Cold Giving Review: X-Men Apocalypse
The solution to Fox having almost irrevocably broken their X-Men Franchise was a set of decadienal prequels. It was, at first blush, a convoluted idea that drew the worst lessons from comics: needlessly interjecting more complex devices into an already solid concept. Then, a strange thing happened: they were good. X-Men: First Class told a compelling story that emphasized the Magneto/Xavier relationship in the 60s. X-Men: Days of Future Past took a beloved time-traveling yarn and incorporated the new prequel timeline and a version of the nearly ruined original X-Men series and managed to jam Wolverine into things without being too heavy handed. The stage was set for a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy when the epilogue featured ancient Egyptians chanting for the First Mutant: En Sabuh Nur, Apocalypse.
Instead of an emotional conclusion for the main characters of the prequel series (Xavier, Magneto, Mystique, Beast, and maybe DoFP’s breakout star Quicksilver) we got a complete throwback to the blandest pastiche of comic movie storytelling. It taught me that Bryan Singer reached his zenith with his first stab at the X-Men movies and can’t get any better than that. Bland renditions of younger versions of core characters were introduced. Villains monologued. Lot’s of time was spent putting characters into awkward situations so they could not handily solved problems. Events were ham=fistedly rammed into place to move well-developed characters around in bland ways. It was in short, a total waste of time, and the onus was on the complete lack of respect for the audience’s intelligence leading up to what could have been a satisfying climax.
Magneto: It’s a little difficult for me to believe that a man like Erik Lensherr would be willing to live completely incognito for a decade. I could see him humbled, I could see him angry, I could see conciliatory, but it’s hard for to imagine him sidelining himself. I think part of his character has been his grandiosity. Sure, his whole Sentinel gambit failed, but he escaped and could have been working in the shadows. He was a secret Nazi hunter, he could have easily gone all Batman for the mutant cause.
Then, to extricate themselves from Magneto having exiled himself for dubious reasons, the movie contrives to give him a family, and then kill that family with the lamest on-screen death, ever. A bunch of constables show up without metal, suspecting he is Magneto. The holocaust surviving, militant mutant, master of magnetism is ready to meekly give up when his family is threatened despite having had his family hauled off by Nazis in his past. Instead, a random misfired wooden/stone arrowhead managed from a barely drawn bow kills not just his child, but his wife. Then, only afterwards, does Magneto find some metal and kill the half-dozen constables. It’s amazing to think the jaded Nazi hunting Erik Lensherr would have been aware of his options before that moment. He could have saved his daughter.
Afterwards, he becomes a brooding plot device. He just gloomily glares and growls as Apocalypse uses him as a means to destroy the world. Magneto, the self-styled savior of mutantkind, reduced to walking MacGuffin. His lame betrayal of Apocalypse, his chummy reconciliation with Xavier after having been responsible for thousands(?) of deaths in light of ripping up the world, and his ‘see ya later’ ending did a grave disservice to what should have been a set of relationships forever broken and opportunities forever lost.
Xavier: The comics, to make Xavier ostensibly more interesting, began revealing his tendency to mindwipe people to suit his purposes, including his students. It was icky and weird. In the movie, to deal with the fact that essentially ignored his love interest, Moira MacTaggert, for twenty years, they decided to have him delete her memory of the first movie and their romantic encounter. Basically, without her consent, he destroyed her brain. Now, if this was handled in a way that illustrated a point about being the world’s most powerful psychic, or absolute power, it could have been a powerful parable.
Nope. He undid and he and Moira and teary love-stares at each other. The logical conclusion, of course: love your abuser. LOL.
Cyclops/Nightcrawler/Jean Grey: Reintroduced as young characters, they seemed to exist solely to occupy action scenes where the older, better characters would not have been challenged. The knock-off Harry Potter trio blundered around chewing up screen time and origin tales that have already been done for them in other movies.
Apocalyptic Climax: With a host of abilities, a ready-built aesthetic, and deep mythology Apocalypse should be a dream to fit into an established universe. He ended up being a dull placeholder. His powers never were defined. A few elements of his powerset were clearly established. His ability to carry abilities from incarnation to incarnation made sense, but there seemed no limit on what he could or could not do. By leaving him with an endless number of undefined abilities, rather than making him seem strong, it made him seem arbitrary. No plan, no cleverness could beat him. He could do basically anything. So, it took someone else with hidden arbitrary abilities to beat him.
The sad thing is, the climax could have worked. Forces converged. Emotional ties bound folks together. People confronted inner demons. Apocalypse was vanquished. There were some interesting confrontations and fights. However, instead of cathartic payoff to well-crafted character moments, it was just a director mashing super hero action figures together. So many characters had undefined and nearly arbitrary powers, almost literally anything could have happened. Lacking any grounding in what characters could do, and with character motivation being contorted to fit the idea of a set piece fight, there was no feeling of skill or accomplishment. With the notable exception of Mystique being clever (to no effect), a bunch of deus ex machinas slammed together and it was over.
Conclusion: X Men: Apocalypse was a lame let down. It all honesty, it was not an awful movie, just waste of time and resources. Bryan Singer finally got to make a sequel to X2: X-Men United, he just made it years too late to be any good.