EMILE (Photo Monkey with Access to a Word Processor)
The key to enjoyment is managing expectations, especially when it comes to things like comic book movies. X-Men: Apocalypse is an average movie with bright spots and head-scratchers scattered around the 2.5-hour long runtime. It’s by no means unwatchable but recent outings from the same genre have raised the bar of quality considerably.
From the outset, X-Men Apocalypse leaned too heavily on tropes that were either tiresome or weren’t followed through in any meaningful capacity. The heroes were once again inadvertently the cause of the central conflict – the return of Apocalypse. This was disappointing as Moira MacTaggert, sorely missed in Days of Future Past (DOFP), was reduced to being a plot device with having little real relevance for the rest of the movie, save for a few scenes with Professor Xavier. The specter of “fridging” reared its ugly head once again in Magneto’s story arc. The movie opened Erik living a quiet, happy life in Poland with a wife and kids, immediate red flags. The story beats played out predictably and dashed all hopes that this new child would be Polaris, Magneto’s third child from the comics. Erik continued on his fallback emotion of rage that has been a through-line during the new X-Trilogy. Personally, I felt that the desired end point could have been reached without such obviousness. Lastly, I had hope for Raven’s new role as reluctant Messiah. Her role in DOFP gave her a spotlight she never wanted. Yet, she never stopped her crusade for helping mutants, forging her own path from Xavier and Erik. Unfortunately, they never really explored what the role meant to her or how she meaningfully affected the mutants around the world. She didn’t seem to struggle enough before the end of her story.
The new entrants into the franchise were a welcome breath of fresh air. Like them or hate them, they fit their comic book counterparts to a tee. Scott Summer and Jean Grey portrayed the awkward clumsiness of growing up, except with superpowers. Kurt Wagner played well the strange, naïve, yet hopeful outsider. It is unfortunate to see how Jubilee was underutilized, possibly even reducing her to token Asian character. Quicksilver made a welcome appearance back, with easily one of the most spectacular set pieces of the movie. He came back a little older, a little wiser, but still pretty much the goofball who lives in his mother’s basement. The Horsemen, on the other hand, receive little development or motivation. Angel’s descent into darkness is logical within the framework of the movie but isn’t in-line with his comic persona. Storm is also somewhat flimsy but it adds a bit more credence to Mystique’s role in the movie. Terrible waste of Psylocke as well, being an awesome kickass goon w/ the personality of a cardboard box with light jealousy issues.
The movie’s pacing was somewhat scattered but coherent for the most part. The plot was derailed the most by a surprise appearance by a certain Col. Stryker. His arrival was most surprising as Mystique seemed to have taken over his role at the end of DOFP. This was, however, the real deal striking at the mutants after they were dealt a devastating blow by Apocalypse and the Four Horsemen. Looking back, this appeared to be a set piece used mainly to build up the new generation of heroes, namely Jean Grey, Scott Summers, and Kurt Wagner. Stryker’s prisoners and young stowaways end up in the infamous Department H, seen previously in X2: X-Men United and Wolverine: Origins. This also mean we got a welcome, but shoehorned, cameo of everyone’s favorite cancuk, Wolverine. Logan was still brainwashed in the Weapon X Program but, with the arrival of the merry mutants, he was freed. This resulted in as bloody a rampage as you can get away with in PG-13 movie. Logan has a simultaneously heartwarming and cringy scene with young Jean Grey before escaping for Stryker’s clutches. This scene was fun but largely unnecessary. It helped character development for the youngsters, drove a little bit more exposition care of the adult X-Men, and was a nice hand-wave on how the team can get their hands on the transportation needed to get to the big finale in Egypt.
What a finale it was! It’s clear the most budget was invested in these last scenes. The global devastation caused Magneto’s enhanced powers were definitely lived up to the name of the movie. For the most part, the Four Horsemen were finally able to let loose, instead of just standing around looking menacing. This was successful in varying degrees. Magneto was busy wrecking the planet. Angel and Storm were using their signature abilities against the beleaguered X-Men standing against them. Beast’s tussle with Psyclocke was the most exciting with her exhibiting a new ability. When the tide starts to turn against Apocalypse, the strangest things and the coolest stuff happens. The heel-face turns of certain Horsemen, once again, doesn’t seem earned and feel too melodramatic for my liking. One of my favorite highlights is when Professor Xavier finally brings the fight to Apocalypse, reminiscent of the several psychic battles Xavier had in the comics. This brings about a development that I’m of two minds about. Any psychic battle with X-Men will usually involve Jean Grey and she plays a critical role on how the day is saved. However, it’s a bit sad to see her ace played so early and easily in the franchise
(Hint: It’s the Phoenix). Apocalypse always espoused the survival of the fittest and ol’ Pocky is nothing before the might of the Phoenix.
The movie ends as its direct predecessors did – with young hopeful mutants. This time, however, they are more hardened than before. X-Men Apocalypse is certainly middle ground when it comes to the X-Franchise. Despite its considerable flaws, I am actually looking forward to new films if they plan to elevate and develop the new cast. The time of Erik, Charles, and Raven should come to a close. Jean and company must learn to grow up to face the machinations of the deadly Mr. Sinister.
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