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)?
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 clich?d 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.
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.
5. Silver Samurai
Silver Samurai is an oddly sympathetic villain in the comics because of how the deck is stacked against him. He’s eager to inherit his father’s criminal empire, but it’s bequeathed to his law-abiding half-sister, Mariko Yashida, because he was born a bastard. His archfoe is the one character who’s least vulnerable to his deadly power. He battled Spider-Man and the cast of Saturday Night Live when his teleportation ring was sent to John Belushi in an epic mail screw-up. Even his attempts to turn over a new leaf backfire. James Mangold’s The Wolverine takes this sad-sack theme several dozen steps further by removing everything that makes him a unique character & divvying up those aspects among the other characters just to rub it in.
In the comics, Kenuichio Harada is a mutant swordsman in silver armor. So naturally his movie counterpart is a human (contrary to his name appearing in Stryker’s files of known mutants in X-Men 2) archer in black leather. (Meanwhile, the previously human Yukio & Viper got upgraded to mutants.) There is a really cool Silver Samurai mech armor in the movie, but Harada doesn’t get to pilot it. Instead a character who doesn’t even exist in the comics is the movie’s Silver Samurai. This switcheroo is supposed to be the film’s shocking twist, except audiences are never led to believe Harada would be The Big Bad & it’s clearly telegraphed that Mariko’s thanatophobic grandad was playing possum. Harada is also no longer Viper’s partner in love & crime, having to settle for being Mariko’s jilted childhood stalker (hopefully they’re not still half-siblings in this continuity). Harada winds up reduced to the obnoxious leader of stock ninjas employed by Grandpa Yashida, meaning he could’ve been cut from the movie entirely without affecting a damn thing.
X-fans are divided on their opinion of the X-Men’s field leader, Cyclops. Half think he’s a boring killjoy whose real superpower is self-righteous repression.The rest liken him to Batman (minus the billionaire bank account & awesome spirit animal) because of his strategic mind and extreme determination. The filmmakers are unwaveringly the former camp. So if you ever thought Cyclops was cool, the X-Men movies will try their damnedest to cure you of this delusion
In the first X-Men, there’s zero evidence that he deserves to lead the team or Jean’s love. (There’s a deleted scene where he commands Wolverine to wear one of his old leather uniforms, which shifts the dynamics of the love triangle.) His need to wear a ruby quartz visor to contain his optic blasts because of a childhood brain injury isn’t explained well, making it look like Professor X sucks at his job rather than Cyclops overcoming a disability. In X-Men 2, he spends most of the movie kidnapped by Stryker and brainwashed into committing domestic abuse.
Any hopes that his and Jean’s relationship would take center stage for the adaptation of The Dark Phoenix Saga were dashed when James Marsden signed onto Singer’s Superman Returns (a.k.a. The Worst Thing to Happen to Both Franchises). Following a glorified cameo, Cyclops gets disintegrated by Dark Phoenix offscreen, and you’ll miss his cenotaph if you blink. To make it up to Cyclops fans, a younger version of him (that already has ruby quartz glasses before manifesting his eyebeams) appears in X-Men Origins: Wolverine … where he is promptly kidnapped by Stryker so his powers can be grafted onto Deadpool. Cue Nelson Muntz!
Unlike Cyclops, Storm is the X-Men’s field leader that fans generally like. You wouldn’t recognize that, though, from the way the movies treat her like an afterthought. Comic Storm has gone through so many dynamic arcs that she never feels like the token Affirmative Action mutant. She’s extremely claustrophobic from being buried in rubble with her dead parents. As a child in Egypt, she was forced to pickpocket by the Shadow King. Before joining the X-Men, she was worshipped as a Goddess for using her mastery of the weather to fight droughts. She saved her teammates and won control over the Morlocks by wrecking Callisto in a duel. In addition to rocking an awesome punk makeoever (including a genuine Mohawk unlike the wimpy fauxhawk she sports in the DoFP movie), she also had a heavily implied tryst with Yukio. Even after her powers were temporarily stripped from her, she still kicked Cyclops’s ass in combat for leadership of the X-Men (he was forced to spend time with his wife & newborn son as a result). None of these character-defining events happen in the movies. Once Cyclops and Xavier are finally out of the picture, Storm recedes into the background behind Wolverine and Beast rather than taking the team’s reins.
Sadly, Oscar-winner Halle Berry is unable to provide the regal screen presence to compensate for being criminally underwritten. Berry even stopped attempting an accent after the first film, which is a shame because a diverse array of cheesy accents is an X-Men hallmark. She could at least proclaim everything like a grandiose drama queen in the vein of ’90s animated Storm so she’d leave some kind of impression. Just imagine how much more passion & gravitas Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, or even Beyonc? would bring to the role! For a character of her calliber, it’s a travesty that uttering Joss Whedon’s worst one-liner is the only memorable thing Storm’s done in all the movies.
Is there anything left to say about how awful movie Deadpool is? The only reason he didn’t nab the top dishonor is that he’s more of an auxiliary X-character than a longstanding core mutant. He was off to a good start, with Ryan Reynolds (who will take every a role in every comic book movie so long as he’s not directed to emote beyond wooden sarcasm) slicing bullets in half with katanas. All they had to do was give him with gruesome skin lesions, a red and black tactical ninja costume, and some dialogue that’s actually funny. Of course, Fox’s infinite wisdom knew that Deadpool could be “improved.” As Weapon XI to Wolverine’s Weapon X, Deadpool’s codename is explained by Stryker implanting a variety of mutant powers into him from a pool of dead specimens. (A) That’s not how dead pools work, (B) some of his gene “donors” were still alive, and (C) that character sounds more like Mimic.
The character appears so briefly at the beginning they don’t explain that he volunteered in an attempt to cure his cancer, so his surprise reveal as the final boss falls completely flat. Somehow nobody involved with the movie realized that having giant katanas sprout out of his arms like Baraka is both impractical & ridiclous looking. His wisecracking mouth is fused shut and he’s remote controlled by Stryker because moviegoers can’t get enough of characters with no personality or agency. He ends up being a flashier version of the equally charisma-free Lady Deathstrike. As far as ultimate weapons go, he’s not that hard to vanquish either. Only Fox would think the key to launching a fan favorite character into his own spin-off movie series is to remove everything about him that makes him a fan favorite. Let’s hope that if he’s ever redeemed in the proposed solo flick written by Zombieland‘s writers that Deadpool is recast with Sam Rockwell, because he does what his surname promises.
If you look up “rogue” in the dictionary you’ll see that it’s the polar opposite of how the character is depicted in the initial X-Men trilogy. Many fans viewed Rogue’s decision to nullify her powers by taking The Cure in Ratner’s X-Men 3 as a betrayal of her character, but her choice was actually completely in line with how Singer established her in his movies. Movie Rogue has absolutely no reason to be proud of the powers that brought her nothing but misery. Singer could’ve easily found room for Rogue to become an asset to the X-Men. Had she been taken captive in X-Men 2, for instance, she could’ve freed her classmates by permanently absorbing some Ms. Marvel-style powers (Fox doesn’t have the rights to her, but DoFP‘s Warpath seems to have the ideal powerset for her to drain) and become the team’s heavy hitter. Instead he opted to devote precious screentime to the secret origin of her skunk-stripe hair! Movie Deadpool stole her “borrowed power combo” shtick, and her biggest action scene is being sucked out of the Blackbird & rescued by Nightcrawler.
The only time Rogue comes close to being as badass as her comic book counterpart is when she’s suited up for promotional photos that don’t reflect her usage in the movies. She’s such a milquetoast that it felt overdue when her spot on the team was finally outsourced to former cameo queen Kitty “I’m nothing without Lockheed” Pryde. Pairing Rogue up with dull movie Iceman didn’t help. Anna Paquin might not’ve been the ideal casting, but why waste her Oscar-winning talents on a superheroine who’s only allowed to be mopey & useless?
The core problem with movie Rogue is she was forced into the role of audience surrogate by cutting off all her edges. The focus on her as a metaphor for teen sexual frustration ignored all the other facets of her character. Rogue is an compelling character in the comics because she debuted as a member of the Brotherhood (of Evil Mutants) with cool hair who hands the Avengers their collective asses! She was a hardcore terrorist because she had Mystique & Destiny as mommies. It’s only after abuse of her parasitic powers drives her insane that she selfishly defects to the X-Men for help. Then she grows to realize that Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence is the right path. Her arc is the inverse of the one they gave Pyro to compensate for him missing his Cockney-Aussie accent. Rogue redemption validates the X-Men. Not only that, comic Rogue & Gambit are a sexy & fun (at least when their angst isn’t ramped up for maximum drama) power couple of reformed Southern outlaws. Who wouldn’t rather see that Rogue onscreen?
When Singer announced that Rogue’s solitary DoFP scene had been cut for pacing issues, fan reaction was split between “Yay! She sucked anyway!” and “Yay! At least they can’t ruin her anymore!” A minuscule segment was disappointed because they still held hope that her scene would’ve course corrected a trilogy of bad characterization. When the cinematic adaptation of a beloved character elicits such a response, it’s clear that character is a mammoth failure.
You may remember Matthew Catania from such Daily Lists as:
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The 10 Best Elseworlds Stories
The 10 Worst Fictional Psychotherapists
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