I remember seeing X-Men for the first time, thinking “That was pretty good.” I then saw X2 and thought, “That was awesome!” It wasn’t just better than the first, it was one of the best comic book movies I’d ever seen! Inevitablly I headed into X-Men 3: The Last Stand thinking “This is sure to be great!” And then I saw the movie. It wasn’t that I didn’t have fun, I did, it was just a really low point compared to the previous movies.
Since then X2 has remained the definitive X-Men experience for me, not counting the comics which I’ve never read. This remaines true even after seeing X-Men: First Class. Don’t get me wrong, First Class was great, the best since the second one, but it doesn’t quite surpass that movie.
No, it’s not because First Class didn’t star Wolverine that I don’t rate it as high. In fact if there’s any character that makes me like X2 more than the others it’s Nightcrawler. Serioulsy though, the reason I like the second movie best is a little deeper than that. It’s more complicated than saying the action was better, that it had such and such characters, that such and such moments were my favorite or anything like that.
The biggest reason X2 is my favorite is that more than any other X-Men movie X2 managed to balance so many different characters and give all of them compelling storylines. X-Men, X-Men Origins, and First Class took the focus to one or two characters, giving their stories a little more breathing space, but X2 did the impossible, make a lot of its heroes the main characters.
Whether it’s Wolverine’s mysterious past, Iceman and Rogue’s impossible romance, Jean Grey’s psychic problems, Storm and Nightcrawler’s relationship, or Xavier trying to fix the world only for his own world to spiral out of his control, so many characters were given their own conflicts and each was played out in a satisfying manner. There are a few exceptions. Some merely had brief cameos, and Cyclops wasn’t given much to do at all, but for the most part each person had his own story that played out well.
Not many movies even attempt this. Most focus on one or two central characters, but X2 did, and did it right. Of course, the formula backfired with X-Men 3, but that’s a different story. X2 did it well, which is why it’s my favorite.
After the problematic previous installments First Class is indeed a breath of fresh air, but when it only concentrates on a few central characters it just doesn’t surpass the second movie. It comes close, but not quite close enough. Still, coming close is a relief compared to what could have happened. It saved the franchise, and maybe it’s sequel will surpass X2. Maybe.
X2 will always be at the top of my lists. So will First Class, just not as high up. X-Men has always had a lot of characters to deal with, so it’s understandable that trouble would arise from trying to give all of them equal weight. X2 was the first to really nail that, and it’s the only to do it since. It is the best, for now. Only time will tell if it can remain so.
Personally, though I’m optimistic about future installments, I think it will.