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Top Ten X-Movie Moments

To conclude this mutant week we've been up to, let's name the best moments from Marvel's evolutionary franchise. We still maintain that X-Men's complex mythology and soap opera relationships would be a far more natural fit for the television medium, but the movies will do for now...


Oh Angel, we hardly knew ye

Honorable Mention: There is that momentarily thrilling one moment in X-Men Last Stand (2006) when Angel (Ben Foster) took flight, but the rest of that film took such a dump on grand source material that it's best forgotten. This proposed memory wipe is even more welcome now that X-Men First Class has taken a decent stab at the source material again. The most obvious problem with Last Stand was its greedy carelessness, attempting to reference everything that had ever existed, thus offering up half-ass takes on dozens upon dozens of characters and sidelining the most mythic of all X-Men narratives, the Dark Phoenix saga; whoever's bright idea that last bit was should probably never work in the storytelling medium again.

If future filmmakers are looking for ways to throw fanboys delicious geek bones to chew on, there's no better way to do it than that scene in X2 (2003) when Mystique breaks into Stryker's computer.

Director Bryan Singer's fine compositions and clever throwaway bits (Mystique shapeshifting behind glass) kept the scene crackling but those cutaways to Stryker's computer were nerdgasms waiting to happen. That's all you need to do, filmmakers, offer up itty bitty "easter eggs" if you will. There's no need to overstuff your movie and undersell great stories and characters in the process.

The Top Ten

10. Entering The Hellfire Club (X-Men First Class)
It's a small thing, but there's a welcome naughty jolt when Moira McTaggart impulsively strips down to her undergarments to tail Emma Frost and her girls into the Hellfire Club. What unfolds there blows Moira's mind. There's plentiful unfortunate evidence to suggest that not one of the four X-directors have remotely understood the complexities of the female mutants, treating them primarily as victims or sex objects (shame). But it's also silly to presume that Sex Object isn't a mandatory job requirement for all heroes and villains who linger in the public imagination, with those hyper masculine/feminine bodies in skin-tight costumes. Emma Frost just dispenses with the pretense of a costume and super-villains it in her lingerie. Damn girl!

09. Magneto and the Nazis (X-Men First Class)
Judging only a movie-making basis, this would rank higher but though it's quite a thrilling and well acted revenge scene, it's also an odd fit for a superhero movie; you could lift it (nearly) wholesale into a non-superpowered movie, couldn't you?

08. Deathstryke vs. Wolverine (X2)

Holy shit.

Wolverine's reaction to Deathstryke's unleashed claws is not the most eloquent line in the superhero genre but it's the most succinctly accurate, wouldn't you agree? What follows is the perfect example of how to handle action sequences with virtually indestructable heroes like Wolverine: make it hurt.

07. Nightcrawler attacks the President (X2)
The famously demonic looking hero proves that looks can be deceiving. So his introduction into cinema takes just that tack, painting him as a super villain, when in reality he's one of the goodest of good guys. He's just been controlled by Stryker's neck acid is all (what?).

Here was an example of a creative team rising to meet a challenging visual spectacle. How do you convey those multiple blows from a blink and you'll miss him teleporter while also showing his acrobatic agility and his memorable tail? They found quite a solution to their problems in this terrific and strangely terrifying sequence. It's one of the only moments in the franchise where you're definitely on the "human" side, totally understanding why mutants are feared and hated. How do you survive against ...that?

06. Wolverine meets the X-Men (X-Men)
A cleverly shot sequence, peaking with the moment when Wolverine is reflected in all the X-Men suits . He's like an animal lost in excessively sterile human tunnels. But curse the housekeeper for putting those X-Sweatshirts right in plain view for Logan to clothe himself with. Eye candy snatched away from us halfway through the scene!

05. Mean Girls (X2)
The most delicious thread of the first two films is that bitchy chemistry between Mystique and Magneto. It helps that few actors can deliver a line with as much melodic wit and superiority as Sir Ian McKellen.

We love what you've done with your hair.

Even better than this juvenile humiliation of Rogue is their instant adoption of Pyro by way of 'it takes one to know one' evil kindred spirit. "They say you're the bad guy." Pyro ventures, not disinterested in the bad.

Is that what they say?

Sir Ian McKellen is bliss.

04. "Find them. All of them" (X2)
This creepy-ass climax finds Stryker's son infecting Xavier's mind while posing as a little girl. (It's a sinister flip on Professor X's jokey threat to Wolverine earlier in the picture... "I'll have Jean braid your hair"). The plan is diabolical, weird and the scene is well staged as it escalates. Love the shifting focus and that sinister penetrating stare, too alive for such a zombiefied mutant.

03. Between Serenity and Rage (X-Men First Class)
The new film could've used more quiet thrills like this one, when Xavier gently touches Magneto's mind and his most humane instincts. Move that satellite dish. Of course you can't pull a scene like this off without magnetic (haha) actors. The new film may be uneven but Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are miracle workers, indicating this franchise can stay magical post Bryan Singer & Ian McKellen.

02. Mystique vs. Wolverine (X-Men)
A rare beast: a silent fight scene that feels like a verbal showdown or a straight up musical number, it's so attuned to the moods of the performers and their physical beats, what with Wolverine's relentless unnerved slashing and Mystique's theatricality and arrythmic movements. It's wonderfully weird and compelling.

01. Xavier's School Breached / Berserker Rage (X2: X-Men United)
More lip service is paid to Wolverine's temper than is ever successfully shown in the films, but Bryan Singer nailed it this one time, finally providing visual evidence of the famous adage.

He's the best there is at what he does but what he does isn't very nice.

Home invasions are of course the most inherently terrifying of all action sequences At home you're supposed to be safe. This sequences manages multiple characters and multiple moods (fear, chaos, curiousity, character, and even humor) with singular focus and skill.  Even better than the stabby slashing goodness of Logan's rage, is how well crafted the entire sequence is by Singer, editors John Ottman and Elliot Graham sound man Craig Berkey and cinematography Newton Thomas Sigel. One has to only remember the final grace note in the battle, Ice Man's last minute unwelcome rescue of Wolverine, to understand what so many X-directors lack that Bryan Singer had. When you're dealing with superpowered characters, you'd better have your own in the image-making department.

Report Card
: X-Men (2000) B- | X2 (2003) A- (I'd name it the second best comic book movie ever) | X-Men Last Stand (2006) D | X-Men Origins Wolverine (2009) F | X-Men First Class (2011) B-/C+ Only character interpretation that's superior to the comic books: Mystique | Three best character interpretations overall: 1. Wolverine 2. Mystique 3. Magneto Three collosal failures of adaptation: 1. Storm, 2. Dark Phoenix, 3. managing the web of one-on-one relationships outside of the central Xavier/Magneto dynamic.

Related posts:
Cast This: Dazzler, Colossus, Etcetera
First Class Review | X-Men Animated Series


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Reader Comments (24)

LOVED that serenity and rage scene...x3 could have used more moments like that. I actually think that rogue was the most mishandled character, with an actress like anna paquin they could have done wonders, instead they made her weak and lame

I'm interested to see where the story goes from here, in terms of throwing nods to the original trilogy but also carving a new path

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTerence

Loving the X-Men theme, Nat. Anyway, I was hoping you would've included Magneto's prison break from X2 but overall, the list is pretty decent.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Armour

Wonderful list, Nathaniel! Love your thoughts on the interplay between Ian McKellen and Rebecca Romijn - that moment when Jennifer Lawrence morphs into RR in First Class surprised me because of how happy it made me and it made me realize that I liked RR as Mystique way more than I'd realized. Recalling that fight with Wolverine only further cements that for me because of how vividly I can recall her every slithering balletic move and I haven't seen the first XMen movie in ages.

Also I'm a little embarrassed to admit it but I've seen First Class twice now and the "Serenity and Rage" scene has made me cry twice now. It was even a little bit harder the second time. So well acted by McAvoy and Fassbender, and credit's gotta be given to Matthew Vaughn too for letting the moment breathe - actually whenever he gives us an idiosyncratic moment like that, where things get a little weird and specific, the film shines. But especially when it's those two in front of the camera. I could've watched the two of them sitting across that chess board and drinking their martinis and just talking for an hour and a half.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJA

Er - shouldnt #9 belong rightfully to the first movie, since X-Men did it first and better? First Class was just basically rehashing the same scenes.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

I LOVED what they did with Mystique in the new X-Men. They really got her right and she was the character that presented the most struggling and internal conflicts of them all. Lawrence nailed it in my opinion. Maybe it wasn't the sexy Mystique we used to know, but she showed us a more confused and complex one. Best thing of Last Stand in my opinion.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLucky

oops, First Class instead of "Last Stand" at the end of my post. I agree with you, let's forget about Last Stand.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLucky

I have yet to see "First Class" but I have to say I actually liked "The Last Stand". I know I'm in the minority, but I thought it was a decent popcorn flick. Maybe I'm just blinded by my love of X-men. And in my opinion X2 is the best comic book movie ever made. I was certainly disappointed by the way TLS was handled, it doesn't hold a candle to either of it's predecessors but as far as empty FX-extravaganzas go, it was pretty entertaining. My biggest issue was the Phoenix storyline, I liked how they made it a part of Jean's psyche and not a cosmic being - I thought that fit into the world they created - but it really went nowhere.

I always thought Rebecca Romijn was perfect as Mystique, so I'm anxious to see Jennifer Lawrence's interpretation of the character in her younger years.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

@caroline: He's talking about the scene in the bar. Nothing like that was in the original.
I would place it a little higher than you, Nat, but I get your reasoning. It feels more top-notch thriller than X-Men.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDrewB

I admit that Last Stand was rushed-- trying to fit Dark Phoenix into a subplot was a mistake. But there were some great scenes, most of them involving Ian McKellen. Loved the scene with him breaking Mystique out of jail: Magneto standing in the middle of the road, with the truck barreling right at him until he casually tossed it aside.

I also thought the psychic duel between Jean and Xavier was well-done. creepy as hell, and ended unexpectedly, with a much different ending than the same sequence in the comics. I was ready for some amazing Dark Phoenix stuff after that, which made it all the more disppointing when she spent the rest of the movie pretty much standing around. Waste of Famke Janssen's talents-- she can really be a bad ass when she wants to.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBiggs

I agree with just about everything here, except there is no inclusion of "Magneto's Escape from the Plastic Cell".

Overlooked or just don't agree?

Killer list though, very on point.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

So glad you included my favorite moment in all the X-Men movies, #5. The first movie also holds a special place in my heart for being the first movie (when I was 9!) that introduced me to the amazingness that is Sir Ian McKellan, eternal love followed.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

For me, it doesn’t get any better than Nightcrawler’s attack on the White House, and Wolverine’s fight with Lady Deathstryke. X2 is probably my third favourite comic book movie after THE DARK KNIGHT and WATCHMEN. I’m curious as to what tops your list, and what comes in just behind?

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Clift

Tom -- my list goes 1. Spider-Man 2 | 2. X2 | 3 ...this one changes... those two are just head & shoulders for me above the rest.

Daniel -- that was actually the one i was saddest about leaving out! "there's too much iron in your blood"

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

I agree the Magneto revenge scenes were typically X-Men scenes, but seeing as they were...I rate the Argentina scene right up there with the attack on the mansion in X2.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Wilson

I could not agree more that their attempt at doing Dark Phoenix was a colossal fail. They should not have even attempted it.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKarla

Really? Nat lists a "comic book movie" list and doesn't cite A History of Violence? Clift said "comic book" not "superhero." (not that Clift cited anything but "superhero") My 5: 1. The Dark Knight 2. Ghost World. 3. A History of Violence. 4. American Splendor. 5. X-2.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

It's funny, I never thought X3 was THAT bad, certainly not X2 level, but decent enough to close out the trilogy (thought it was about as good as First Class and the first Xmen). Wolverine...I watched this last week for the first time, it surprisingly wasn't as horrible as I thought it would be. Definitely not a good movie, but only a few cringe worthy moments...plus the Liev-Hugh combination makes it a bit more watchable.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKyle

I think #5 is the most enjoyable thing in the series of films, but if you are looking for set-pieces and action moments I think Nightcrawler's attack on the president is tops.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

And are you really surprised they couldn't do Dark Phoenix? It's either too ridiculous, too expensive or both too ridiculous and expensive to show in live action and take seriously. So, no, they shouldn't have bothered. If Singer stayed on, the Phoenix plot would have either 1. Been insinuated to have occured BETWEEN the movies exactly the same way it did in the comics or 2. Not covered at all. Either way, no more Jean Grey. Frees up the small canvas to give another mutant more story time as well.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I love the scene in The Last Stand where Wolverine is struggling up the mountain to get to Jean and save her. Jean (in her Dark Phoenix persona) keeps blasting him away, tearing him down to a skeleton, but Wolverine never gives up. Hugh Jackman does a terrific job of showing a love that just won't die, and that in an action scene.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Nat, would you ever ask people to cast the 12-issue nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. miniseries as a movie? (Marvel insiders LOVED this miniseries enough to make it canon even though it wasn't supposed to be. Something in me says that nextwave would be their next "big original project" if The Avengers cleans up.) As a reminder, here's who I would cast as the main six:

Elsa Bloodstone: Katie Jarvis (dyed) (perfect way to break out significantly more. I REALLY want her to do another part. This brash, agressive, arguably socialist leaning (depending on how you take a certain piece of early dialogue), character seems more in her wheelhouse than in Carey Mulligan's, Kiera Knightley's or Mia Wasikowska's. If one of those three is picked for this role, Jarvis could wallow in obscurity.)
Aaron Stack (Machine Man): Michael Cera (dyed) (perfect and shocking way to escape his current typecasting. The character is an anti-human racist. ("Death to fleshy ones!") Cera may have to bulk up a bit for the part, but not as much as a "normal superhero part" would require him to. (mostly it just has to look like he could fit a whole lot of sharp implements in his stomach, so maybe 5-10 pounds added (considering his current weight, that's a requirement that is, to put it lightly, on the low end of what actors have done for their work) would be it as far as weight gain is concerned.)
The Captain: Ryan Gosling
Monica Rambeau: Kerry Washington (Always got the sense, reading nextwave, that her, and The Captain, were "The Old Ones")
Tabitha Smith: Emma Stone (natural)
Dirk Anger: Bruce Campbell

Look in the X-Men First Adaptation post for everyone else I suggest, because I run through almost all the characters. Missing: 3 of the Not Brand Ecch characters used in the story and the baby M.O.D.O.K. Included: A small V/O part for internet critic Lewis Lovhaug.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

volvagia -- i was talking about the superhero genre. obviously "a history of violence" is a masterpiece.

i have no idea what you're talking about with "agents of h.a.t.e" i've never heard of it. But as i've stated i don't read comic books anymore. I still love it as a medium but i find it impossible to understand keep up with. Maybe i aged out of it but i also find it dishearteningly cynical as a business, never treating any story as canon but constantly being willing to crap on other people's great stories to "change" then retroactively. It just made me too sad in the long run and I gave up.

adri -- i think hugh jackman is a much better actor than he gets credit for being. but i hate everything about the way they handled that story.

June 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Ha! Yes, I also got the vibe that Magneto and Mystique did come off like bitchy girlfriends...but maybe that was just the actors' own chemistry coming out. It's hard to imagine Fassbender's Magneto growing up to become Ian's Magneto and the same goes for Mystique.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBia

nextwave is a fun, masterful and short piece of superhero satire. If The Avengers succeeds, they'll keep doing their other movies, but they may sense that people want another team movie (and I doubt that they'd do another Avengers movie). Other than The Fantastic Four, the only other major hero team they have is this nextwave squad. Director: Sensibility wise, I'd say Edgar Wright would be the best selection. Note: His Ant-Man concept (comparing and contrasting a legacy character) seems more "TV miniseries" material now that there's three different heroes that have used the name Ant-Man. (At the time of his initial proposal, there were only TWO characters that called themselves Ant-Man. Doing that with two characters means that he was probably going for something quite a bit longer than The Dark Knight. (My estimated length of Edgar's initial concept: 2.75-3.5 hours. My estimated length as a three Ant-Man comparison: 4.5-6 hours.))

June 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia
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