by Andrew Moshos
dir: Bryan Singer, 2016
It’s really not as bad as they're saying.
I’ve even heard that most graven of insults: “It’s as bad as Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice”, which is the new benchmark for a superhero flick sucking more powerfully than a locomotive, and more grimly than a stubble-covered arse cheek.
It’s nowhere near as bad as all that, in fact it’s probably on a par with most of the X-Men flicks, and is definitely better, at the very least, than III: The Last Stand.
The director, Bryan Singer, hopes you’ll be reminded of how bad that one was when you’re watching this. In case you didn’t already know how much he hated the fact that Fox Studios let Brett Ratner direct it, he made a flick (being the last one, Days of Future Past) with the express intention of annulling, undoing, revising and expunging everything that happened in The Last Stand.
And I’m not exactly complaining. I’m not exactly caring, either, but that’s beside the point. I’m not really invested in these X-Men flicks, because, honestly, caring about movies based on comic-book properties is not a strategy that pays off.
Comparing it with the fiasco that was the terrible B v S isn’t a fruitful path to take, and it just causes me pain, anyway, having to remember the sheer depth and breadth of its awfulness.
It’s best to compare it to the other X-Men flicks, and maybe Cap America: Civil War, since they’re all Marvel properties; it’s just that Fox has the film rights to the X-Men characters, and will never, ever let them out of their cold, dead, hands.
Civil War, despite being ‘serious’, and having War in its title, was actually a fleet and fun movie. I know, it seems incongruous, but that's how it worked. Deadpool, released a couple of months ago, was awfully violent and hellishly funny, and connected with audiences (I hope it was because of the fart jokes).
X-Men: Apocalypse is neither funny nor (rarely) fun. The tone is quiet serious, and the villain is humourless and implacable, kind of like a blue smurf crossed with a Terminator cyborg. He also, it doesn’t help, looks kinda goofy. I respect that they didn’t want to go all CGI with him, and have a real guy under the makeup and armour, but as a guy standing around, he looks kinda like something from Doctor Who, which nothing in any film should ever look like.
Sometimes the villains from comics don’t transition at all well to screen, no matter the advances in nerd technologies. He also has a pretty lame motivation, in that he wants to rule the world but he also wants to kill everyone in it. It’s a motivation that never makes any sense to me, whether it’s an ancient Egyptian god, or an AI, some dark elf or some penguin who’s gotten a bit uppity.
But this dude, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), has awakened to the modern world, after millennia of sleep, and does not like what he sees. So he vows to wipe the slate clean and start again.
Most relevant for the X-Men is that this guy is thought to be the first mutant. Now, I don’t know how that works, since the mutants in this property are generally referred to as The Children of the Atom, as in, they came about as a result of the dawning of the Nuclear Age (in our actual Earth history). But that’s by the by. He’s a character, and he exists, and he’s like the Biggest Bad of those comics I think (?)
This one continues on from the other two flicks that were set in the 60s and 70s, but doesn’t do ‘that’ thing of tying itself to historical events like the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Vietnam War as a form of telling a sly secret history. As far as I can tell, in that I don’t recall a time when a blue Egyptian god arose and killed everyone in Cairo and sent every nuclear weapon into space.
Reagan is president, but he doesn’t get to call Apocalypse’s rise an Evil Empire, nor does he get to politely ask Apocalypse to ‘tear down this pyramid’. The anxiety of nuclear war is around, but there aren’t that many markers of the era that are overly familiar. Sweet Dreams by The Eurythmics plays a key part, and floppy floopy hairstyles abound but other than that, I prefer this flick's rendering of history rather than our own.
The mutants of the world aren’t really divided into separate camps (as in pro-human or anti-human, nor do the humans seem particularly anti-mutant either). All except against Magneto, sorry, Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), who everyone hates because he tried to kill Richard Nixon in the last film.
Really? That doesn’t sound right. All the same, he’s been living the quiet life in Poland, with a wife and a darling daughter, meekly working in a factory, not using his powers, punching a clock, probably drinking a lot of vodka and eating very starchy foods, sighing a contented sigh when he finally gets to sit on the couch every night. Tired but happy, I think is the look they’re going for.
The rise of Apocalypse, though, means all sorts of seemingly unconnected events, unfortunate events at that, occur at around the same time. A worldwide tremor almost causes a fatal accident at Erik’s work, he saves a guy’s life, but this act of kindness, one we wouldn’t expect from Magneto, damns him and nearly the world.
See, Apocalypse has a modus operandi – a way of doing stuff every time he’s resurrected. He selects four mutants to be his Horsemen, and he steals powers from them, or gives them more powers, or something like that. Why he needs these hangers on as an entourage, well, maybe he gets lonely and likes having people to talk to, who get where he’s coming from. Maybe he’s not comfortable as a solo act, and needs a band around him. He certainly doesn’t really need anyone else, because he can kill people easier that swatting a fly. Swatting a fly would take some energy, some movement, but he seems to be able to turn people to sand without having to really even think about it.
He selects Storm, Angel, Magneto and Psylocke to be his bringers of doom. Psylocke, apart from being a terrible name, has the single worst costume I think I’ve ever seen in anything, really. I don’t doubt it’s from the comics, but having someone wear a one-piece bikini with some tassels and ribbons to the end of the world might make some sweaty nerds uncomfortable in their pants areas, but it’s not a way to be taken very seriously. It’s the most unnecessarily sexualised outfit in a comic flick since… well, let’s not pretend the suits at the studios do it because of fidelity to the source materials. They do the same to Black Widow putting her in stuff so skin tight I’m surprised you can’t see her ovaries
As an equivalent they should at least have James McAvoy in a cock-straining g-string that would make the boys of Magic Mike envious.
Maybe it seems like they take a long time to get there, because there’s so many people they need to check in with, so many opinions that need canvassing. Do they all matter? Possibly not. But returning favourites like Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, who’s become a reluctant positive role model for mutant kind and… some other people need to be balanced with ‘new’ jerks like Australia’s Own Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler and Sophie Turner as a young Jean Gray, and an ever younger Cyclops (Lucas Till), because the story needs to have someone to care about. Not that I care one bit about that one-eyed freak.
There is a reprise of the slow-motion scene at the Pentagon from the last film where Quicksilver (MAGNETO’S SON as they keep telling us every five goddamn minutes) tries to save a bunch of people at the School for the Gifted (that nonetheless couldn’t see this coming), and I think it’s another bravura scene, just maybe not as ‘funny’ as the earlier one, but no less competent.
The scene that comes out of absolutely nowhere, as in I had no idea it was coming, and surprised me the most, occurs when a certain Australian actor, masquerading as a Canadian immortal with shiny claws that come out of his hands, is first unleashed, and basically is, for the time he’s in the story, an unstoppable monster from a horror flick, getting to do the bloody carving and shredding on a bunch of humans that people have been waiting 9 films for. He was terrifying, even with strange headgear that made me wonder whether he was wearing a retainer to fix his teeth or something.
Yes it all builds to a massive fight at the end, but I’d argue that the road they take to get there is an enjoyable one, and the fight at the end isn’t a completely dumb one. I won’t argue that it’s a meaningful one, but these characters work well together, especially at the end, to beat someone I would have thought they couldn’t. More fool me. The sequence at Auschwitz, one which many have argued is in poor taste at best, and downright monstrously misguided at worst is a strong one, for me. They’ve long established Erik’s connection to the place, since his family were slaughtered there, so bringing this back full circle seems like a valid choice to me.
The relationship between Charles, Erik and Raven is a strong one, and, let’s be fair, it’s also always been about the love/jealousy that exists between the three of them, and in some ways Apocalypse gives them a decent ending on this part of it all, especially since we now have different dynamics and chemistries to look forward to.
Or not. It’s not as if there aren’t enough of these goddamn films coming out. It was entertaining enough for my money, and all the negativity about it ignores the fact that all of these X-Men flicks are a bit naff, really, let’s be honest. Whether as a metaphor for civil rights / gay rights and such, or just an excuse to watch superpowered people whack a bunch of other superpowered people, really, it’s about a bunch of freaks the world hates who have to work together to save the world.
And that gives hope to freaks, geeks, and the great unwashed undateable masses the world over, which has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?
7 times all will not be revealed any time soon out of 10
“I tried it your way, Charles. I lived with them, as one of them. They took everything from me. Now, we shall take everything from them.” – Erik, you’re a bad man, but you’re just so compelling – X-Men: Apocalypse