The 10 Worst Adaptations of X-Men on Film (so Far)

By Matthew Catania in Comics, Daily Lists, Movies
Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 6:00 am


Bryan Singer is finally returning to the X-Men film franchise with an adaptation of the seminal X-Men: Days of Future Past. After suffering through the execrable X-Men: The Last Stand (an obsolete title, so it's now X-Men 3 as far as this article is concerned) & X-Men Origins: Wolverine, many X-fans are overjoyed, but Singer's initial contributions to the series aren't free of their own flaws. The overall X-film franchise is much less embarrassing than the Generation X telefilm, but that's a low hurdle to clear. Where the X-movies tend to disappoint most (besides uninspired costume designs) is in characterization. The fifty-year-old X-Men comic book franchise is akin to Game of Thrones is that they star a vast array of diverse characters with their own complex backstories & relationships. This sprawling scope is nigh-impossible to replicate one movie at a time, but 20th Century Fox could be more ambitious than churning out Wolverine solo movies co-starring Magneto with special guest appearances by the X-Men.

In honor of the forthcoming DoFP (seriously, why don't any of the official posters look like this?), I'm counting down the top ten worst cinematic adaptations of X-Men characters, and for an anal retentive fan, the tricky part was narrowing it down to just ten...

I'm looking for fundamentally bad characterization - not nitpicks like Hugh Jackman being too tall and vascular to be Wolverine or Nightcrawler not doing any swashbuckling. The rare instances where radically deviating from the source material actually benefitted characters also get passes. (For example, the movies changed Toad from one of the most pathetic villains to one of the most versatile & entertaining. Chronic victim Mariko Yashida was likewise enhanced with the cinematic addition of a spine.) Unfortunately, Fox's batting average on that account is still more misses than hits. So cross your fingers & toes that Singer takes the right liberties in translating DoFP so that it doesn't contribute any brand new character assassinations. (Non-biracial Sunspot dressed as The Ray with Magma's powers has me worried.) But which characters are unfortunate enough to be the ten worst adaptations of X-Men on film (so far)?

10. Sabretooth


The X-movies served up two distinct portrayals of Sabretooth, but each is halfbaked. In the first X-Men movie, Sabretooth was added to Magneto's Brotherhood just so Wolverine could battle his archenemy. The fact that neither of them can remember their epic blood feud, however, makes this deviation from canon pointless. It would've made more sense to save his film debut for X-Men 2 (where he's conspicuously never referenced) in place of Lady Deathstrike so audiences wouldn't need to wait nine years to find out why he's fascinated by Wolverine's dogtags. Making matters worse, Sabretooth is so inept he makes Toad look like a consummate pro. He's easily defeated by both Storm & Cyclops, which would be far less embarrassing if they weren't terrible in the film. Pitting "The Best He Is At What He Does" against "The Least Likely To Ever Win Henchman Of The Year" just doesn't seem like an epic battle for the ages. At least Tyler Mane appeared appropriately ferocious.

In Gavin Hood's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Liev Schreiber plays a Sabretooth who's so sly he forgets to be intimidating. Revealing he can extend his fingernails with bad CGI doesn't help. They couldn't even be bothered making Schreiber resemble Mane because apparently a blond hair-metal wig would've broken the budget.

The younger Sabretooth has a much better work ethic, being willingly complicit in the kidnapping, experimentation and murder of his fellow mutants for the human military industrial complex (this should've been a giant red flag to Magneto if he bothered doing background checks for Brotherhood recruitment). Since Sabretooth's victims are all lame, his past competence still doesn't rehabilitate his street cred. Unlike Xavier's and Magneto's falling out, the rivalry between Wolverine and Sabretooth lacks any poignancy because the film is a clusterfrak that doesn't develop any of its core relationships. (It boils down to Logan not sharing Sabretooth's fondess for committing atrocities in war & peace. Deep, eh?) Why the character devolved from cunning to feral remains a mystery, but it could be offscreen brain trauma he incurred from trying to figure out how X-Men: First Class is a prequel and not a reboot.

9. Lady Deathstrike


In God Loves, Man Kills, Reverend William Stryker kills his #1 henchwoman once they discover she's a latent mutant. Rather than duplicate that chilling scene to illustrate Stryker's unwavering hatred of mutants, the writers of X-Men 2 (it sounds less dumb than X2: X-Men United) decided that his henchwoman should be a known mutant to fight Wolverine because everything has to revolve around him. Note that in the comics Lady Deathstrike is a human who becomes a cyborg to get revenge on Wolverine and the Weapon X Program for infringing on her dad's patent to the adamantium bonding process. (Although she knows Daredevil personally, she thought this would be more effective than a lawsuit.) Since movie Stryker runs Weapon X there ought to be a conflict of interest (it's unknown if the movie version retained this vendetta), but the writers worked around this using injections of mind control goo harvested from Stryker's son (likewise promoted from a nameless dead baby to Mastermind). So Lady Deathstrike has no will of her own. She also has barely any dialogue, which is unnecessary given Kelly Hu's voice acting career.

Lady Deathstrike is a fight scene, not a character. Unlike with all her passionate battles with Wolverine in the comics, there was nothing personal at stake for her during their mortal combat. If they wanted Wolverine to fight something emotionless, Sentinels would've been a better choice. Not only is Lady Deathstrike's personality and motivation absent from her film counterpart, she's just as much a victim of Stryker's manipulation as Nightcrawler was. Instead of trying to un-brainwash her, however, Wolverine just slays her in the most Freudian way possible. (Mad scientist pro-tip: Always turn your molten adamantium injector off when not in use!) That the movie wants you to write Lady Deathstrike off as a supervillainess rather than ponder who she was before being enslaved by Stryker is all kinds of messed up.

8. Dark Phoenix


Famke Janssen did a solid job making Jean Grey feel both real and competent. It's only when Jean becomes Dark Phoenix (her regular Phoenix and Black Queen phases are skipped) in X-Men 3 that her character goes off the rails. Adapting The Dark Phoenix Saga was always going to be tricky on account of its cosmic scale, Regency era S&M cosplay, ongoing Phoenix Force retcons, alien deathmatches, and barely subtextual subtext about how a woman owning her sexuality sows ultimate destruction. So simplifying Dark Phoenix as Jean's uninhibited split personality with unlimited psionic powers is an elegant solution. In lieu of destroying a planet of broccoli aliens by eating a sun, Dark Phoenix telekinetically deatomizing Cyclops and Professor X (a.k.a. the stodgiest X-Men) Lawnmower Man-style shows that Jean crossed the Rubicon. It's everything else that disappoints.

Dark Phoenix presents the best opportunity to cut loose with unforgettable visual spectacle that audiences see superhero blockbusters for, yet Brett Ratner inexplicably avoids this at all costs. Even though the end of X-Men 2 teased her Phoenix Force energy aura, her most iconic visual is omitted here. Rather than dressing like an awe-inspiring Demi-Goddess with her own Phoenix sigil, her red trenchcoat is depressingly mundane. To make extra sure you know she's EVIL, she gets the clichéd black eyes, varicose veins and deep voice of a possessed person in a PG-13 horror movie that has even less justification since there's no external Phoenix Force possessing Jean in this version.

The least pardonable change is that after the genuinely gripping scene at her parents' house, Dark Phoenix turns into a vacant mannequin for the rest of the movie for no reason. Did she just run out of all of the tempestuous emotions she'd been suppressing for decades? Why would she waste time with Magneto's losers? If she gave a pair of dingo's kidneys about The Cure (which has no business being shoehorned into a Dark Phoenix Saga movie), she could've gotten rid of it herself in a snap. Magneto literally has to remind her that she's still in the movie just as the climax winds down. So much time is wasted on The Cure (not even the right one) that Dark Phoenix's assisted suicide feels like an afterthought instead of a tragedy.

7. Callisto


In a world where every woman is drawn as an idealized beauty, Callisto stands apart (along with Aunt May) as being intentionally homely. So naturally Ratner cast the stunning Dania Ramirez in the role. The make-up department didn't even flex their creativity to ugly her up. After a life of violent hardship, comics Callisto exiled herself to the sewers as leader of the grotesque mutants called Morlocks. The only reason movie Callisto would be ostracized from society is because she thought getting giant omega tattoos on her face and chest was a good idea. Her movie Morlocks (using Omega Gang iconography) eschew the sewers for going to church meeting & camping, so they feel more like privileged hipsters slumming than tragic outcasts.

She has Caliban's mutant detecting power (with an arbitrary ranking system) & Quicksilver's superspeed. These new powers are more impressive than the vague ones she had in the comics (her "intuitive tactical ability" was useless when Storm nearly killed her in a knife fight on her own turf) before Chris Claremont hooked her up with hentai arms, but why not just use Caliban & Quicksilver? As a connoisseur of foxy knife fighting, I found the absence of a recreation of her and Storm's famous sewer battle to be X-Men 3's gravest sin. Much like Nick Fury, Callisto is easily identifiable by her iconic eyepatch. Notice anything missing here? YOU HAD ONE JOB, COSTUME DEPARTMENT!

6. Silver Fox


Long before the "Women in Refrigerators" trope was named, Silver Fox was Wolverine's Blackfoot girlfriend who existed solely to be brutally murdered by Sabretooth to give the Canucklehead manpain on his birthday. (This was later revealed to be a false memory implanted by Weapon X so they could plant her as a HYDRA officer because it's just not an X-book book without unnecessary, confusing retcons.) In Wolverine's first movie with his name in the title, she's given the mutant power to dominate others' will while touching them. Stryker holds her sister, Emma Frost (who usually doesn't have any Native Americans in her New England WASP family), hostage in exchange for her seducing Logan for a convoluted long con instead of using her powers to make Logan immediately comply. If your solution to Silver Fox's predicament is for her to use her power to command Stryker to release her sister, destroy all his files on them, & eat a bullet, then you're officially smarter than the handful of writers who wrote the movie.

She awkwardly gives Logan his superhero name by post coitally telling him a supposedly Native American fable about wolverines that doesn't really go anywhere, and investing in their relationship is icky to begin with since it's predicated on Silver Fox's ability to override Logan's consent. Sabretooth prentends to kill her in order to trick Logan into getting his skeleton coated with Adamantium, which doesn't say much for his enhanced senses if he can't tell an eviscerated person from an unconscious one covered in Karo syrup. It's unclear why the cacklebladder was even needed, since Stryker doesn't intend to honor their bargain. Sabretooth does eventually murder her for real in the least dramatic way possible. With her dying breath, Silver Fox decides not to make Stryker kill himself. So she's indirectly responsible for everything that bad that befalls mutantkind in X-Men 2. It's a rare movie that can give a footnote character an expanded role and superpowers yet manage to make her a worse character.

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