Reel Talk

X-Men: Apocalypse May be the Platonic Ideal of an X-Men Movie

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There seem to be three inescapable constants when it comes to summer blockbusters. Michael Bay will always be allowed to make his terrible movies, they’ll cut up a young adult book series into more movies than there were books, and they’re going to keep making X-Men movies until we all die. So here we go. Another X-Men movie. They seem to come out like clockwork, despite the fact that they’ve been of questionable quality basically since the beginning. In 2011 things took a slightly positive move when they had a soft-reboot with X-Men: First Class, which worked far better than it should have. A fun prequel that was a period-piece set during the Cuban Missile Crisis. That movie probably shouldn’t have worked at all, but I really enjoyed it, despite some major flaws. Then a sequel inevitably came, set in the 70s, X-Men: Days of Future Past tried to tie the new series together with the old series. It attempted to adapt the classic comic storyline, introduce the Sentinels to the universe, and make sense of all the disparate time-lines and inconsistencies while sweeping away the movies people didn’t really like. Which should have set them up to do some great things. The slate had been cleared, they announced that there would be new, younger versions of classic characters like Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm that could spring-board into new adventures, and the great Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy would return for as Magneto and Professor X. Things sound great! But then thing started falling apart for me. It would be set in the 80s, and feature Apocalypse as the villain.

Now, I’ll say this right off the bat, I’m not the biggest X-Men fan. I mentioned this a bit in my previous Marvel Madness post about that storyline when the X-Men were saved by leprechauns, but the team has never been that compelling for me. I’ve been reading a lot of classic Chris Claremont written issues, and while they’re often pretty fun, it’s just not my cup of tea. Things get too crazy, there are way too many characters with too many powers, and there’s like six books at all times featuring them. It’s too much to keep track of, if you’re also focusing on the rest of the Marvel universe. And that usually carries over to the films as well. They’re alright. most of them don’t really blow me away, and compared to the stuff Marvel Studios is putting out, they’re not really working. And let me tell you, if there’s one thing that I can’t stand, it’s Apocalypse. While the character did come out in the 80s, he’s really the most 90s character that I can think of. And as I’ve said on this site before, the 90s are not a particularly fond decade in comics for me, especially from Marvel. So yeah, having Apocalypse feature as the villain of the movie was a huge red flag for me, and boy was I right.

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The complicated plot starts off in Ancient Egypt with the the people worshiping their God/Pharaoh En Sabah Nur, a mutant who has some sort of technology allowing him to trade consciousness’ with people. And he uses that technology to continuously switch bodies with new mutants, extending his life and reign, and also picking up new powers with each transference. But not everyone is into having this important mutant rule them, so some of his followers betray him and trap him inside his transference pyramid, and cause it to cave in, trapping him in a rubble tomb, forgotten.

We then cut to the 1980s and catch up on our mutants. Since the last movie we see that Professor Xavier has continued to work on his school while getting new students, Mystique is travelling around the world saving mutants from weird German sex clubs/mutant fighting rings, Magneto is working in Poland with his wife and daughter, and Moira McTaggert is still investigating mutant related crimes. We’re also introduced to some new characters, Scott Summers and his newly developed optic blasts, Jean Grey the weird girl in Xavier’s school no one wants to talk to, Storm the Egyptian pickpocket, Nightcrawler who is being forced into the aforementioned mutant cage-fights. The characters all kind of meander around for a while, hanging out together and catching up while noticing that no one seems to be aging over the several decades they’ve known each other. But things start happening when Moira accidentally awakens En Sabah Nur (let’s just call him Apocalypse) from his tomb. He pops out of the ground and starts using all of his ridiculous powers while also learning everything there is to know about the culture he missed by absorbing knowledge from Storm’s TV. And once he’s caught up he decides that he needs to do what he does best, find some random mutants to be his Horsemen and try to destroy the world.

So Apocalypse grabs Storm, Archangel, Psylocke, and after wiping out his wife and kid to somehow make his backstory even more depressing, Magneto, and amps up their powers to ridiculous levels while also convincing them that he’s a messiah that will solve all of their problems. And that becomes an issue when our heroes all meet up at the X-Mansion to discuss Magneto’s reappearance back in the world. And while there they plug Xavier into Cerebro in order to find Erik, and end up accidentally letting Apocalypse know about Xavier and his vast powers. So Apocalypse does what any megalomaniac would do, and uses his abilities to take over Xavier so that he can use Cerebro to make military officials all over the world fire every nuclear weapon on the planet into space. Yep, Apocalypse is pulling a Superman IV: Quest for Peace. And I guess it works, because now that no government on Earth has the weapons to stop him, Apocalypse and his Horsemen are going to destroy everything man has created, returning the world to the Stone Age so Apocalypse can rule them even easier. Which he accomplishes basically by telling Magneto to do all the work. Because now that he’s all amped up, Magneto can pull every bit of metal in the whole world to him, so they start destroying the world while Apocalypse begins trying to transfer his consciousness into Xavier to gain his ability. But the X-Men, led by Mystique, show up to fight off the worthless three Horsemen and make it to the final two baddies. And since there doesn’t seem to be a way to stop Apocalypse and Magneto is ambivalent to the battles going on, they decide to fight Apocalypse in his mind! Which doesn’t go well, until Xavier is able to convince Jean Grey to let her inner-Phoenix free so she can roast Apocalypse in his mind and in the real world, which is aided by Magneto randomly deciding to work with the X-Men again. And once the god is stripped to his bones they head back to Upstate New York and keep on keeping on.

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So yeah, this was certainly the weakest of the new X-Men series, while not quite being as bad as some of the other low-points of the series. It’s mediocre. At best. There are some good parts of the movie, sure, but they are far and few between. Michael Fassbender is great as Magneto, as always, even though the character has very little to do and randomly switches allegiances like he does in all of these movies. The four new kids to the series playing Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Nightcrawler were all pretty good, and if they keep making movies with these kids as the stars, that should work. The Quicksilver scene was great, just like in the last movie, even though it lasted a tad too long. Plus, in the last movie Quicksilver had one great scene and left, this time he sticks around and gets a little tiresome. And that’s kind of it. McAvoy does a decent job as Xavier like he always does, but he mainly stays kidnapped for most of the flick, and there’s a particularly insane moment where they explain his baldness as a side-effect of Apocalypse’s mind-transference machine, instead of something simple like male-pattern baldness. Our two random Horsemen, Archangel and Psyclocke, were virtually not in the movie and didn’t need to be. Mystique still continues to be a character in these movies, despite being one of the most boring and bland characters they have. It’s been said before, but man is the worst thing that happened to this new X-Men series Jennifer Lawrence’s career. When she became a huge start they just kept having to bend over backwards to find ridiculous reasons to make this boring character integral to the plot. And then there’s Apocalypse. Listen, I love Oscar Isaac. The guy is amazing, and basically every movie I’ve seen him in he’s been amazing (I’ve seen both Sucker Punch and Mojave!) and I really think the guy is going to go down as one of the all-time greats. And it isn’t really his fault that the character is such a bore. He does a good job with what he’s given, which isn’t much. Apocalypse is just a boring character to me. He’s a boogie-man with virtually no motivation. They briefly touched on an interesting idea, having him be this weird cult-leader who is scamming weak-minded people by giving them their desires with no strings attached, but he quickly becomes a walking cliche while most of his dialogue becomes standard-issue villain monologue without any real insight into the character.

And here’s where we get to that crazy article title. Now, I’m going to say this again, but the X-Men have never quite been my thing. But what I’ve read from the 80s and 90s is pretty baffling. We can complain about the weirdness of all their costume designs, with all of their pouches, guns, bulging muscles, and exposed cleavage, but it’s much more than that. It’s a story thing. Reading X-Men comics from the late 80s and the 90s is just a confounding experience. There are too many characters to keep straight, the dialogue leaves a lot to be desired, plenty of characters just stand around to look cool without actually doing things, and you just generally feel like you’ve missed an issue or something. And honestly, this movie kind of nailed that aesthetic. This movie kind of felt like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There was just too much going on, and it wasn’t properly edited together in a coherent way. Yeah, there was more heroism and it wasn’t so goddamn bleak and cynical, but it made just about as much sense. Even though this movie wasn’t particularly good, and felt like a complete mess, it pretty accurately captured the feeling of the comics from that era. So…it’s a success? Yeah, sure, why not. This one was kind of a swing and a miss, but the pieces are in place to make a fun movie next time. That is unless the call their bluff of a teaser and actually submit us to having to watch Mr. Sinister in a motion picture.

X-Men: Apocalypse was written by Simon Kinberg, directed by Bryan Singer, and released by 20th Century Fox, 2016

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