I never thought of the films having any connection to the old series. Phelps was never intended to be a short-hand name drop that the audience could recognize as "Used to to be Important Guy". So calling it a character assassination completely misses the point. None the less, the first film is the biggest departure form the rest. At the end of the day it's still a noirish Brian De Palma thriller, with one of the most iconic set pieces of the 90s. It still holds up. The second film is beyond terrible. Abrams's outing is about on par with the original. Since then the franchise has fallowed a rather unique trend where each subsequent film has been better than the last. They've done a complete 180 on the typical sequelitis. The last couple are as good as any action film of the millennium. Perhaps even the best.