Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Best Versions of the X-Men

The X-Men have received several great adaptations.  There have been three great X-Men cartoons, three great X-Men movies and one movie that is not as good as the other three but still has some good qualities.  Even Pryde of the X-Men isn't bad for a late eighties pilot and the recent X-Men anime is a decent adaptation.  The interesting thing is that while the general story and message remains throughout all interpretations the characters are different in each adaptation.  So here is my look at the best version of the main X-Men characters.

Professor X
Charles Xavier has fared better in movies and television than most comic book characters.  I would even say he is a better character on screen than in the comics as he is much more sympathetic and less of a burden.  X-Men: The Animated Series found a good balance in using him.  He was not always necessary, but he was still capable of going on adventures.  I also like the weird voice he has in the nineties' cartoon, makes him sound slightly villainous.  Patrick Stewart was a perfect choice to portray him in the movies.  Stewart's commanding presence, strong voice and good humor anchored the movies and certainly narrated them well.  In X-Men: Evolution he is much more of a father figure and teacher.  Again here he serves as somewhat of an anchor and straight man for the young mutants making mistakes.  Wolverine and the X-Men came up with a genius excuse to get the Professor out of the mansion while still using his deus ex machina powers by having him transported to the future while occasionally communicating in the present.  Xavier in the future had a few adventures of his own and became a revolutionary leader for oppressed mutants.  James MacAvoy played a young version of Stewart's Xavier.  MacAvoy was consistent with Stewart's portrayal but added some youthful recklessness.  This version of Xavier is the one that did not know everything and was still learning how the world worked.

Best Xavier: This is a tough one, because they are really all good in their own ways but I have to give it to Patrick Stewart who really defined the character, specifically in X-Men where he had more to do.  But I do really respect MacAvoy's performance and interpretation.

Scott Summers is a tough character to make work, the comics have pretty much proven that.  On screen Cyke usually tends to be a plot device.  This was the problem with him in the movies, while James Marsden was well cast he has no role outside of guy obsessed with Jean, person Wolverine hates and loosely designated leader.  Wolverine and the X-Men is similar to this, but he doesn't have the leader position. X-Men: The Animated Series is a bit better.  While Cyclops is still mainly defined by his relationships with Jean and Logan he gets his own storylines and there is a strong characterization.  He is the natural leader and straight-laced boyscout.  However X-Men: Evolution really made him the viewpoint character.  He was still the leader that did everything by the book, but he was very much a teenager.  He struggled with his powers, he struggled with girls and having friends.  He questioned everything and would be reckless.  He had an edge to him and would not go easy on the bad guys.  This Cyclops had a character arc and was never boring.

Best Cyclops: X-Men: Evolution, no contest

For a character that comic book writers rarely do anything with he has been used a lot on screen.  He was a main character on the favorite Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.  The series could be corny, but there were good character dynamics and this fun-loving Iceman still holds up.  He had a role in one episode of X-Men: The Animated Series which had an interesting take on him as kind of a cross between Wolverine and Jubilee.  He was the kid of the original team, but he definitely had a temper and was more hardcore than the others.  X-Men: Evolution had him as a junior member who is carefree and kind of a burden, but dependable.  Wolverine and the X-Men puts him on the main team where he is slight comic relief.  Shawn Ashmore plays a great Bobby Drake in the movies, especially in X2, the "coming out" scene is one of the franchises best.  He gives on of the better performances in those movies.

 Best Iceman: This is a tough one, because I like them all.  He was my favorite character in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, which is one of my favorite cartoons and I really loved Shawn Ashmore.  However X-Men: The Animated Series provides the most interesting take on Iceman.  It is unlike anything in the comics, but is still completely in character.  The episode Cold Comfort plays up on some overlooked qualities of the character, namely his hotheadedness, anger and inability to fit in with the other X-Men.

Angel is not a character that is easy to use.  In the comics I can't think of anybody besides Rick Remender who really had a solid take on the character.  Despite Ben Foster being a good actor, he was pointless and forgettable in X-Men: The Last Stand.  X-Men: The Animated Series uses his vengeful Archangel persona, but his only seemed to be to remind us that Apocalypse was evil.  He only had a few appearances in X-Men: Evolution, but they made an impact.  Casting him as a mutant who loved using his powers for others.  I liked his minor recurring role in Wolverine and the X-Men, as an ally who helped support the X-Men with his bigoted father's fortune.

Best Angel: Definitely X-Men: Evolution.  His guest episode, On Angel's Wings, is one of the best of the series.  The episode focuses on the wonderment of Warren's powers and the faith he inspires in others.

Hank McCoy is my favorite superhero and he has been used very well outside of comics.  I was first introduced to the character in X-Men: The Animated Series.  He allows the series to explore more mature themes of hate through his imprisonment arc and the episode Beauty and the Beast.  X-Men: Evolution uses him to be a mentor, but unlike the other three teachers Beast is getting used to his mutation like the students.  Wolverine and the X-Men he is comic relief and is a sounding board for Logan.  He was the best part of X-Men: The Last Stand, casting Kelsey Grammer was brilliant as he has perfected mixing humor and intelligence.  I was not a fan of Nicholas Hoult in X-Men: First Class. His character arc was just not that interesting and it did not seem consistent with X-Men: The Last Stand.

Best Best: I know everybody else hates the movie, but X-Men: The Last Stand completely got the character of Hank McCoy right.  A good natured, caring man who is civic minded but struggles with his unfortunate physical mutations.  He was great in the action scenes and the makeup looked great.  Kelsey Grammer gives one of the best interpretations of my favorite character.

Jean Grey
Jean is a lot like Cyclops, she is often just used to make Wolverine more interesting.  She had the least to do on X-Men: The Animated Series and the worst costume on the team.  But this version had a certain gentleness that is appealing.  Jean was absent through most of Wolverine and the X-Men and was essentially a reason for Cyclops to brood.  Famke Jansen is a great actress and does a great job in the movies.  It is easy to see how people are attracted to her as she plays her likable and intelligent.  It is pretty cool to see her as Phoenix too, even if they did not tell that story as well as they could.  X-Men: Evolution uses her as a main character.  A popular girl with some depth to her.  She struggles to be perfect and mature while struggling with her powers.

Best Jean Grey: Again, X-Men: Evolution was really spot on with its characterization.  It was the only time on screen or in the comics that Jean Grey was her own character.

Nightcrawler has a lot of different sides to his personalities.  His onscreen appearances utilized all of these in different ways.  His religion was highlighted on X-Men: The Animated Series and he guest starred in one of the series' best episode (a kid's show that actually uses religion).  He was religious in X2 as well, as played by Alan Cumming.  But his brooding side and hate toward his mutation was the main focus.  X-Men: Evolution also used the struggle with his physical mutation, but he was also the fun-loving, comic relief.  His swashbuckling, adventure persona surfaced in Wolverine and the X-Men.

Best Nightcrawler: As much as I loved his episode on the 90's cartoon, I am going to give it do Alan Cumming in X2.  The religious side is present and he has some of the best jokes of the movie, but Cumming really portrays a remorse that is quite tragic.  Also the intro of him invading the White House is awesome.

This is the main character of any X-Men story in the comics or onscreen.  He is the one people have a fascination with and takes a majority of the focus.  The only time he was not the lead was in X-Men: Evolution.  I have read criticism that the character was too soft, but his harsh instructor was the funniest character on the series.  Also his orange costume is one of my favorites.  X-Men: The Animated Series is how a lot of us were introduced to him and that is still the voice I think a lot of us associate with the character.  His leadership role in Wolverine and the X-Men was a different take on the character that worked.  Of course he was also portrayed by Hugh Jackman in the movies.
Best Wolverine: I do think that Wolverine in the '90s cartoon is iconic, but you can't understate Hugh Jackman's interpretation.  There have been few comic book characters that have been as symbionic with their actor as Hugh and Logan.  X2 is the best outing of the live-action character, but his cameo in First Class was a very pleasant surprise.

For one of the most well-known X-Men Storm really has not had that many good appearances.  X-Men: The Animated Series she was in a majority of the episodes but those long winded speeches did get annoying.  She was decent for her small role in X-Men: Evolution, but the character never expanded past aunt or mentor.  Wolverine and the X-Men really has nothing for her to do.  I do like Halle Berry as an actress, but she really was one of the more forgettable members of the ensemble.  The Last Stand for its many problems actually seemed to improve on Storm from the first two.

Best Storm: X-Men: The Animated Series is the one that is iconic.  Best costume for Storm and interesting characterization of her.  Really the only time there was something for her to do.

Rogue matters in her onscreen appearances much more than she usually does in the comics.  Was one of the main mutants in X-Men: The Animated Series where she added a nice energy to the team dynamic.  X-Men: Evolution had a completely different take with her as a troubled goth.  This interpretation worked for me, it brought a focus to the tragedy of her powers.  Rogue in Wolverine and the X-Men did not work for me.  Her troubled youth persona in that series seemed forced and very false.  Anna Paquin did a great job in the movies, also focusing on the tragedy of her powers.  The character played off of Wolverine very well and made a great focal point.

Best Rogue: I really liked Anna Paquin's Rogue, but she became pretty inconsequential after the first movie.  And while I liked her a lot in Evolution, she was a stand-out in X-Men: The Animated Series.  Don't think the show would have worked without her, certainly wouldn't have been as fun.

Magneto has been awesome in every onscreen appearance.  I think that is because he is the character that really best represents the X-Men, if you don't get him right you don't get the story right.  He was great on X-Men: The Animated Series where he did villainous actions but definitely showed remorse and caring.  In X-Men: Evolution he was downright scary, this was Magneto without a sensitive side.  One who would use kids, put away his daughter and later brainwash her.  Wolverine and the X-Men had a Magneto that cared about mutants and worked to give them utopia.  However he was not above doing anything to maintain that goal and almost caused the end of the world.  Ian McKellen of course gave what many would consider an definitive portrayal.  He was eloquent, cunning and charming while being a believable antagonist.  He really captured the character's three-dimensional qualities.  Michael Fassbender expanded on McKellen's revered work in First Class making him even more sympathetic and more terrifying.

Best Magneto: This is a tough one because they all fit their individual stories so perfectly, but I am going with Michael Fassbender.  He was the highlight of X-Men: First Class and really made the movie about Magneto's harsh origins.  McKellen is of course always great, but Fassbender really did some new things with the character.

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