Few sagas in the massive superhero cinematic universe have proved profitable at the box office when set versus the Avengers and X-Men.
By now, legendary figures well known to all, these heroes reflect universal and recognizable topics in their colorful frames, just as the heroes of ancient epics and tragedies once did, of which they are the heirs and a natural evolution.
In a hypothetical “Avengers vs. X-Men” match, it is difficult to say who comes out as the winner since we both have a reflection of deeper human and social forces and not just the simple clash of special effects.
Both sagas began in the 1960s from the hard-working minds of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but where the Avengers are the classic mixed group of heroes united to defend Earth, the X-Men are instead outcasts with extraordinary abilities engaged (on one front or the other) in the eternal struggle for peaceful coexistence between mutants and humans.
The differences in the narrative approach between Avengers and X-Men are apparent even to those who are only familiar with the movies: in the Avengers, we empathize more with the defense of society, collective strength, and cooperation, while with the X-Men, we delve into the themes of racism, bigotry, adversity, and humanity’s unwillingness to accept anyone different.
As Stan Lee himself once said, “Readers don’t just buy comic books; they buy the desire this world can offer them.“
So, what I desire to do is talk about those movies that have best captured the core of this incredible competition and the underlying magic of the endless Marvel superhero multiverse, prefacing this by saying that my favorites remain Guardians of the Galaxy, which I will leave out of the discussion, as I have already talked about it abundantly before.
Table of contents
The Avengers Team
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Let’s start with one of the most beloved heroes (of course) by Americans, Steve Rogers, to his friend Captain America.
Artificially transformed from a shy, puny man into an unstoppable mountain of muscle, Rogers led the Allied forces during World War II and then went under ice, awakening in the 20th century and becoming one of the leaders of the Avengers.
Now he leads this coalition of heroes, S.H.I.E.L.D., along with the legendary Nick Fury, intervening anywhere in the world where help is needed; but when Fury falls victim to a mysterious assassination attempt, Rogers realizes that the time has come again to wield his stars-and-stripes shield to ferret out this new, unknowable enemy.
Of the many movies in the saga, this is the one in which the various characters are best characterized, above all, the hero played by Chris Evans, who is obviously the main protagonist and solver of all trouble.
Not to be outdone, however, are his associates, such as the inimitable Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, who is so cool that not even one of the usual woke/anti-woke painters has ever complained that a black man plays what in the comics was a white man.
Equally tough and always beautiful as the sun is Scarlett Johansson, who, with the super-spy Black Widow, consecrates this role much better than the lousy movie dedicated to her alone.
Finally, let us not forget the bad guys headed by the athletic Frank Grillo, commander of this handful of traitors under the control of the treacherous Robert Redford, infamous secretary in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Compared to the other movies in the saga, the brother/director duo Anthony and Joe Russo emphasize the plot and plot twists more, remembering, of course, to spice up the recipe with a truckload of action scenes.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Okay, I know: when this movie was released in theaters, the unified Avengers saga had not yet begun, but what the hell? We’re talking about one of the most beloved superheroes on the face of the Earth, so who cares.
Two years after the stratospheric success of the first Spider-Man, Sam Raimi strikes again and indeed even better than before, continuing the adventures of young superhero Peter Parker.
Despite having saved New York from the fearsome Goblin, Peter is still the shy boy who struggles to woo his beloved Mary Jane, just as he struggles to find all the time he needs to flutter his webs from one trouble in the city to another, while at the same time having to work and study.
Indeed, it will be one of her professors who will become the greatest danger number one, namely Dr. Otto Octavius, who is the victim of an accident as a result of which he remains forever connected to four arms/tentacles that protrude from his back.
These tentacles are not only mighty but also have an intelligence that begins to contaminate the doctor’s mind, prompting him to retry the dangerous experiment that previously ended in tragedy.
Equally at the top is the villain of the story, Alfred Molina, who succeeds in the not-easy feat of catching up with and surpassing the already excellent Goblin, played by Willem Dafoe in the first episode.
Here, too, we have a lot of action and special effects, where the drama and inner struggles of the various characters are the central themes of one of the best films comics of all time.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
The next movie is definitely one of the funniest in the entire Avengers saga, not surprisingly, with the authorship of the great actor/director/screenwriter Shane Black.
For those who do not know him, Black is one of those who fed a generation of cinephiles between the 80s and 90s with many action classics such as Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, or Last Action Hero.
In short, he knows the craft like the back of his hand and puts all this wisdom into breathing new life into the glittering armor of Iron Man after an excellent first film and a decidedly more forgettable second installment.
In this third chapter, we have Tony Stark, still traumatized by the interdimensional fight in New York, who must confront a new enemy threatening America: the deadly and elusive Mandarin.
At the same time, his former flame, Maya Hansen, returns from his past along with the even more flamboyant scientist, Aldrich Killian, inventor of a revolutionary technology capable of mutating the human body into a lethal weapon.
As the Mandarin’s attacks shock the nation, Tony himself falls victim to an attack on his mansion and must start over in a remote Tennessee town.
Shane Black pushes the envelope on humor combined with highly entertaining and spectacular action scenes, with a movie that finally brings us back to those lighter, more relaxed atmospheres that many millennials are no longer familiar with.
Simply fantastic Robert Downey Jr., who for once is much more Tony Stark than Iron Man, along with the amusing Mandarin played by Ben Kingsley and a classy villain like Guy Pearce.
In short, a real lesson in filmmaking from this old veteran is to teach new filmmakers that you can make great action without having to take yourself so damn seriously.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Before going to X-Men, we conclude the Avengers side of today’s heroes with a movie directed by the swinging director Scott Derrickson, who always delivers joys and sorrows for all lovers of the seventh art.
A director capable of creating little gems like Sinister or Black Phone but also disappointing duds like the pale remake of the famous The Day the Earth Stood Still or bungling action/horror like Deliver Us from Evil.
In this case, Derrickson certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but all his excellent craft goes into bringing the adventures of self-centered surgeon Stephen Strange to the stage.
Crippled after an accident, his hands are no longer able to work, so he tries hard to cure himself, unsuccessfully, eventually turning, in despair, to a sect of sorcerers in the Himalayan mountains.
Initially skeptical, Strange accepts the power of this magic unknown to him, surprising even his masters with the speed and skill he wields his new knowledge.
At the same time, Strange becomes the main enemy of Kaecilius, a former student of the sect who seeks to destroy the sanctuaries protecting the earth to free the voracious Dormammu, an interdimensional monster who wants to swallow every human being into his unique entity.
Derrickson molds an excellent fantasy/action flick with a frantic pace (perhaps even too much sometimes) that is a sight for sore eyes, especially when the teleportation portals or the medallion that bends time come into play.
Lots of action and fun for a relatively straightforward movie where the magic of this hero blends seamlessly with the magic of cinema, without one detracting from the other.
The X-Men Guys
X-Men 2 (2003)
We move on to the X-Men slant of this imaginary battle against the Avengers, although I will premise that we have far fewer individual movies about each of the unique heroes.
I want to start with my favorite one, with which Bryan Singer surpasses the tremendous success of the excellent first chapter three years earlier.
A debut in which Singer had gathered together these strange heroes under the school of Professor Charles Xavier, a powerful telepath in an eternal struggle with his friend/enemy Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. Magneto, capable of bending all kinds of metal to his will.
However, the professor still has trouble dealing with the unruly Wolverine, an indestructible warrior with no memory of a past that continues to haunt him.
This past will eventually haunt both Xavier’s and Magneto’s teams, who momentarily set aside their dispute to unite in the fight against the implacable Colonel William Stryker.
Indeed, the Colonel is so obsessed with mutants that he wants to exterminate them all, even though he does not hesitate to subject them to all kinds of cruel experiments to turn them into human weapons.
A space where they always deal with the topics of natural evolution on the one hand and the extermination/ethnic cleansing of the enemy on the other.
As usual, the heavy lifting in the action scenes falls to Hugh Jackman, who is increasingly less animalistic and more human for a soldier in an endless war who has found, at last, a cause to fight for.
For all that, X-Men 2 is undoubtedly the best of the franchise and, indeed, one of the most fantastic superhero movies ever seen in cinema.
Stay in the company of the fierce soldier Wolverine, for friends Logan, with a solo movie where our ex-hero is one of the few survivors of the racial purge with which the deadly hunter Reavers decimated the mutant people over the past 20 years.
Logan tries to live without attracting attention, working menial delivery and chauffeuring jobs to save enough money and buy a boat, with which he and the exhausted Professor X can escape.
Indeed, the mutant school no longer exists, and old Xavier is now in the last stage of Alzheimer’s, which makes him extremely dangerous because of his telepathic power capable of literally killing with thought.
The opportunity for the big deal comes when he has to escort young Laura across the border, also a survivor of a group of young mutants created in a laboratory by the Reavers, who are now obviously hot on his trail to train and mold her into one of their soldiers.
James Mangold directs this sunset superhero walk, transforming the usual X-Men adventurous pace into an atypical western trip, where the reluctant Wolverine gets his claws back when he sees himself again in the young mutant he must protect.
Absolutely terrific every duet between Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, now old, lost, and full of resentment against Logan himself, although every now and then, we see some flash of humanity that brings him back to his former self.
Equally good is young Dafne Keen as the new little Wolverine; on the surface, just a quiet, sullen child but just as deadly in combat.
Mangold brings back the fights amid the blood and shredded limbs of enemies for a resounding swan song that finally brings down the curtain on one of the most successful superheroes ever.
Deadpool 2 (2018)
Another movie, another second chapter in a saga of what is among the funniest and most demented in the superhero landscape.
Let me preface this by saying that I also liked the first Deadpool very much; indeed, let’s give credit to Tim Miller‘s good work as director (and it will be even better in Terminator: Dark Fate), but we must also admit David Leitch is simply on another level when it comes to action scenes.
Not coincidentally, along with Chad Stahelski, Leitch is one of the creators of John Wick’s franchise, and here we see again all his mastery in directing the endless shootouts, fights, and chases in which the indestructible Wade Wilson, better known as Deadpool, finds himself involved.
Another hero has to find his way again after his beauty is murdered before his eyes, and he ends up in jail when he tries to help young Russell, a troubled kid with pyromaniac overtones.
But further complicating the plot is the arrival from the future of the soldier Cable, a half-man, half-cyborg determined to kill Russell before he can become an adult and turn into a vicious criminal.
Needless to say, Leitch builds each sequence primarily to be entertaining, with Deadpool’s ubiquitous voice constantly breaking through the fourth wall by chatting with the audience in the theater.
The never-shut-up Ryan Reynolds is confirmed as a solid action and funny protagonist against another broad-shouldered soldier with the semi-human face of Josh Brolin, who evidently used to be a supervillain after his apocalyptic role as Thanos, fighting alone against virtually all the Avengers.
An anti-politically correct turn that we already appreciated in the first installment and is taken even further in Deadpool 2, boding well for a franchise whose third movie we all now eagerly await.
With the last tip today, I may be cheating, as we are talking about a TV series and not a movie, but after all, when a work is so good, it deserves some talk about anyway, right?
As for me, I have nothing but applause for Noah Hawley, creator of this little superhero gem that finally shuffles the cards a bit in a genre that, let’s face it, with rare exceptions, has been pretty much stuck on itself for too many years.
In this alternate version of the X-Men cinematic world we know, the central protagonist is David Haller, son of the telepath above Charles Xavier, who is a seemingly shy and confused boy who has been in and out of mental institutions for years because of sudden and inexplicable outbursts of rage and personality changes.
However, he soon becomes interested in a shadowy government organization called Division 3 and a group of mutant rebels led by another powerful telepath, Melanie Bird.
Indeed, as we find out very soon, David is far from weak and helpless: certainly, he will reveal himself to be one of the most fearsome mutants in the world (if not the most powerful ever), with a mind even superior to his father’s, as he can literally shape reality from his thoughts.
Unfortunately, all the traumas hidden in his subconscious will also become flesh-and-blood monsters against which our brave little handful of superheroes will have to fight to save the world.
This may not give an idea of the amount of work by Hawley’s boys, creating a psychedelic universe perpetually suspended between dream and reality with few rivals in a narrative split into a myriad of flashbacks and sub-stories, as the fragmented mind of the almighty protagonist.