I didn’t see X-Men: Apocalypse in theaters. This past summer, I was pretty burned out on superhero comic movies, and I wasn’t blown away by the trailer. But I like the concept of the X-Men, especially with the revamped prequel setup and cast.
Overall, watching the movie made for an enjoyable weekend afternoon. I had a fun time with the film, particularly since KC and I could stop the movie and talk about comic history, or roll our eyes at certain moments and adjust the volume downwards when the smashing got too much or the voice choir (you know, the ooh-ooh-AHHH that seems to score every action sequence these days) too overwhelming.
What people have said about the film is true. It’s not as good as the previous two, a situation the filmmakers themselves point out when young Jean Grey, coming out of a showing of Return of the Jedi, says: “At least we can all agree the third one’s always the worst.” I think they wanted to be cutely self-aware, but like some of the rest of the film, it’s a bit tone-deaf. On the other hand, going in with low expectations means I liked it more than I thought I might. (The filmmakers I refer to are primarily Bryan Singer, director, and Simon Kinberg, screenplay writer.)
Too Many Mutants
The whole thing is muddled and overstuffed. At this point, with six (or nine, depending on how you count) X-Men movies, the film franchise has the same problem as the comics — there are too many mutants. We have to meet the new (or revamped) ones — Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) — and check in with the old ones — Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Quicksilver (Evan Peters). That’s a lot of cast.
Few are given as much screentime as they need to be full characters, particularly when it comes to the introductions. The result is that many of them come across as two-dimensionally flat and/or motivated by cliche. We have no idea of their history, just their powers. The mutants focused on are the less subtle ones:
- Cyclops has a giant laser he can’t control.
- Angel has wings.
- Jean Grey, tortured pretty girl with mind powers, is used poorly.
- Psylocke is a hot ninja in a bathing suit, fanboy dream bait who mostly poses. I have no idea what motivates her.
Storm doesn’t really fit this pattern. But then, she doesn’t get a name in the movie, either.
The filmmakers try to make Cyclops cool (the writer compares him to young James Dean) but it doesn’t work. The character has never been cool. An identification figure, sure, particularly for the early teen boy readers, but bringing in so many of the early mutants make me realize how far character design (both thematically and visually) has come since the early X-Men comic days. I’d like to see more like the much-missed Darwin, fewer characters that exist primarily for the visuals.
The Villain, Mwah-Ha-Ha-Ha
We need a plot, but one more developed and fresher than “super-powered mutant wants to rule the world, must be stopped” would have been nice. The filmmakers say they were aiming for bigger than previous movies. They got that, in terms of spectacle, but this is not the film “people have been waiting for.”
Why Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac)? As a fairly clued-in superhero reader, I didn’t know of him before now. He didn’t seem particularly distinctive or interesting, and it seemed he could do anything. I had no clear indicator of his power beyond “God”. And causing decay. And teleporting, I guess?
Why does he need four friends? Why do they stand around posing on rocks? In the eventual face-off, Xavier telling him, “You won’t win because you’re alone,” makes no sense in a movie where much of the time has been taken up with Apocalypse assembling a buddy team.
I would have preferred less of a meglomaniacal big bad and more of a struggle related to culture and the time period, as we got in the first two in this trilogy.
Once Again, Into the Past
Speaking of time period, this movie is set in the early 1980s. Putting mutants in past eras and using their younger selves is a great choice, since the angst and concern makes more sense for adolescents and the struggles are better when we’re more comfortable with the past and what happened in history.
The 60s, with First Class, had bigger themes: a time of change, youth culture, and a growing acceptance of diversity in the fight for civil rights. The mutants are a perfect fit there. The 70s, with Days of Future Past, similarly dealt with a growing self-obsession in people and a distrust of authority.
This movie was about “revenge” and “they hate us” and “I want to rule the world”. All are much too well-trod ground at this point. The filmmakers apparently wanted to talk about mutant origins, as well as gods and religion. That could have been tackled in a much more involving way, for example, if the overly powerful character was a younger child who had to be trained. The various leaders — Professor X, building community; Mystique, a lone avenger; and Magneto, who had left society and hidden himself — could have had different debates over how to bring them up. That would also better echo the kind of debates we had in the 80s, thinking the world could end any minute and arguing culturally over things like greed and porn.
The kids rescuing Wolverine, without knowing who he is, just out of kindness, is the kind of thing I’d have liked to have seen more of.
Visually, while I like the longer hair on the guys (even if it gets kind of mullet-y), not much effort was made to make anyone look older. Supposedly, 20 years have passed since we met these versions of the characters in First Class. Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) looks like some time has passed, but the others don’t. I suppose that could be a side effect of mutant genes, but when I’m questioning so many of the filmmakers’ other decisions, it’s easier to think no one really cared.
Fun Bits and Last Thoughts
It’s always fun to see Quicksilver, particularly as a one-man evacuation squad. I’d ask for a movie with him, but he works best as part of an ensemble.
If you don’t like watching decapitation, you should know that there are a surprising number of them in this movie.
I thought X-Men: Apocalypse was a fine superhero movie, but our expectations are so much higher now than they used to be. And focusing solely on a gang of powered people messes things up. (This is one of the big problems the first, worse Wolverine movie had.) We need to see mutants in our world, interacting with humans, not set apart. Magneto’s storyline is predictable (and overused) but it’s still affecting because he has people he cares about instead of co-workers and fellow soldiers. And Charles’ school treats these kids as students, a role we can relate to, not baby weapons.
It was a useful reminder to watch the three theatrical trailers and see how this movie was promoted. I also enjoyed the eight-minute gag reel and five-minute wrap party video.
The twelve Deleted/Extended scenes (a total of 28 minutes) showed how this could have been a different movie, particularly when it came to Jubilee in the famous mall scene (scored to “Safety Dance”). They can be aired with optional introductions by Singer explaining the distinctions (in the case of the extended scenes) and why they were cut.
The six-part X-Men: Apocalypse Unearthed featurette is an hour and four minutes in total. I recommend skipping the first couple of sections until they get to talking about the designs and cast for the new characters. Additional high points explore the Quicksilver sequence and James McAvoy going bald.
I didn’t bother with the commentary by Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg, because I didn’t care to hear more of their viewpoints. I think they made the movie they wanted to make — Kinberg was apparently aiming for “Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich-style movie making” — but I wish they would have gone for something that made better use of the uniqueness of their characters. (The studio provided a review copy.)
I took the “the third one is always the worst” comment to be in reference to X-Men: The Last Stand, the original third film that Bryan Singer didn’t make, the one that Brett Ratner directed. That movie was legit awful.