Coinciding with the big-screen release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, all the previous X-Men films are available in new Blu-ray editions (with the exception of last year’s too-recent The Wolverine). There are also various Blu-ray box sets. I don’t recommend any of the box editions (except for completists and super fans). The problem is they all include the franchise’s least appealing entry, X-Men: The Last Stand. Directed by Brett Ratner, it’s stuffed with story, action and mayhem, but lacking in the characterization and heart that were the hallmark of its predecessors, both directed by Bryan Singer.
Also skippable: X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a by-the-numbers origin story that dutifully hits all the obligatory beats with no sense of wit, surprise or complexity. How can you tell the origin of Wolverine without depicting him struggling against his bestial nature? How can you cover 150 years of a semi-immortal character’s life and not care what that feels like?
I do recommend the first two installments, X-Men and (with caveats; see below) X2: X-Men United — smart, efficient films gracefully managing large ensemble casts and bringing moral and psychological thoughtfulness to their comic-book plots.
Where many popular films today are dominated by younger characters, there’s a nice cross-generational dynamic in these films, with a cross-section of younger and older characters interacting in various ways. In fact, the moral themes in X-Men are defined by a triangle of older men: peacemaker Xavier, anti-humanist Magneto and Bruce Davison’s anti-mutant crusader.
Other appealing elements include Wolverine’s big-brother relationship with Rogue in X-Men, the folk Catholic piety of Alan Cummings’ Nightcrawler in X2 and well-conceived action set pieces in both films.
Also recommended, with caveats: X-Men: First Class, a prequel-reboot that succeeds where X-Men Origins: Wolverine failed: By the time it’s over, we know Charles Xavier, Magneto and Mystique, in particular, as we’ve never known them before. Among its surprises are the follies and arrogance of Xavier’s callow youth and a touching brother-sister relationship between Xavier and Mystique going back to childhood.
Caveat Spectator: All these films, including the three films I’ve recommended, include intense comic-book violence; X2 and First Class in particular include disturbing images of violence. Blue-skinned Mystique’s quasi-nudity runs through the series. X2 includes a brief but strong scene of sexuality (no nudity), and First Class includes exploitative scenes of lingerie-clad dancers. All three include crude language and profanity, particularly First Class. X-Men, like the current X-Men: Days of Future Past, is suitable for teens and up; X2 and First Class are mature viewing.