I’m back in it. Again and again. After completing a casual semi-circuit through the films and doing some reading of actual comic books (!!), and then to have my own son start the Younger Series (aka “The Fassbender-McAvoy Series”) all on his own (which is something, considering he’s 12 and generally if I like something, he goes hard the other direction), I’m back to thinking about the X-Men. Those uncanny dudes and ladies and folks and everything.
This means that I’ve built up a bunch of controversial, unpopular, possibly incorrect opinions.
1.) The 90’s Cartoon Is Not… Great. Yes, I watched it when I was a kid. YES, I’ve recently re-watched some of it. And YES, I’m talking about the one you’re thinking about. The one everyone talks about and gushes about. The one with the super memorable theme song, and whose character lineup probably did more for establishing a core group for a series comprised of one bajillion “core group members”… yeah, it’s not great. I’m hesitant to say it’s lame, but… it’s kinda lame.
I’m very aware of how beloved this show is. That’s partly why I’m so hesitant to blast it. And I don’t mean to offend anyone. Obviously I am in the minority on this. However, I’d like to make some points about it, if for no other reason than to just get them off my chest.
The Reasons Why I Think the 1990’s “X-Men” Cartoon Is Not Great Are:
-The animation is not good. Though it’s not the show’s fault that it came out the same time as “Batman: the Animated Series,” it certainly didn’t help matters. “B:TAS” was a show with such distinct and considered animation style that it became its own, well, style. That show understood two main points that most shows (“X-Men” included) missed: that lighting matters even in cartoons, and that having characters with fewer on-body lines can make things not only look cool, but are better animated. Even the least-well-animated “B:TAS” episodes look better than the best animated “X-Men” episodes.
-The voice acting is really standard. Wolverine’s a grumpy dude, so his voice sounds like Clint Eastwood. Xavier is intellectual so he has a nasal voice, etc., etc. You could recast it with the same actors by mixing the names in a blender and the impact would be the same.
Do people love it so much because it was the only thing of its kind for X-Men fans? Folks… you deserved better.
2.) “X-2” is… Fine. You always see this film coming out near the top for not only X-Men movies, but for superhero movies in general. I heard someone gushing about it as recently as last week on a podcast that has NOTHING TO DO with the X-Men. And to them I say a resounding, “…I guess it’s fine.”
I’ve tried to see it the way they do, these people who consider it not only the best of the first X-Trilogy, but the best of all the X-Men movies. Some consider it a kind of masterpiece.
I mean… of filmmaking?
It’s fine. There are some great parts to it. I enjoy the movie. But whenever people have complained about “The Last Stand” or really the quality of any X-Men movie, and they hold “X-2” as some unachievable gold standard, I always think, “It’s not The Godfather, folks.” Cyclops is still a non-entity, some things happen in curious ways for the purposes of plot, and Jean didn’t really have to die via tidal wave. Maybe people are enraptured by that opening White House scene, I don’t know.
3.) The Fassbender-McAvoy series is better than the Stewart-McKellan series. Again with the movies. In fact, since most of my X-Men knowledge and love is based on the movies, it might explain a lot of my opinions. Perhaps if I was more comic-book driven, I might appreciate “X-2” more, or be properly angry at other movies like some people are. But I didn’t, so I’m not. Again, we’re not talking high cinema. The original series is in the “good to OK” range while the Younger Series is in the “Better than good to OK” range. You’ve got B- vs. B+. I feel my perspective with these characters has some distance, so I can simply enjoy them with less baggage, and the fun of the Fassbender-McAvoy series (jumping through the decades and styles, throwing a ton of characters at you, mixing up weird teams, time travel, etc.) is something I enjoy as a fan of movies. In fact, it goes beyond that because…
4.) “Dark Phoenix” is Actually Mostly OK. No, I am not saying it’s better than “X-2.” It’s not better than it’s other “Younger Series” installments. But it’s not a complete disaster either. When approaching an X-Men movie, my wife and I, as casual X-viewers, generally ask ourselves, “Is Magneto in it? Is he doing Magneto things?” If the answer is “yes,” then we’re generally all right.
So it is with the much beleaguered “Dark Phoenix.” Sure, the main actress isn’t super amazing. Sure some of the story is silly (the story about human-like mutants with super powers is silly?!). But Magneto pulls a subway from beneath a New York street. Quicksilver and Nightcrawler save astronauts. There are mutant-vs-mutant fights, then mutant team-up fights. Sometimes I’m easy to please. I cannot stress this enough: also sometimes, it’s fun to just watch a movie with less inter-movie story pressure. That’s not an excuse for the X-films’ legendary brand of “continuity.” But it is a perk. If they don’t care that the actors haven’t aged, why should I? I also don’t care that people can’t really shape shift or teleport.
I might write more another time about the history of X-fans being angry with the two film adaptations of the Dark Phoenix saga, but I don’t have it in me right now. Suffice it to say, I don’t have that in me, which may have allowed me to enjoy things more easily.