The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an amazing achievement. The way Marvel has created a shared movie universe, known as the MCU, and continued to deliver one quality entry after another, will go down in history as one of the best movie franchises ever. However, Fox's "X-Men" movies, in general, are better.
Now, this isn't a knock on the Marvel movies. The shared universe is impressive, but that's not the only factor that movies are judged by. Based on the individual movies, "X-Men" is a more impressive series. Of course there have been some misfires, but that's true of Marvel as well. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009) is no worse than "Iron Man 2" (2010). They might not get the praise that they deserve, but here are all the reasons why the "X-Men" movies are better than the MCU movies.
As a prominent character from both the "X-Men" and "Avengers" comics, Quicksilver was able to appear in both movie series, as long as neither series referenced his existence in the other. He appeared in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014), helping Xavier, Beast and Wolverine break Magneto out of prison. His speed powers are showcased in an amazing sequence where time slows to a crawl. As the guards shoot at Xavier, Quicksilver speeds around the room and moves the bullets off course, and sends guards flying simply by touching them while moving at super speed.
The Marvel version made his debut during the end credits of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014) played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, before playing a major role in "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (2015). As one of Baron Strucker's "miracles," he first used his speed powers to fight the Avengers before switching sides and teaming up with them against Ultron. While he plays a bigger role in this movie than in "X-Men," his speed sequences just aren't as memorable. Also, Fox's Quicksilver's entire personality is built around his speed, making for many funny moments, while the Marvel version is mostly just a moody jerk.
14 VILLAINS' MOTIVATIONS
The opening scene in "X-Men" (2000) shows a young Erik Lensherr being led into a Nazi concentration camp when his magnetic powers begin to develop. This is further explored in "X-Men: First Class" when it's revealed that Sebastian Shaw was posing as a Nazi scientist in the camp, and tortured Erik until he learned to use his powers correctly. This experience caused Erik to lose faith in humanity, fueling his turn to villainy. As Magneto, his pain causes him to see himself as the savior of the downtrodden mutants, which justifies having to do bad things, up to and including murder.
Meanwhile in the MCU, Iron Monger from "Iron Man" (2008) is evil because he's greedy. So is Justin Hammer from "Iron Man 2" (2010) and Darren Cross/Yellowjacket from "Ant-Man" (2015). Red Skull is just a power-mad Nazi in "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011), and Ronan from "Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014) is a Kree radical that hates the Nova Corps because they're not Kree. Even Loki, from "Thor" (2011), is mostly motivated by jealousy of Thor. These villains are all great characters, but their motivations just aren't as interesting or as complex as Magneto's.
13 X-MEN ACTUALLY HAS A MESSAGE
Mutants are typically born looking and behaving just like normal humans, and it isn't until puberty that their powers develop. The series often deals with teenagers coming to terms with the fact that not only are they different, but also they now have to deal with discrimination on a daily basis. Regular humans are afraid of mutants, which leads to fear and hatred. Most mutants are good people, and they can't help that they were born different, so society should just learn to accept them for who they are.
The message in the "X-Men" films is pretty blatant, and "X2: X-Men United" (2003) even had a scene where Iceman came out to his parents, obviously mirroring a scene many gay kids have lived through. Meanwhile, the main message of the Marvel movies seems to be "people, gods and aliens who are evil are bad." "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014) could also be said to be about the government spying on its own citizens, but that wasn't even the main focus of the movie.
When "Black Panther" is released in 2018, it will be the 18th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It will also be the the first movie where the main character isn't a white guy. "Captain America," "Thor," and "Guardians of the Galaxy" are well regarded movies, but they've been criticized because they all star a white guy named Chris. Black Widow, a hugely popular character, still isn't slated to star in her own movie at any point.
Now, this isn't an entirely fair comparison, because the "X-Men" films are almost all ensemble movies, so it's easier for them to include a wider variety of characters. Still, Storm had one of the most prominent roles in "X2: X-Men United" (2003) and became the team leader in "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006). "The Wolverine" took place in Japan and featured almost an entirely Asian cast, aside from Hugh Jackman. Also, Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique became a central character in "Days of Future Past" (2014) and "Apocalypse" (2016).
11 A WIDER VARIETY OF STORIES
One of the most common complaints about the Marvel movies is that the plots tend to be somewhat cookie cutter. "Ant-Man" (2015) is about a guy who's kind of a jerk, but has the potential to be more. It isn't until he gains power and has to defeat a darker version of himself that he becomes the hero he's meant to be. That's basically also the plot for "Iron Man" (2008), "Thor" (2011) and even "Doctor Strange" (2016). Also, Captain America spends both "The Winter Soldier" (2014) and "Civil War" (2016) going on the run to fight a corrupt government entity (S.H.I.E.L.D. or the Sokovia Accords).
Even though they haven't all been great, each "X-Men" has been unique. "X2: X-Men United" (2003) is nothing like "X-Men: First Class" (2011), and neither of those movies are anything like "Logan" (2017), which in turn is nothing like "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009) or "The Wolverine" (2013).
10 FAITHFUL ADAPTATIONS
In the "Age of Ultron" (2013) by Brian Michael Bendis, Bryan Hitch and Brandon Peterson, an Ultron from the future invades the present day, successfully defeating the Earth's heroes and conquering the planet. The movie "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (2014), has nothing in common with the comic other than that it features the Avengers fighting Ultron as he tries to crash a giant rock into the Earth. "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017) shares its title with a comic book storyline that occurred in "Thor" #80-85 (2004) by Michael Avon Oeming and Andrea Divito, but the movie seems to be based off of "Planet Hulk" (2006) by Greg Pak. Even "Winter Soldier" (2014) and "Civil War" (2016) are only very loosely based on their comic book counterparts.
"X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014) changes around which characters are involved, but it still remains a fairly faithful adaptation of the story told in "Uncanny X-Men" (1981) 140-141 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. A mutant from the future travels to their past body in order to prevent Mystique from assassinating someone and setting off events that lead to a dystopian future.
9 LOOSER CONTINUITY ALLOWS MORE FREEDOM
In "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014), after discovering that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been infiltrated by Hydra agents, Captain America brings down the entire organization. This made for an exciting final act in that movie, but also completely changed the concept of the TV show "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." on ABC. While having a tight continuity between movies has its benefits, it can also be very constricting. This is especially true as the franchise gets older and older.
Audiences aren't necessarily going to care if one film matches up perfectly with a previous entry that came out years earlier. When "Days of Future Past" was released in 2014, Professor X was included despite being killed almost a decade earlier in "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006). "Deadpool" (2016) doesn't fit at all with "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009), but that didn't prevent the movie from being one of the series' best entries. Looser continuity allows writers to use whatever characters make for the best individual movie, as opposed making sure that Collosus' Russian accent doesn't conflict with his appearance in "X2" (2003).
8 NARRATIVE FREEDOM
All of the Marvel movies are building up to "Avengers: Infinity War" (2018), a conflict caused by Thanos and his quest for the Infinity Stones. Some movies, like "Guardians of the Galaxy" have fit seamlessly into this story, while others have felt shoehorned in. "Dr Strange" (2016) focused entirely on magic and mystical realms, until the very end of the movie where it's revealed that the Eye of Agamotto is actually one of the Infinity Stones.
Forcing an Infinity Stone into "Dr Strange" didn't ruin the movie, but it did make it less magical, which is a problem for a movie based specifically on magic. Now, Dr Strange is just manipulating the same energies that Ronan the Accuser accessed. Each "X-Men" movie has been allowed to generally stand on its own, and do whatever is best for it's individual narrative. "Logan" (2017) doesn't have to shoehorn in a Macguffin of some kind so that it can eventually connect together with "Deadpool" (2016) in some grand, connected storyline.
7 LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Starting with "X-Men: First Class" (2011), the X-Men movies started jumping around the timeline. That movie took place in the early '60s, but it wasn't until the sequel that things got interesting. "Days of Future Past" (2014) mainly took place in the early '70s, but there were also scenes set in a dystopian future where Sentinels have taken over the world. It's never stated what year exactly these scenes are set in, but it's far enough in the future where Wolverine has started to go grey. Later, "Logan" (2017) would take a trip to a different future, completely unlike the one shown in "Days of Future Past."
By freeing themselves from a linear timeline, the X-Men movies have opened up many more storytelling possibilities, especially since "Days of Future Past" introduced the concept of multiple possible futures. This allows writers to put characters in settings that just wouldn't be possible in the stories set during present day.
6 DEATH MATTERS
In "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006), a seemingly resurrected Jean Grey calls out psychically to Scott Summers, who travels to Alkali Lake, the scene of her death. There, he finds Jean Grey, who has become the malevolent Phoenix, and is then murdered by her. The movie ends with Wolverine killing Jean to stop the Phoenix. Since then, those two major characters stayed dead until an alternate timeline was created in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014). Even though they were eventually resurrected, their deaths both had a big impact on the following movies. Likewise, the deaths of Banshee, Emma Frost, Angel and Azazel after "First Class" (2011) all played a big role in Magneto, Xavier and Mystique's motivation in "Days of Future Past" (2014).
Meanwhile, in Marvel, both Nick Fury and Loki had fake death scenes in "The Winter Soldier" (2014) and "The Dark World" (2013), while Agent Coulson was immediately resurrected in "Agents of S.H.I.EL.D." (2013). One of the only major characters to die and stay dead is Quicksilver, who died at the end of "Age of Ultron" (2015). He hasn't even been mentioned since, however, not even by his sister, Wanda.
5 XAVIER AND MAGNETO'S FRIENDSHIP
During the final act of "Days of Future Past" (2014), a dying Magneto looks up at Professor X and his final words are "all those wasted years fighting… to have a precious few of them back." It's a heartbreaking moment, that's made even more poignant by the fact that during the same scene, the Magneto and Professor X of the '70s are on opposite sides of a bloody fight. The relationship between both men is the driving force behind the entire "X-Men" series. They both clearly love each other, and they could be brothers, but circumstances have forced them onto opposite sides of the battlefield.
This is a dynamic that Marvel has yet to find. There's Thor and Loki, but while Thor mourns the loss of the relationship with his brother, Loki seems mostly unmoved by it. He's driven by jealousy, and if he could replace Thor as their father's favored son, he probably would. In "Thor: The Dark World" (2013), they shared an emotional moment, but considering that Loki was faking his death, he was probably faking the emotions as well.
4 FOX TAKES BIGGER RISKS
When Marvel announced the inclusion of "Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014) in their second phase of films, it was considered a huge risk. Instead of a superhero movie, this quirky space adventure features a talking tree and a surly raccoon. While this was a step outside of the box for Marvel, it still wasn't that big of a risk. They made a PG-13 movie that marketed itself as a funny action film full of colorful characters.
On the other hand, Fox took a much larger risk with the R-rated "Deadpool" (2016). The rating alone meant that they were cutting off a big part of their potential audience from seeing it in theaters. Marvel gambled that kids would want to see a movie with a talking raccoon. Fox gambled that a comic book movie could be successful without letting kids into the theater, and featuring a character who prior to the movie, wasn't exactly a household name.
3 BRINGING UNFILMABLE CHARACTERS TO LIFE
There have always been certain comic book characters who are just too outlandish to ever really be brought to life in a live action movie. When "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" introduced the modern version of Arnim Zola, his personality had been uploaded into a giant computer. This is a nod to the character's comic book counterpart. First appearing in "Captain America" #208 (1977) by Jack Kirby, Arnim Zola is a Nazi scientist who uploaded his brain into a robotic body that, instead of a head, has a giant face holographically projected in the middle of the chest.
Obviously, Marvel felt that the comic book version of the character was too weird for live action, so they changed him to the giant computer instead. Similarly, many fans felt that Sentinels, the giant purple robots first appearing in "X-Men" #14 (1965) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were also too crazy for live action. That was, until Sentinels appeared in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014) as giant purple robots.
2 THE WHITE HOUSE ATTACK
"X2: X-Men United" (2003) opens up with one of the most impressive comic book scenes ever filmed. A mind controlled Nightcrawler infiltrates the White House, taking on wave after wave of secret service agents, before attempting to kill the president. He has the power to teleport, has acrobatic like skills and also has a big, blue tale. The most impressive part of the scene is how his teleporting is handled. The combination of special effects, choreography and camera movement makes this one of the best live action representations of a character's power ever.
Marvel has had many impressive scenes, but they've never reached the same level of awe inspiring as the White House attack. Even the scenes in "Doctor Strange" where characters jump through dimensions are lacking in comparison. While Nightcrawler looked as realistic as possible, Doctor Strange always looked like he was stepping into a CGI cartoon whenever magic got involved.
1 SETTING UP SEQUELS
While the MCU being a shared universe has had many benefits, there's been one major downside. Sometimes, one movie will have to pause its own plot for a scene that's only included in order to set up events in a future movie. "Iron Man 2" includes scenes where Tony Stark meets with Nick Fury, and it's clear that they were only included so they could bring up the Avengers Initiative, just to set up the future movie. In "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (2015), Thor has a subplot involving visions of Asgard's destruction, setting up "Thor: Ragnarok."
Pausing the action like this ruins the flow of the plot, and makes the movie feel like it's just a commercial for other movies. While Marvel often handles this well, when it does happen, it's incredibly jarring. The "X-Men" movies, on the other hand, have avoided this issue. Wolverine has never stopped fighting bad guys to call up Deadpool and see what he's up to. This is due to the "X-Men" films only being loosely connected, which means that each individual film can focus on just telling a great story without worrying about other movies in the franchise.
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