Lest fans forget, Fox was the studio that got this whole superhero cycle started. Long before Civil War or Suicide Squad, the executives over at 20th Century saw the future; and it was speckled with leather suits and mutton-chopped Aussies. Fortunately, there was also dramatic talent involved, one that resulted in the first franchise of the millennium scoring big with fans and critics alike. For nearly a decade, the studio had carte blanche in creativity, scoring major successes (X2: X-Men United) and horrifying flops (Elektra) in equal measure. With the exception of Sony’s Spider-Man series, no one even came close.
Then, everything changed overnight. Iron Man and The Dark Knight shook the superhero industry to it's core in 2008, rewriting the rulebook and setting in motion the masked renaissance of the 2010s (which we are still experiencing). 20th Century was forced to recalibrate, stumbling off the block at first but eventually able to regain mojo in a major way with mutants and a foul-mouthed merc. So with the studio steadily thriving, and X-Men: Apocalypse set to hit theaters on May 27th, the time has come to accredit the legacy of all that’s come before it.
Here is Screen Rant’s Ranking of All the Fox Marvel Movies, From Worst To Best.
Doomed (no pun intended) from the start with pre-production woes and the volatile attitude of director Josh Trank, the second crack at Stan Lee’s celebrated crew somehow proves even “less creative than the 2005 film.” Carrying over the teen angst that played so well in Chronicle (2012), Trank’s now infamous battles with Fox over tone and content made for an experience that’s unbelievably flat in both. One minute Doom (Toby Kebbell) is jealous of Reed Richards (Miles Teller), the next he’s getting drunk and supporting delusions of grandeur with the guy.
Throw in a rushed “bonding” montage and the worst CGI this side of the 70’s, and Fantastic Four “completely unravels at the halfway point.” It's sadistic, really, what Trank and the studio forced upon their fans. Talented actors Teller, Jamie Bell, and Michael B. Jordan are depressingly underused, as is Kate Mara, who doesn’t even get to board the ship to attain her powers! Wrapped up in the a conclusion so anticlimactic it's almost comical, this Fantastic Four is a fantastic flop.
To be fair to Trank and his team, this 2005 outing is practically interchangeable for the bottom of Fox’s barrel. Bringing Jennifer Garner back after the misfire that was Daredevil (2003), the studio somehow felt compelled to craft an entire project around her ill-fitted abilities. Granted, Garner gives the title role her typical gusto, but the halting awkwardness that separates actress from character is far too tough to shake. From the very moment she’s revived by Stick (Terence Stamp), it's clear this thing has a one way ticket to mediocrity-ville, aided by the toothless acting of Will Yun Lee and Kirsten Prout.
It’s not so much that Elektra fails to live up to it's potential, it's that it can’t even match the extremely lax bar set by parent project Daredevil. The script is an absolute coma-inducer, avoiding any signs of spontaneity, while the dialogue is truly the worst Hollywood has to offer. Seriously, when a Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) cameo sounds like an improvement, it’s high time to reassess the gaping holes at hand. And judging from the mixed response to Netflix’s iteration, Elektra still has a few kinks that need working out.
Admittedly, Laurence Fishburne’s baritone is pretty sweet in the title role of this 2007 sequel, whether ranting aloud or going up against The Human Torch (Chris Evans) in combat. His Silver Surfer actually provides the Fantastic Four series with it's most complex character to date; an ironic touch, given the synthetic exterior that ages him in comparison to guys like Groot or The Hulk. But even with this silver lining (and terrible pun), the flaws that marked the first film only worsen with depleted depth and awkward performances.
Acting remains the biggest handicap behind Rise of the Silver Surfer. Ioan Gruffudd still lacks the merit to play Marvel commander Reed Richards, while Invisible Girl Jessica Alba only succeeds in making her onscreen presence disappear. Wryly noted by Screen Ranter Vic Holtreman, “director Tim Story’s decision to have her wear glasses in many of her scenes,” is ridiculously cheap in it's attempt to convince the viewer of Sue's scientific chops. Don't worry, like everything else in the film, it doesn't work. It may have notched a 3.5 rating on Screen Rant back in the day, but this dated dud can best be summed up with a single onset myth: CGI tears.
Released a month after Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, the first Fantastic Four is a flawless example of formulaic cinema. Everything in the film, from Tim Story’s oversaturated tone to the staggering lack of chemistry, finds itself leaning on safe, soft, and seeking the lowest common denominator. The plot is par for the course, showcasing how Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) obtained their superpowers; albeit, through a sheen far too sweet to sustain for two hours.
The Fantastic Four have never been mistaken for the toughest Marvel team, but director Story manipulates this brainy asset into a boring downside. It doesn’t help that romantic leads Gruffudd and Alba are comparable to cardboard on wheels, waltzing through a shared performance far too horrendous to be taken in stride. Chiklis sulks beneath an avalanche of bad makeup, while future Cap Chris Evans does his best in the charisma department. Though initially successful, fans have since been crystal clear regarding the film's lack of quality.
Coming off of the universally adored X2: X-Men United (2003), The Last Stand had a hefty pair of mutant shoes to fill. Unfortunately, Fox was not only dealing with high expectations, but the empty chair left by filmmaker Bryan Singer. As the studio’s resident superhero specialist, Singer was focused upon finishing Superman Returns (2006) for Warner Bros., leaving directorial duties to Brett Ratner of Rush Hour (1998) fame. The results, much to everyone’s chagrin, would mark the lowpoint in the X-Men universe.
There’s way too much going on here to compile a coherent story. In what seems an effort to satisfy every single fan of the first two films, screenwriters Simon Kinberg & Zak Penn pile on one meaty subplot after another; from Jean Grey’s impending ascent to the government regulated cure for mutants. Deaths (Cyclops, Professor X) that should’ve been stunning instead feel unnecessary amidst a video game world gone to hell, and “by the time [they’re] done, the surprises didn’t seem to mean as much as they should.” Ratner received a lot of heat for The Last Stand, but at least this lukewarm outing allowed the franchise to reload in 2011.
Fans really had it out for X-Men Origins back in 2009. Whether it was Gambit’s faux-Cajun accent, the screwed-up timelines, or the shamefully neutered mutant (sorry Deadpool), the film received far more critique for its comic book inconsistency than it's cinematic merit. Not to say these concerns weren’t valid, but backlash against Wolverine’s height in comparison to Sabertooth seemed a little nit-picky, even for the most loyal of Logan lackies. In stripping away it’s source material complaints, however, Origins is actually a passable flick backed by Hugh Jackman’s rough-and-tumble performance.
Slicing back at those who found Wolverine to be “too soft” in The Last Stand (2006), the Australian actor owns his role from the very first frame, a polished portrait of savagery personified. Origins also benefits from a few classic Wolverine moments; one being the wartime montage that spans decades in badass battle, while the other shows the bloody aftermath of Logan’s procedure. It’s far from high art, with a bevy of idiotic moments, but this Screen Rant review hit the nail on the head by tagging Origins “a not-very-deep, surface-level kind of movie” that appeals to the guilty pleasure in all of us.
Blame Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. The 2002 hit molded all superheroes in its acclaimed image, forcing studios to alter their adult products for mass appeal. Such was the case with Daredevil, a film that producer Kevin Feige initially praised as “one of the strongest comic scripts we’ve ever had,” only to fall victim to the tides of peer pressure months before release. What was initially intended as an R-Rated crime drama was sapped down to a tender-footed PG-13, and the compromised artistic vision was only too obvious.
Finding the positives in such a berated project is no easy task, though there are in fact a few worth mentioning. Contrary to X-Men Origins, director Mark Steven Johnson and company go out of their way to honor the source material, with easter eggs and sly nods to original writers. Elsewhere, the campy elements brought to the table by Bullseye (Colin Farrell) and Foggy Nelson (Jon Favreau) push this thing into B-movie territory that makes for entertainment unpleasant to admit. By no means great or even good, 2003’s Daredevil is a mediocre movie made fun by it's own shortcomings.
Taking the flaws of the first Wolverine to heart, this 2013 semi-sequel fixes plenty regarding the grizzled hero’s legacy. For one, the plot of the picture finds itself landing much closer to the Marvel miniseries, a move that pleased purists while enticing casual consumers who were curious. More of a character study than had even been attempted before, Christopher McQuarrie’s script was boldly proclaimed to be the modern equivalent of “Kurosawa’s Wolverine.” Sadly, such a pipe dream was far from fulfilled, especially when noted auteur Darren Aronofsky departed the project early on.
That being said, director James Mangold steps in and does an admirable job crafting a thriller that’s both engaging and exciting on a superhuman level. Anchored by the always charismatic Jackman, The Wolverine excels at being “refreshingly different than just about every other superhero movie” in the Fox Marvel universe. At least “for the first 3/4ths of its running time,” before devolving into a cliched conclusion that undersells an otherwise solid effort. Still, it's a marked improvement over the first film, and with Wolverine 3 rumored to sport an R-Rating, here’s hoping the quality continues to rise.
Controversy? What a surprise. As a long standing Fox tradition by this point, hardcore X-Men fans were more than a little miffed when word came that a prequel project was in the works. Titled First Class and directed by indie darling Matthew Vaughn, the film faced an uphill battle, with blatant disregard for comic book continuity. Then, it was released. Opening to big box office and critical acclaim, it proved that creative liberties could work wonders if used in the right place - something Vaughn and his team of writers showcase flawlessly with First Class.
Delving into stuff that had never been seen nor read before, the film follows the formative years of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in the early 60s. Integrating a massive amount of easter eggs and historical fiction that would come to define later installments, First Class is nevertheless at it's best when allowing the naive young men at it's core to come to fruition. Instead of crumbling under the shadow of their iconography, Vaughn “improves upon these characters’ backstories in ways the comics never have.” As both a resurrection of the franchise and a fresh beginning, First Class is a pivotal entry in the Fox Marvel catalogue.
Turning sixteen years old this July, the original X-Men still earns it's keep as one of the studio’s most-prized possessions. Helmed by director Bryan Singer, the film had the dubious task of restoring superheroes to a state of respectability; especially after the embarrassment that was Batman & Robin (1997). With expectations low and a dramatic edge to lead the way, X-Men hit like an adamantium claw in 2000, scoring huge with fans and jump starting a full-on mutant movement. Some of the effects might be chintzy by today’s standards, but Singer’s impassioned attempt to humanize these heroes harkens back to the Superman days of Richard Donner (who served as executive producer) with resounding results.
From its very first scene, the atmosphere of X-Men is impressively bleak. Whether following depressed teen Rogue (Anna Paquin) or hot-headed loner Logan (Hugh Jackman), the film perpetuates a world drowning in it's own bitter discrimination. Never before had such societal worth made it's way into a comic book movie, and the sincerity with which it's delivered is still powerful with nearly two decades in the can. Granted, James Marsden and Famke Janssen are both ‘less than’ in crucial roles, but that doesn’t stop X-Men, along with 2002's Spider-Man, from being a major stepping stone in superhero cinema.
Days of Future Past envisions a world where mutants have become the subject of mass termination. Those that remain (Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Colossus) are forced to live in fear, while Sentinels wander the rubble of fallen structures with murderous intent. It’s an ugly sight for those involved, but a beautiful one for X-Men fans who have longed to see such a story hit the big screen. Pulling from the hallowed comic book arc of The Uncanny X-Men #141-42, Bryan Singer returns with a triumphant mashup of First Class and his first two films. What resulted was a “thrilling and fun superhero movie, balanced by well-earned dramatic weight” and a terrific sense of self-acknowledgment.
Kudos to Singer for coming back and compressing the works of those that followed into a well-oiled machine. Bypassing the political upheaval of X2, Future Past instead snags the period element of Matt Vaughn’s prequel and applies it to the swinging 70s. Mixing in time travel, Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and a twist where Wolverine must mentor the past version of his own strung out mentor, Professor X (James McAvoy), the film juggles a ridiculous amount of content and somehow pulls it off with pizazz to spare. Not only that, but Singer’s reboot of the entire franchise opened the X-Men door for years to come.
From the very moment test footage leaked in 2014, it was abundantly clear that Deadpool would be something special. Comic book fans were already aware, but the raucous clip opened the floodgates for pop culture to hop aboard, setting in motion a promotional campaign worth it's weight in witty gold. By the time Deadpool hit theaters on Valentine’s Day, the picture's tremendous success had already taken hold - the age of superhero satire had begun. And Ryan Reynolds, a man who had previously fallen victim to the square end of the spectrum (Green Lantern), was leading the way.
As former merc Wade Wilson, the Canadian actor completely steals the show and everything in it. Long overdue since his botched portrayal in Origins, this Deadpool embodies all that was right with the creative character: clever, crude, and incredibly violent. Pounding against an R-Rated ceiling of rancid humor and explosive action, director Tim Miller miraculously makes a film that live up to the hype - and is currently leading a wave of mature content (Suicide Squad, Wolverine 3) in it's wake. Simply put, Deadpool is “a must-see comic book experience.”
Even with all the praise that Bryan Singer received for X-Men, it was X2 that truly solidified him as the main man for movie mutants. Expanding characters and narrative ambition, the film ran the risk of splitting into a stuffed mess before it even got started. Fortunately, each gamble is averted and instead molded into a story that builds upon the emotional core of the first film. Providing Cyclops (James Marsden), Storm (Halle Berry), and newbie Nightcrawler (Alan Cummings) with far more to do this time, X-Men United finds the ideal balance between drama and action; as evidenced by the kick-ass finale and Wolverine’s spat with Magneto (Ian McKellen).
What stands out about the film now, over a decade later, is how influential it's proven to projects like The Avengers (2012) and Batman v Superman (2016). Subplot heavy stories, underlying themes, and culminating combat, all wrapped in a glossy package that stills manages to sell action figures - not an easy balance to attain. But thanks to Singer and this dramatic display, such a template has become the norm. A highly entertaining superhero flick.
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