the X-Men are, the representatives of genetic diversity fighting against the bigotry and fear present in the world, frightened teenagers and troubled adults who have to come to terms with overwhelming responsibility. X-Men 2 and X-Men: First Class touch on these themes to varying degrees and are all the better for it, with the truly interesting characters being given plenty of time in the sun. Again, this is where Wolverine and X-Men 3 fail, both are nothing more than glorified action scenes pasted together with vague attempts at pathos.

So, it has been established then, X-Men: First Class and X-Men 2 are the best examples of the X-franchise, while Wolverine and X-Men 3 fall flat. The directors are what truly make the difference in these productions. From casting, to scriptwriting, to producing, the directors have had a hand in many aspects of the final product that constitutes each film, not least shooting it. Danny Wood and Brett Ratner fall short where Mathew Vaughn and Bryan Singer stand tall.

So what makes a good X-Men film?

The director.

So, where next? Fox has stated that they envisage a trilogy being produced from the newly released X-film, something which should surely be celebrated. Whether it will be Mathew Vaughn at the helm is something that is yet to be seen, but one thing is sure, now that we know what happens when toads are struck by lightning and that you shouldn’t mess with the Juggernaut, bitch, we can comfortably look forward to more X-drama, X-fun and most importantly, X-citement.

Sean Cameron

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One Response to “What makes a good X-Men film?”

  1. Shinken del Fénix July 9, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

    They should also get Wolverine right (in particular his honor and intelligence) and also explore more in depth the relationship between Professor Xavier, Cyclops, and Jean Gray.

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