The X-Men movie franchise — like most superhero movie franchises for that matter — has its fair share of villainous characters, intent on the destruction of our heroes. It’s unsurprising to comic book fans that the volume of villains in the X-Men universe seems so much greater than any other films, purely because of the wealth of source material they can pull from. The 20th Century Fox movies can take literally hundreds of villains from thousands of comics dating back to the mutant super-team’s debut in 1963.
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With that many characters thrown at the proverbial wall over the last 10 movies (yes, there really have been that many), it’s understandable that they wouldn’t all be great, but even for superhero movies, some of the portrayals of these characters — who are arguably among the greatest villains in comics — are genuine stinkers. It’s not all bad though; as we’ll discover, some of the big screen villains are the best examples of what superhero bad guys should be, with a depth of character that proves why they’re so beloved by fans over the years. So join us, as CBR takes a look at the villains that the X-Men movies get right, and ones they get wrong.
16. RIGHT: MAGNETO
The quintessential X-Men villain, Magneto has made the transition from page to screen exceptionally well. It’s more than likely down to the fact that the character in the comics was (and remains) one of the most fleshed out antagonists in all the Marvel canon. Created as the first villain the X-Men ever faced, Erik Lehnsherr has a rich history as a complicated anti-hero with close ties to the X-Men through their mentor Charles Xavier.
The fact that the character is so well realized on the big screen is even more surprising when you take into account the fact that he’s been portrayed by two actors. The transition from one time-period to another for the movies meant two actors have taken on the role, which can spell doom for a character, but with both Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender working their magic, the Master of Magnetism is in safe hands.
15. WRONG: JUGGERNAUT
Could there be a more incorrect casting for the Juggernaut than Vinnie Jones? Well, probably, if we really put our minds to it, but this was one of those examples of “it probably seemed good on paper.” Britain’s favorite hardman (at the time) and an actor famed for taking on the role of tough-as-nails antagonist (again, at the time) meant that he must have seemed like a perfect fit for Cain Marko: notoriously one of the X-Men’s most unstoppable foes.
In reality though, while not the worst thing about X-Men 3, the terrible costume design, awful dialogue (that both spawned a thousand memes while simultaneously homaging one) and poor casting made what should have been a fantastic foe for the mutant heroes, instead became a cringe-inducing punchline to a bad joke of a movie.
14. RIGHT: PSYLOCKE
Hey, it’s not just because legit nerd Olivia Munn looked the part (she absolutely did, by the way), but Psylocke was a character most of us didn’t expect to see in the movies. It’s not that she’s an obscure character, it’s more that Elizabeth Braddock has a complicated backstory — shocking for an X-Man, right? — and any attempts to bring her to the big screen would have to navigate through a complex and potentially insensitive history.
Luckily though, X-Men: Apocalypse decided to boil the character down to the kickass ninja assassin that she is, and even though, in the comic, she’s been on the side of the heroes for many years now, Munn’s portrayal of a manipulated anti-hero suited the context of the story and provided one of the best parts of a flawed movie.
13. WRONG: APOCALYPSE
When the movie is literally named after the character, you need to make sure that character can handle the responsibility. Unfortunately for X-Men: Apocalypse, the titular villain did not live up to anyone’s expectations, and while that’s hardly the fault of actor Oscar Isaac, it’s a disappointment for fans who’ve been waiting for years to see one of the most popular X-Men storylines be realized on the big screen.
First of all the look of the character leaves a lot to be desired. Even from the initial images coming out of the production had people comparing Apocalypse to comically bad Power Rangers foe Ivan Ooze. Secondly, while the movie itself wasn’t that bad, the threat posed by Apocalypse was fairly generic, and not at all the comics shattering presence that he presented on the page, where his devastated future world is still a major part of X-men canon to this day.
12. RIGHT: MYSTIQUE
Another character who has had two actors play the same role across one franchise, the awesomely-named Raven Darkholme has had pretty solid representation throughout all the X-Men movies. First played by Rebecca Romijn in the original X-Men Trilogy, the role then went to Jennifer Lawrence for the prequel trilogy, that saw the character rise from a glorified henchman into a central antagonist, culminating in her pivotal role in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Not even in the comics has Mystique been as important as she is in the movies. It could be down to the incredible versatility of the character, or it could be down to the fact that Jennifer Lawrence’s star rose considerably during the course of the movie’s release schedule. Either way, Mystique has been afforded multiple story arcs that have developed an occasional X-Men villain into a strong and nuanced character.
11. WRONG: EMMA FROST
In the comics, Emma Frost is the former White Queen of the Hellfire Club and recent long-term partner of Scott Summers. Her sardonic wit, icy cold demeanor and powerful telepathy have made her a firm favorite with X-Men fans, and that popularity saw her rise from a glorified villain of the week to a major player in the X-Landscape for the last few decades.
It’s disappointing then that her portrayal on the big screen in 2011’s X-Men: First Class would feel so… boring. It’s not the actor’s fault. January Jones seems like a perfect fit for the White Queen, and while the character was fairly faithful to the comics — in terms of appearance and power set — it’s not the richly layered woman we’ve come to know, love and love to hate from the comics.
10. RIGHT: BOLIVAR TRASK
Let’s face it: whatever Peter Dinklage turns his hand to is going to be fantastic, and his role in X-Men: Days of Future Past is no exception. The original creator of the Sentinel program, the Trask name has been a thorn in the side of the mutant community since its introduction in 1965. In the comics, Bolivar Trask handed his legacy to his son Larry, who was himself a mutant that had his powers hidden away.
In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Trask and his anti-mutant hysteria is a clever allegory for the racial tension of the country, both in the ’60s and to a large extent the modern day. It’s for that reason that Trask is a fully realized and genuinely scary villain, and one with real power to affect the future of mutantkind.
9. WRONG: SEBASTIAN SHAW
X-Men: First Class tried to achieve a number of things, and was only successful in some of them. It had a steep hill to climb by recasting younger versions of some of the franchise’s more popular characters and succeeded in retelling a prequel that still fit neatly into the surrounding movies, but the villains were almost entirely forgettable.
Kevin Bacon’s portrayal of Sebastian Shaw is one such forgettable role. In the comics, Shaw is the undisputed King of the Hellfire Club, and as well as being responsible for some of the biggest catastrophes ever to hit the X-Men (he was directly responsible for the “Dark Phoenix Saga”), he’s also one of the most powerful mutants they’ve ever faced. To see him so generically forgettable on the big screen, therefore, is not only disappointing but a wasted opportunity.
8. RIGHT: THE SENTINELS
The brainchild of Bolivar Trask, the Sentinels are perhaps one of the most iconic villains ever to oppose the X-Men. Their purple color tones and recognizably retro-futuristic style are instantly recognizable to even casual fans, thanks to their inclusion in the X-Men Animated Series. With this much pressure riding on them, it’s a miracle the filmmakers managed to produce a replica that was so faithful to the source material.
Sure, their style is a little different, but if anything, their faceless gaze and creepily realistic movements make them even scarier. Their future, T-1000-esque versions in the dark reality at the start of X-Men: Days of Future Past are a little far removed from their origins, but a natural progression from the versions seen in the ‘70s parts of the movie. Past, present or future, the Sentinels are bad news.
7. WRONG: SABRETOOTH
Unlike Magneto, Sabretooth is a villain who was portrayed by two different actors across the franchise’s history, and both depictions were bad. It’s not like Victor Creed is as rich a character as Erik Lehnsherr (he’s basically a poor man’s Wolverine, let’s be 100% real here), but the idea of a character that could equally match Logan but be a bad guy feels like a concept with a lot of legs.
Unfortunately, Tyler Mane’s portrayal in the first X-Men movie saw Sabretooth reduced to a meat-headed henchman with teeth, and Liev Schreiber’s depiction in X-Men Origins: Wolverine was smugly incompetent. Sure, they managed to at least inject some more character into him for Origins, by drawing on Wolverine’s history with Sabretooth to provoke some earned animosity between the pair, but let’s face it: we’ll never forgive him for helping cause that terrible first pass at Deadpool.
6. RIGHT: LADY DEATHSTRIKE
Yuriko Oyama is one of those rare cases where her movie depiction is not faithful to her comic book origins, but nevertheless, her role in X-Men 2 really works. It’s partly due to the actor — Kelly Hu — doing such a good job of putting across the stoic menace of the character, but it’s also due to the fact that the essence of Lady Deathstrike is captured, regardless of the inconsistencies.
In the comics, Lady Deathstrike is the daughter of Lord Dark Wind, who created the technique that bonded adamantium to Wolverine’s bones. A skilled assassin and mercenary, Yuriko hired someone to perform that same process on her. In the movie, her origin is slightly different. William Stryker used a mind-controlling serum on her and made her his henchman, after she was tortured and forced through the same process as Wolverine in the Weapon X program.
5. WRONG: AZAZEL
Sometimes, movie depictions of super villains are bad because they stray too far from the source material, or choose to ignore decades of character development. Sometimes though, movie supervillains are bad because they’re based on bad characters, and Azazel definitely falls into the latter category.
In the X-Men comic book universe, Azazel is the father of Nightcrawler, and the telling of his origins — which includes angels, demons and the revelation that Mystique is Nightcrawler’s mother — only served to complicate Kurt Wagner’s history. In X-Men: First Class, Azazel carried over the familiar look of the literal Devil but loses a lot of the comics backstory. That would normally be a blessing, but it’s not replaced with anything but generic bad guy tropes, so nobody wins, really.
4. RIGHT: WILLIAM STRYKER
When you hire legendary actor Brian Cox to play a part in your movie, you know you’re getting a great performance, and when you’re casting against Patrick Stewart, you definitely need to double down. That’s why William Stryker in X-Men 2 goes down as one of the most memorable villains of the franchise. He was also played by Danny Huston and Josh Helman when the character was cast younger.
Vastly different to his comic book counterpart, on the page, Stryker is a fanatical televangelist that first appears in the seminal X-Men graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills, whereas in the movies he is a military scientist and a covert ops specialist. Stryker comes from a military background in comics too, but unlike the movies, where he uses his mutant son to manipulate Xavier, in the comics, Stryker murders his wife and child when he discovers he’s a mutant.
3. WRONG: DARK PHOENIX
Less of a bad villain and more of a complicated antagonist unfairly treated by a terrible movie, Jean Grey’s descent into chaos and destruction is perhaps the single greatest story in X-Men comics. “The Dark Phoenix Saga” stands the test of time as an emotional and nuanced depiction of the corrupting influence of absolute power.
There was really no way that a single movie could faithfully recreate this story, but X-Men 3 is so very bad that it takes what should be a magnificently realized fall from grace and turns it into a two-hour suckfest, where somehow Wolverine is the star and Cyclops gets killed off-screen. Famke Janssen did the best with what she could, but here’s hoping Sophie Turner and the rest of the team can do better in the next attempt at this story when X-Men: Dark Phoenix hits in 2018.
2. RIGHT: THE REAVERS
Not only was Logan one of the most critically successful superhero movies of all time, it helped elevate the entire genre in a way that’s made everyone take notice. The hard R rating — previously avoided due to its limitation on a huge audience demographic — was fully embraced by the movie, which isn’t surprising when we’re talking about a mutant with knives on his hands. Another reason for the rating, however, was the scary and violent Reavers, the unstoppable force to Logan’s immovable object.
The Reavers — and their leader Donald Pierce — have a long history with the X-Men, dating back nearly 30 years, and while they have been frequently defeated by the mutant super-team, Wolverine, in particular, caused such devastation to the group that when they returned, they were covered in cybernetic enhancements. In the movie, it falls to X-23 to cause that devastation.
1. WRONG: TOAD
There’s not really much to get wrong with Toad — the dude’s literally just a toad man — yet the original X-Men movie managed it. Ray Park has portrayed his fair share of iconic villains on screen. He was Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode 1, and Snake Eyes in the G.I. Joe movies. While he managed to flex his martial arts muscles a little in how Toad moved, you can’t help but feel his talents were a little wasted.
Toad’s comic book history spans as far back as X-Men #4 in 1964, and while he’s dabbled in being a good guy (most notably in Jason Aaron’s run on Wolverine and the X-Men), he’s predominantly tied to Magneto’s Brotherhood of evil mutants. In the X-Men movie, however, he’s boiled down to a gross guy with a long tongue and the butt of Storm’s terrible one-liners.
Which X-Men villains do you think were ruined or serviced by the films? Let us know in the comments!
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