Best Action Scenes of All-Time: X-Men (Fox Studios) Edition - The Part-Time Critic

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Best Action Scenes of All-Time: X-Men (Fox Studios) Edition

 

*X-Men Wallpaper by TheKingBlader995 on DeviantArt
*Last Updated: 3/20/2022

I remember heading out to Vero Beach, Florida to enjoy the newly renovated stadium seating AMC theaters to enjoy X-MEN in the year 2000. I had grown to know the property through the Saturday morning cartoons as a kid. I enjoyed it, but I had to use the restroom so bad and didn't want to miss a minute of it that I pretty much ruined the viewing I was hurting so bad. When the sequel debuted in the summer of 2003, I liked it a lot more, but wasn't on board with all the "best superhero movie all-time" discussion that was going around. The Spider-Man series (the Tobey Maguire ones) debuted in 2002 and took over the "cutting-edge" fan favorite crown with the X-Men series still respected but in the rear-view mirror ever since. From the year 2000 until Disney purchased Fox Studios in 2019, 10 films were produced in the series. They went through a couple of different directors, a prequel, and three Wolverine spin-offs. To be fair, I'm the biggest fan of the series and feel that it always had interesting ideas, at times it was inspired in its action and presentation, but was too often on the nose, redundant, and too beholden to replaying the same old conflicts and story beats over and over. The later entries into the franchise are great examples of this. For those interested in knowing before you get into the ratings, here's how I would rank the six films:

10. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (C-) 2009
9. X-Men: Dark Phoenix (C-) 2019
8. X-Men (C) 2000
7. X-Men: Apocalypse (C) 2016
6. The Wolverine (C+) 2013
5. X-Men: The Last Stand (C+) 2006
4. X-Men: Days of Future Past (B-) 2014
3. X-Men: First Class (B) 2011
2. X2: United (B) 2003
1. Logan (B+) 2017

I think the series is at its best when it's creatives are inspired to craft an entire action set piece around the unique ability a mutant has. You will see this played out in my picks for #2 and #1. This theme is seen in my honorable mention sequence of Magneto's Plastic Prison Breakout in X2: United which is more drama than action but man is it incredible. By my count there is a distinct 39 action sequences in the ten films (kills me that there weren't a round 40). Links to clips and commentaries begin around #23 in the sequences below. This is just to keep this page shorter and because no one really wants to read much commentary on average or below average sequences. If this were a tier list, I'd say you're really getting to solid action sequences around #11 or so. Enjoy and feel free to comment!

All X-Men Action Sequences Graded & Ranked

GRADE: C
39. “Magneto Kidnaps Rogue at a Train Station” -X-Men (2000)
38. “Finale: Sentinels Unveiled Crosscut w/Future Last Stand” -X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
37. “Canadian Barn Fight: Sabretooth vs. Wolverine” -X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
36. “Sabretooth vs. Wolverine Interrupted by Gambit” -X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
35. “Charles & Eric Ambush Emma Frost at a Russian General's Compound” -X-Men: First Class (2011)
34. “Wolverine vs. Tree Dart Throwing Guy” -X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
33. “Blackbird vs U.S. Jets” -X2: United (2003)


GRADE: C+
32. “Peace Talks Fail: Mystique, Charles, & Erik Clash in Paris” -X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
31. “Vietnam Rescue: Mystique Frees Mutants from Stryker's Clutches” -X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
30. “Attack on Shaw's Yacht by the CIA and Eric” -X-Men: First Class (2011)
29. “Alkali Lake Redux: Weapon X is Loose” -X-Men: Apocalypse (2014)
28. “Mystique Prison Convoy Breakout” -X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
27. “Revived Wolverine vs Samurai with two swords” -The Wolverine (2013)
26. “Finale: Statue of Liberty Fight” -X-Men (2000)
25. “Lagos Special Ops: Weapons Team Secures the Meteor” -X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
24. “Finale: Wolverine vs Silver Samurai” -The Wolverine (2013)

23. “3 Mile Island Finale: Wolverine vs. Stryker & Weapon 11” -X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) LINK
- Commentary: The highlight here is when Sabretooth & Wolverine team up against Weapon 11, which sounds like an all-time great fight. However, Weapon 11, who on paper is essentially an indestructible superman, is only introduced at the last second and is given just a few minutes to show what he can do. It all feels rushed and very green screen heavy. Overall, just another meh ending in this franchise.

22. “Childhood Home Showdown: X-Men vs. Jean Grey” -X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) LINK
- Commentary: The issue with this sequence is the issue with the whole movie – it all feels like a retread of the same issues/ideas the series has been going through. As maligned as Brett Ratner is, at least his parallel sequence in The Last Stand kept ramping up and up the stakes into a pretty powerful and emotional ending. The action is short here, fairly good, but the ending is a bit deflating and obvious.

21. "Logan's Leap: Motorcycle vs. Helicopter” -X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) LINK
-Commentary: The defining action sequence of the movie is at once a sorta breathe of fresh air and on the other hand a ridiculous CGI mess. The fact that it’s a chase sequence makes it stand out for this franchise, but a daylight chase out in the open promises clear and exciting visuals. There are times when that promise bears out, but the sequence ultimately ends with about 1/3 good looking practical shots and 2/3 obvious and cheesy green screen shots. It’s both an interesting sequence and an embarrassment/all time low at the same time.

20. “Crossing the Border Finale: Wolverine's Last Fight” -Logan (2017) LINK
- Commentary: Helping the young mutants cross into Canada by fighting off the Reavers and X-24 in the forests – this “final fight” of Wolverine’s has better dramatic beats than action ones. It begins with a bang in a “one take” sequence of Wolverine taking out soldiers but it (rightfully on the dramatic end) slows down as he loses energy and approaches his death.

19. “New York Street Scrum: Team Charles & Team Erik Fight Over Jean” -X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) LINK
Commentary: This film is so redundant dramatically that it’s hard to separate the recycled drama/plot from the action. If you look past the umpteemth time Magento and Professor X formed a team that fought over some objective, then you’ll find some nice practical stunts and one or two extended shots in this sequence. Taken alone, this is a nice B- but taken in light of the series, it’s just the same old stuff done with slightly more practical stunts.


GRADE: B-
18. “Farm House Fight: Showdown with Weapon 24” -Logan (2017) LINK
- Commentary: Old Man Wolverine vs. Young Wolverine – a comic book fan’s dream. It’s short but I’m glad we got this sequence in the R-rated film because you really feel the death surrounding Wolverine and the metaphor of everyone he loves dying is hit home when he sees a younger version of himself killing a wonderful family. It’s sad, it’s brutal, and the fight between two knife wielding men is not for the queasy.

17. “X-Men Save the Shuttle with Damage to Jean” -X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) LINK
- Commentary: A short and sweet action sequence that shows us the new status quo of the X-men: heroes putting themselves on the lines for the regular humans. I like how Quicksilver’s iconic ability has just become a normal part of a sequence and combined with Nightcrawlers teleporting ability, they are able to make rescue missions look pretty normal and routine. The scene goes awry when the flare threatening the shuttle engulfs it with jean Grey inside and she absorbs all the energy. Visual effects look great here.

16. “Funeral Service Frenzy Leads to a Street Chase” -The Wolverine (2013) LINK
- Commentary: A funeral service goes awry with a kidnapping that is screwed up by the presence of Wolverine. It opens with Logan getting a gunshot to the chest, which due to a change earlier in the film, his regenerative abilities are minimal. There is some fighting action as Logan retrieves the kidnapped daughter of the deceased leading to a chase in the streets that isn’t as exciting as the film editing would like us to believe.

15. “Finale: Cuban Crisis Finale” -X-Men: First Class (2011) LINK
-
Commentary: The finale of Matthew Vaughn’s entry plays upon the real-life Cuban Missile Crisis – except we have Shaw and his team trying to get the US and Russian to start World War III. This lengthy sequence is at its best when its playing up the historical roots and the drama between Shaw, Eric, and Charles. However, once the superheroes begin to do their action thing – it’s obvious that the new mutants getting showcased just aren’t as interesting as the others we've come to love. Banshee, Angel, and Beast are just not engaging when it comes to action. To be honest, Banshee and Angel’s aerial battle is a bit embarrassing for 2011. That the coolest character in the film, Azazel, is largely sidelined and the second coolest, Emma Frost, is imprisoned doesn’t help. The action is okay, but the finale is a much better drama – witnessing Eric take up the mantel from one of the series’ best villains – Sebastian Shaw.

14. “Wolverine vs Yakuza on a Train” -The Wolverine (2013) LINK
- Commentary: A short but memorable sequence sees Logan fight off several Yakuza members that ambush him on a Japanese bullet train. The unique spin here is that the fight ends up on the top of the train where the wind and overhead obstacles provide serious issues. It's very short and hard to shake the feeling that it was all done on a green screen - despite the decent effects. It’s a shame it doesn’t look as good as what was pulled off in Mission: Impossible way back in 1996.

13. “Cairo Showdown Finale: X-Men vs. Apocalypse & His Acolytes” -X-Men: Apocalypse (2014) LINK
- Commentary: Since Bryan Singer took back over the franchise with Days of Future Past, he’s turned in a habit of creating sprawling and convoluted finales that have multiple different action threads, an often evolving end goal, and multiple dramatic beats. What is meant to be epic often comes off as just messy and rambling to me. At least with this one we get some better overall action - but that action is still pretty sub-par given the stuff the Marvel Cinematic Universe was routinely putting out by this time.

12. “Rumble at Jean Grey's House” -X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) LINK
- Commentary: This sequence is a bit of a mess, but I quite like it. Taking place at Jean Grey’s childhood home, Magneto and Charles plea to the “Phoenix” Jean Grey to join their side. As Jean causes telekinetic chaos around them, Charles’ guys like Wolverine and Storm face off with Magneto’s guys – Juggernaut and a fast lady (don't know her mutant name). It’s not the well-structured and thought through action set piece I wanted, but there’s something about the intensity of the fight between Wolverine and Juggernaut destroying this suburban home as well as the go for broke moment slow motion climax with Xavier that I enjoy.

11. “Shaw, Azazel, & Riptide Attacks CIA Headquarters” -X-Men: First Class (2011) LINK
- Commentary: This is the first sequence where we really get to see Shaw, Azazel, and Riptide use their powers and the visual effects here are incredible. In particular is the simplicity of Azazel’s teleporting individuals to the sky and letting them fall and the lethality of him with two swords. It’s the best teleporting sequence outside of Nightcrawler’s moment in the White House. There’s a moment here as well where Shaw gets to show off his energy absorption ability and he stamps his foot and takes out the entire foyer of the facility. Really cool looking stuff. Wish this sequence was a bit longer with the young mutant recruits trying to put up a better fight. Could have been one of the better sequences in the entire series.


GRADE: B
10. “Finale: X-Men vs. Stryker at Alkali Lake” -X2: United (2003) LINK
- Commentary: This is a tough sequence to rate because it’s so unbalanced. The military compound at Alkali Lake is a pretty neat location and the sequence begins with a great moment where Mystique imitates both Wolverine and Stryker to get access into the control center. From there, the group enters, and each is given a task. The best tasks are given to Wolverine who gets to fight Deathstrike, a female version of himself. This is a fun sequence that I wish lasted a bit longer, but it’s a strong pound for pound fight sequence. Probably the best 1v1 fight Wolverine had in the PG-13 entries. The second best task is for Magneto who gets to “rescue” Xavier from Stryker’s mind control. The ugly end of the stick is Storm and Nightcrawler getting the lame task of rescuing some children and Jean gets a half-baked moment with Cyclops. These two tasks are really quite boring and feel either like pandering (we need something for Storm to do!) or undercooked (Cyclops and Jean need a moment!). It’s an overall enjoyable finale – saved by Wolverine, Mystique, and the fascinating idea of Xavier being mind controlled.

9. “Opening: Drunken Wolverine vs. Car Thieves” -Logan (2017) LINK
- Commentary: A sleepy and drunken Wolverine is awakened when car thieves jack up his car to take the tires and rims off his leased limo (he’s now a chauffeur for hire). In anger (mostly so they don’t harm the car) he warns the group to go, but they won’t and they shoot Wolverine down. In anger he begins striking out at the thieves and we get to see the Rated R nature of Wolverine violence for the very first time on the big screen. His claws impale in gruesome ways, they are sudden and sickening. It’s a violent fight and Wolverine stumbles and it isn’t until he’s fully angry that he’s able to take out the rest of the group. In many ways, this feels like the first real Wolverine fight we’ve ever seen on the screen - that somehow everything that came before belonged to the comic book world they later make fun of in the film. There’s something authentic about it that makes all the PG-13 sequences feel fake and tame. I love this little sequence and wish they had discovered this edge well before the final solo Wolverine film.

8. “Quicksilver Rescues Almost Everyone from an Exploding School” -X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) LINK
- Commentary: The sequel to the iconic “Time in a Bottle” sequence is this standout moment where Quicksilver rescues nearly everyone from Charles’ school before it explodes. It’s a humorous sequence that plays out to the tune of “Sweet Dreams.” It’s bigger and more visual interesting than the original, but the context is a bit odd to me. On every level it's probably superior to the original, but it all kinda happens without real build or rampup with Quicksilver happening upon the school just as it exploded. It all feels a bit arbitrary in that aspect.

7. “Military Raid on Xavier's Campus” -X2: United (2003) LINK
- Commentary: A solid piece of action. General Stryker (Brian Cox in one of the more underrated superhero villain performances IMO) orders troops to raid Xavier’s campus in order to gain access to Cerebro. The raid takes place at night, like a special ops sequence, except instead of taking out terrorists the soldiers are looking to tranquilize the students. Things go awry when some students slip away due to their abilities and Wolverine goes on a rampage. Like the opening sequence, this one feels well thought out and structured with the intent to give Wolverine a few moments of quality rage (which he never really got in the first film). A good looking, fairly lean, and satisfying sequence.

6. “Finale: Last Stand on Alcatraz Island” -X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) LINK
- Commentary: This sequence doesn’t start out well – with the dumb idea that it would somehow make sense to swing the Golden Gate Bridge over to Alcatraz. Getting past that idiocy (and some others later one), and this sequence has some real positives. There’s some neat back and forth between the soldiers and their plastic weapons vs the mutants. The threat that one of the cure weapons could hit a mutant really does raise the stakes to this battle. When the X-Men arrive on scene, there are some neat moments and fights – with Kitty vs Juggernaut and Magneto getting the cure as highlights. There’s something about the gonzo slow-mo ending here with Jean Grey obliterating everything (a wonderful visual effect) and Wolverine making his way step by step closer to kill Jean while her powers are peeling his skin back (as he then regrows it) that I am quite fond of. It makes me wish the movie had actually developed her in a comprehensible and sensible way because there was something interesting there.

5. “Opening: Adaptive Sentinels Attack Russian Mutant Hideout” -X-Men: The Days of Future Past (2014) LINK
- Commentary: This is a fun way to throw the viewer into a new reality for this timeline changing series. It’s the future and humans have resorted to using robots – Sentinels – to defeat and enslave mutants. The war has turned the future into a dystopian hell. This sequence takes place in a Russian underground complex and it looks like one of the few remaining hideouts for whatever remains of the mutants. It’s a quick sequence that introduces several new mutants like Bishop and the standout Blink – who can throw portals that people can run through. Three sentinels arrive and the various new mutants join old ones, like Iceman and Kitty Pryde. Unfortunately, these sentinels can adapt to each attack and eventually overwhelm the mutants. It’s a nice motif that runs through this fairly urgent and dynamic battle. It ends on a mysterious note as Kitty is doing something with Bishop’s mind that causes them to vanish and the entire location change. We later learn that Kitty is sending Bishop’s consciousness back into his body several days before to warn the group to leave. This a delightful sequence that does a lot of work in setting up the excellent first half of this film.


GRADE: B+
4. “Mexican Escape: Wolverine & Laura Fight Off Attackers” -Logan (2017) LINK
- Commentary: Who is this little girl named Laura? We finally get the answer to this lingering question in the standout action sequence from the best film in the franchise. As bad guys roll up on Logan’s compound looking for Laura they surround Logan and Xavier – but they weren’t ready for an enraged Laura. You see Laura is like a ten (?) year old version of Logan – healing, adamantium, claws, the whole bit. This violent sequence, like the opening one, is a jarring reminder of the violence inherent in their mutant abilities. It's a reminder that their ability doesn't play well in PG-13, but feels wonderfully at home in its unsparing R rating. The sequence is well structured and after we learn of Laura’s power in a few gruesome action beats the whole thing turns into a chase sequence that almost hilariously comes to an when Logan’s limo can’t crash through a fence. They persist and we get a nice, if clichéd, escape the chase by zooming in front of a train moment.

3. “Train Finale: Aliens vs. Mutants Ends with a Phoenix” -X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) LINK
- Commentary: This is easily the best finale of the entire X-Men series and its not even close. The train setting is genius because it allows for confined spaces and for a lot of characters to get their own stand alone set pieces, without feeling like the plot is twisting and turning just to fit everything in (a problem most of the big entries in the series suffers). There’s a lot of fun moments here with Magneto, Beast, and Nightcrawler all getting some really fun action beats. Unfortunately, the ending comes down to a moment with Jean Gray that feels like it already happened at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse, but dramatic retread is the name of this film. At least the small geographic footprint and bigger emphasis on smaller more practical stunts paid off in the action sequences.

2. “Magneto Breakout: Time in a Bottle” -X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) LINK
- Commentary: What a wonderful breakout sequence this is…it’s a shame that it’s one of those awesome moments that’s more about the visual effect than the actual kinetic action taking place on the screen. Thankfully the kitchen sequence is supported by other action at the Pentagon, but the truly memorable stuff all comes from the kitchen. The depiction of Quicksilver running so fast that he’s able to change multiple things like the trajectory of bullets, clothes, and other objects before others are even able to blink is iconic. It's so impactful that all other “superfast” characters in other franchises have suffered in comparison. The ability is so awesome and game-changing that it does end up feeling a bit overpowered. Still, I’m glad we got this incredible moment.


GRADE: A-
n/a

GRADE: A
1. “Opening: Assassin in the Oval Office” -X2: United (2003) LINK
- Commentary: One of the best opening action scenes of any movie – period. The X-Men series is at its best when it is inspired to creatively portray the unique mutant abilities of its characters and this is the best it ever executed that concept. The basic plot here is that the mutant Nightcrawler (who can almost instantly teleport locations) breaks into the White House to attempt to assassinate the U.S. President. What makes the sequence stand out is the way it slowly unveils the space teleporting ability (with a lovely “bampf” sound effect) that Nightcrawler has. At first he just seems to be warping from one hallway to another, confusing the guards. However, as the scene builds, and the guards get more and more confused, we are given up close views of this ability when Nightcrawler warps around the room to take out guards and escape gunfire. Eventually, Nightcrawler is in the oval office where we get a bullet time like sequence where he quickly warps around the room and fights off guard after guard. As a standalone action sequence, it’s a real masterpiece of the series. It feels like the sequence was well storyboarded, was nurtured with excitement at all levels of the production, and they got the time to execute it. It’s a shame the film (or any other in the series) never finds a way to use Nightcrawler as great as this again.

No comments:

Post a Comment