by Michael B. Hock
Let’s talk comic books vs. movies for a few minutes. There are a lot of them. Over the past year alone, we’ve gotten Deadpool, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,
Avengers Captain America: Civil War, and now X-Men: Apocalypse. Over the next few months we’ll also get Doctor Strange and Suicide Squad. That’s almost as many spy movies we got last year where there was a mole in the organization trying to take everything down from the inside but our hero new better and had to work outside the law to save everyone.
The tactful art of translating superhero movies to the screen is a delicate one, out of all of the superhero movies I’ve seen this year that did it with any success was Deadpool, and no one thought that would work. Batman v. Superman and Captain America: Civil War were rushed to compete with each other, in the process mangling both of their story lines, and with Doctor Strange occupying a.. well, strange place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where.. well, we’re not really sure since they stopped dedicating the post-credits scenes to setting up anything other than jokes. But X-Men has usually found a way to distill large sections of its wildly complicated history into watchable movie chunks. Well, most of it, if you like to pretend that X-Men: The Last Stand was really just a dream. I do.
That brings us to the Fox/X-Men entry of the year: X-Men: Apocalypse. The Superhero movie that starts two hours into it’s runtime.
There are more story lines here than an episode of Game of Thrones, and despite the fact that many of these people spend most of their time throwing buildings at each other, there are somehow less deaths. I’d like to say that there aren’t any spoilers, but there are spoilers… so if you want to walk into the movie unspoiled, stop reading now.
The movie starts off in ancient Egypt where En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is having his mind transferred into the body of an immortal mutant, because in a series that is famous for boiling its origin stories down to “because mutants” let’s have a complicated origin story. Anyway, turns out a man that has large statues built in his honor was somehow corrupt, ended up being attacked when he was most vulnerable, and forced to sleep until he was awakened by a plot device. When he does awaken, he assembles his four horsemen, because being a godlike mutant with the power to do whatever the plot requires means you assemble four mutants. Including..
Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who is living in Poland with his wife and daughter, as he is wanted by the police for that whole, “White House Incident” in the last movie.
Mystique is now a hero to the mutant community, because Jennifer Lawrence signed a three year contract before she was mega-popular and why not raise the profile of a character who was a villain in the comics for a little bit. She’s saving mutants, including Nightcrawler (complete with Flock of seagulls haircut, because 80’s!).
Cyclops’ powers kick in, forcing him to go see Professor X, his brother Havok, Jean Grey, and the rest of your friends at Xavier’s School for the gifted.
Quicksilver (Evan Peters) wants to reconnect with his father, so he goes to the school too.
Moira Taggert, (Rose Bryne) finds where En Sabah Nur has been buried, and gets involved with the X-Men. Again.
Got it? Because that’s literally what is going on for most of the runtime, everyone in their own little area, until they come together at the end.
X-Men: Apocalypse suffers from the same problems as Captain America: Civil War and Batman v. Superman, in that it is more focused on setting up the story it wants to tell down the line, rather than the story in front of them. More on that in a few minutes.
The movie itself manages to juggle these multiple locations pretty well, and the strength of the actors in them (and their level of comfort in the role) lends to an easy transition from space to space. But setting up Cyclops as a newbie while halfway around the world En Sabah Nur is setting up a vague plan to cleanse the planet while showing his new mutants a better way to use their powers can get draining after a little bit. The multiple locations work, but there’s a big threat, and we get a lot of images of teenagers going to the mall and making heavily winked jokes about the third part of the trilogy being the weakest. But to cut from Magneto’s grief following the (spoilers) deaths of his child and wife weakens the other scenes.
I mentioned Deadpool earlier, and I stand by that as an example of a fantastic movie. It weaved the origin into the story, a story that it was very much interested in telling. There was no setup for Deadpool 2, really, until the jokey end-scene. This movie quickly wants to establish Jean Grey as the most powerful mutant, but also as the Phoenix, probably to correct the mistakes of X-Men: The Last Stand. A large portion of the movie is dedicated to the fear of her, one that could have been held in light foreshadowing. I have no problem with Jean Grey unleashing her full power – the balance of the character is one of the best things about her, and Sophie Turner brings all of that to the role. But we get a lot of time dedicated to showing us that not only do the kids fear her, but Professor X is also asking her to stand down from unleashing her true power, when really there’s an immortal, all powerful god-mutant about to end the world.
There are two extremely powerful moments I do want to highlight in this movie. The first is the Quicksilver scene. For as added in as he can be, he gets a great moment where he saves everyone from an explosion in a scene that’s both amusing an horrifying at the same time. There’s also Stan Lee’s cameo, where he watches in horror as En Sabah Nur destroys all of the nukes that we all aimed at each other during the Cold War. As someone who grew up in the 80’s at the end of the Cold War, this is a great and powerful moment.
All of this writing, and I didn’t even get into the obligatory Wolverine cameo. It was amazing.
The movie isn’t terrible, it’s just a weak entry into what had been a great course-correction so far. It was more concerned with setting up the Phoenix storyline than using this great villain, a mutant that believed he was a god, to his full extent. It’s a shame that what a lot of people are taking away from Deadpool’s success is “R-rated superhero movies will work” instead of “superhero movies that tap into what characters love and the story being sold is what works.” It’s still a decent movie, but a little bit of a letdown after the two masterpieces we just got.