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When these movies are so aggressively franchised, the films aren't allowed to be more than big shiny arrows pointing toward subsequent films. This cripples any movies' ability to simply be itself, regardless of genre; superhero movies are most susceptible to this simply because they're already so thoroughly serialized. But when everything is obligatory—when you know that everything's going to be okay because the sequel demands it, and not just knowing this but actively being reminded of it by a too-busy (or perhaps just too-lazy) script—it empties out the movie of anything valuable. Nothing is allowed to just be itself, or to mean anything beyond "wasn't that cool (I sure would love to see the sequel)."

It's telling that maybe the only believable character in the bunch is Wolverine, who's had eight film iterations now to perfect his Wolverine—and perfected him is just about right. Between his hair, facial expressions, gruff tone, impeccable comedic timing, Jackman manages to make a mostly hackneyed script seem believable, even profound. It's clear now, regardless of the reception of future X-Men movies, that Jackman's performance as Wolverine will be at least as iconic as Christopher Reeves' Superman.

All negativity aside—I will make an exception. There's one scene in the movie (you'll know which one) that is such a joy to watch, its three minutes taken in isolation would make a better superhero movie than most of the stuff out there today. It's the only segment of the film that's any real fun to watch, and is so much fun to watch that it almost sours the rest of the film by comparison, especially when held up against the late movie's penchant for stomach-turning (if not overly graphic) violence.

Ultimately, I can't be upset with the movie for not addressing the topics I want it to address. I can only point out the topics it "tries" (quotes relevant) to address and evaluate its success. And on every issue the movie tries to weigh in on—personal liberty, choice, hope, tribal instincts, all of which seem like real home runs—it fails, mostly because it's preoccupied with showing you how the glass shattered in slow motion like just so, or with capturing the exact contour of a punch, or of a fireball.

In making way for its fireballs and shattering glass and punches and stabs, the movie forgets why we care about any of those things in the first place, marginalizing its characters so it can maximize screen-time. Unfortunately, as an audience, we don't fall in love with a crumbling CGI building, and we'll never empathize with even the most immaculately rendered explosion. We love and come back for characters. And characters is what this movie lacks, even though it's what X-Men has in spades.

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