X-Men Spinoff Series: A Retrospective

When you create one of the most popular movie characters on the planet, which is basically what Hugh Jackman did when he first sprouted Wolverine’s claws in the first X-Men film, you’re bound to see a spinoff series emerge. That’s exactly what happened. Throw in one of the most popular comic book heroes of modern times in Deadpool, and for some reason, yeah, let’s do a New Mutants movie as well. Buckle up, grab a chimichanga, and enjoy the ride as we look back at the six X-Men spinoff movies.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Plot: Ageless loner Logan (Hugh Jackman) is turned into an adamantium-fueled weapon of destruction by a shady colonel (Danny Huston) and then searches for his brother, the murderous Victor Creed (Liev Shreiber).

Review: I remember after X2, they were going to make spinoff movies for both Wolverine and Magento. I think what they wanted to do with Magneto ended up being X-Men: First Class, and for Wolverine…well…we got this.

I will say that it isn’t as bad as I remembered it being. Maybe it’s just because I’ve seen worse since (in fact, that’s probably the case), but I found this film to be really exciting and engaging upon this last viewing. Most of it has to be attributed to Hugh Jackman – the guy is just so charismatic and talented, we have to find a way to preserve this guy, so he lives forever – seriously. I could watch Hugh Jackman stand around and paint all day while chomping on cigars and having a pint (okay, maybe not), but he definitely carries the movie. Likewise, Liev Shreiber is great as Sabretooth – he actually has a personality and purpose, both missing from the original incarnation in X-Men. Mind you, part of the problem was that original incarnation, but…yeah.

This movie also gets flack for getting Deadpool wrong – which is funny to me, as I didn’t know there were so many Deadpool fans running around. As it is, it does seem disappointing that the Merc with a Mouth ends up having his mouth sewn shut, but at least the guy is a badass fighter who gets great fighters – imagine you’re Cyclops or Colossus, who were both mistaken for being part of the wallpaper in the previous films.  I also allow that other characters are ignored or given bizarre introductions (Blob seems to suck, and Emma Frost, who is one of the best characters in X-Men, is some kid? Really?), but at least there’s a story here, and a compelling lead. It ain’t great, but if you’ve watched the other X-Me movies, you’ve probably seen worse.

The Wolverine (2013)

Plot: Logan is compelled to go to Japan to visit Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a dying man whose life he once saved. Once there, he enters a plot of intrigue involving the Yashida’s granddaughter (Tao Okamoto).

Review: After the five previous X-Men films, this is the first of either the core or the spinoff series that I can honestly say I like without reservation or problems. Of course, it would involve Hugh Jackman, who is stellar as always in the titular role. I love the Japanese setting, and all of the supporting cast, particularly Tao Okamoto as Mariko and Rila Fukushima as Yukio, is outstanding. I love just watching Wolverine and Yukio walking around – they are such an odd couple visually. Yet, their partnership seems genuine, mostly because of the work of the two performers involved.

The action scenes in this entry are terrific as well.  I love the showdown at the temple, the battle atop the bullet train, the confrontation in the village, and the final battle between Wolverine and the Silver Samurai. All action scenes are masterfully executed and bring a sense of awe and creativity to the action scenes that are, for the most part missing from the earlier entries in the franchise.

I have to give kudos to the Jean Grey scenes. So many of these movies up to this point have either looked to re-write the franchise history or outright ignore the events from the previous films. This entry embraces those choices, for better or worse, and while it feels very fresh and different from the other movies, it plausibly exists in the world crafted by its predecessors.

I watched the extended cut, which seemed to have more graphic violence in that cut, which was my only complaint when I watched the movie in the theatre. While I’m not a craven maniac who wants graphic violence with everything, it gets annoying when you see the camera continuously cut away when Wolverine slashes someone. If you haven’t seen this movie and you’re looking to see it for the first time, I recommend watching this version of the film. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Deadpool (2016)

Plot: Mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) searches for the mutant (Ed Skrein) who unlocked his powers of healing, but at the cost of deforming his appearance.

Review: I was never a fan of Deadpool in the comics, nor did I read any. It’s not that I don’t like the character or anything; I just never got into it. When the character was ruined at the end of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I knew that they had screwed up the representation of Deadpool, but I felt no emotional connection. Therefore, I was not like the seemingly endless group of people who were pining for a “proper” Deadpool movie.

Seeing the movie now, I enjoy it, though I don’t love it. Ryan Reynolds is super-entertaining as the Merc with a Mouth, and I’m glad that his portrayal in this film is more accurate to the comics. But did I run out immediately and read a bunch of Deadpool comics after seeing the film? Nope. I just find, for whatever reason, that the Deadpool character is not my slice of pie. He’s funny, and I love his acrobatics, but at the end of the day, is this a character I can tolerate for more than two hours? Probably not. He would get irritating to me, just as he irritates everyone else in the film, other than Morena Baccarin’s character.

Other than that, the humour mostly works, at least in the first part, but it gets old quick because it’s generally the same crude jokes. The beginning credits, though, were one of the best in any movie, the action scenes are well shot, and the supporting cast is generally decent, with the highlights being Baccarin and Gina Carano as Angel Dust. I also was glad to see an accurate version of Colossus, who finally feels like the character I was familiar with.  The ending seems to come rather abruptly, though, and I didn’t find Ajax, the main villain, all that memorable or imposing. All in all, though, it’s an entertaining movie, though it gets a bit grating at times.

Logan (2017)

Plot: In his final turn in the role, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine races to save his daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen), from a shadow biotech corporation looking to kill her.

Review: Hugh Jackman made the Guinness Book of Records for “longest career as a Marvel super-hero.” It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. It would have been a shame to have him send off the role in a crappy movie, but thankfully, not only is Logan a satisfying ending to everyone’s favourite adamantium mutant, but it’s also a really damn good movie.

One of the keys is the character of X-23. Having a little girl as Wolverine’s companion is risky, and quite frankly, doesn’t sound too appealing. Imagines come to mind of stupid buddy movies where the kid teaches the adult lessons while the adult protects his charge from calamity. Luckily, the filmmakers came up with the decision for her to remain mute for most of the movie, and Keen’s intensity in the role belies her young age. She has a long and celebrated career in front of her if her portrayal in this movie indicates her future work. Likewise, Patrick Stewart is excellent as always as the aged Professor Xavier. It’s interesting to see such an actor who is usually such a commanding presence play such a frail part.

Like The Wolverine, there are a few memorable action scenes peppered throughout the film. The movie starts with Wolverine just taking it to a group of criminals trying to steal his limo’s hubcaps, in a very satisfying R-rated way. X-23’s first fight is equally bloody and memorable, and the first confrontation with X-24 doesn’t pull any punches, either. I applaud the filmmakers for making the gutsy move of making the Wolverine’s swan song an R. Logan’s final story would have to be bloody, visceral, and hardcore, as a peaceful end would not have been fitting such a rough-and-tumble character. While it is a pity we won’t see Jackman don the claws again, I’m happy that he went out in such an emotional and hard-hitting way.

Deadpool 2 (2018)

Plot: Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) returns to protect a fire-wielding mutant (Julian Dennison) from a time-travelling warrior (Josh Brolin) bent on killing him to prevent the future deaths of his family.

Review: Overall, I would say that this sequel is better than the original and is one of the best of the X-Men series…including the core series. This one works better than the first one because the foils for Deadpool are better – in the first one, Deadpool basically runs around unfettered, so there are few straight people for his manic humour, other than Weasel, who tries to be another funny man. In this one, you have Cable and Domino, both very serious and polar opposites to Deadpool, so the humour works better in this one.

Josh Brolin is fantastic as Cable – the guy just seems to know how to play a scene and identify his place in it and understand the character he’s playing. I really liked Zazie Beetz as Domino – she is a perfect companion to Deadpool, and I would have liked to have seen her get her own vehicle to further explore the character. I really like how they finally realized the awesomeness of Juggernaut, and both Colossus and NTW are awesome like they were in the first film. I also really liked the soundtrack to the film – it really was well-chosen for the tone of the film and emphasized the viewpoint of Deadpool throughout the film.

I will say that the Firefist character was still annoying, though I wasn’t as bothered as much by him the second time around as the first. That being said, I still don’t really care about his salvation, so I suppose the primary purpose of the film is kinda lost on me. I also wish there was a little more X-Force, though it was funny that Deadpool gets together this big team, and he is all excited to lead them all, only for them to just die immediately.

This is an excellent follow-up to the original and just a fun movie in general. I would like to see Reynolds do more Deadpool movies, but if it has to end here, at least it bowed out with a damn good film.

The New Mutants (2020)

Plot: Five young mutants seek to escape from an asylum run by a force-field wielding doctor (Alice Braga) while their worst nightmares manifest to reality.

Review: It’s only been a few months since I reviewed this movie already; however, I always find second viewings interesting – you either find out that your opinion has changed regarding the film (either good or bad), or you notice stuff that you missed the first time.

In this case, my opinion pretty much remains what it was on the first viewing. The actors are all cool and really seem invested in their roles – particularly the three female characters. I noticed the male characters a bit more this time, but the ladies really are the stronger character for sure. In particular, Anya Taylor-Joy is so damn good as Magik, I hope she returns to the role sometime in the future.

However, this movie badly needed to decide what it wanted to be – a horror film or a teen coming-of-age drama. The picture tries to blend the two, but it just doesn’t work; the scares are not really scary at all (and to be honest, the characters’ powers are so strong, they can just blow through anything – other than the demon bear – that they’re hardly a threat. The drama doesn’t really have enough time to develop and the relationship between Dani and Rahne, despite the talents of the actors behind it, just seems awfully rushed.

It’s a shame that this movie is a mediocre effort because the concept was there, and the characters and the talent behind them are apparent. However, thanks to the usual reasons (read: studio meddling), we get a very confused and half-hearted flick that doesn’t entirely satisfy any of its potential target audiences.

In Conclusion

While not boasting a perfect record, the X-Men series’s spinoff movies are generally of a higher quality than those in the core series. This is due mainly to allowing the filmmakers to (at least for the latter two Wolverine and the two Deadpool movies) to realize their unique visions for the characters or enabling them to take those roles to different places. The two misfires in the spinoffs, the first Wolverine movie, and New Mutants, were, by and large, sabotaged by the suits in the studio who always seem to think they know better than the folks they’re actually paying to make the picture. If there’s one thing to learn from this hubris, it’s allow the people who make the movies to actually make the damn movies.