Wednesday, June 1, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

Deus X Menschina 
Apocalypse Then and Now (I Am Third)

At one point in X-Men: Apocalypse,* young mutants Scott Summers, Jean Grey, and Kurt Wagner are seen out doing "teen" things and are coming out of a theater showing Return of the Jedi. Jean Grey has the line "Let's all just agree that the third film in a trilogy is always the worst."

Cute line. Very meta. The third of the X-Men films—the one not directed by Bryan Singer (who directs this one) was indeed the worst film of the series. That line made me laugh, but I also thought it was a bit snarky. And premature. And a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The problem is when you point out something's flaws most of the fingers are pointing back at you, even if your mutant hand only has three fingers.

After all, this is the third film in this current incarnation of the X-Men franchise (2.0 on this one) and although we might not all agree, it is the worst film of this trilogy.

Not that it's bad or incompetent. Director Bryan Singer has done four of the six films and is quite gifted (he keeps coming back to the X-Men franchise because his ambitious, non-genre films don't quite do the business)—in fact, he's so talented that he's managed to do so many of the films of this franchise without seeming to go stale. Of course, he's helped by the voluminous story-lines and characters of Marvel's diverse Mutant-line, and that, after just three films, the series went through its first re-boot, going back to the past to mine history stories of the characters already established in the first X-Men film back at the turn of the century.
Magneto's mad at mankind again. Jeez......He's like an old man with a property line.
The break-out star of that film was Hugh Jackman, who caught a lucky break when he was cast last-minute to replace Dougray Scott, who couldn't get out of his Mission: Impossible II schedule (John Woo was running a bit late). The series then turned into "Wolverine and Some X-Men" and the swarthy, schnikting Canadian went on to his own (muddled) film series, with returns to his adamantium roots.
And because you can't make an X-Man movie without Hugh Jackman...
It fell to director Matthew Vaughn to re-invent and recast the "X-Men" films with the well-done X-Men: First Class film, which showed you could make an interesting X-Men film without Wolverine, which allowed Singer to come pack to the franchise and bridge the new X-Men with a final bow from the old cast and move forward with tales of the "lost years" of the group before its 2000 debut. The series now serves the function of filling in the holes of the group's history puzzle, the cinematic equivalent of putty.
Havoc gets something off his chest
Given that, there's not much the series can do, and so the latest presents an "Untold Tale of the X-Men" digging up a story of the original mutant from Egyptian times, a priest (Oscar Isaac), known as Apocalypse, with four mutant acolytes, who has found a way to transfer his life energy into a new host to become, for all purposes, immortal. At the point of transfer, he is buried in his temple (at the machinations of some rebellious Nile-lists) and imprisoned for hundreds of years (despite the powers he supposedly possesses) until he is released during the Reagan years to try to re-establish his world-wide rule.  Lucky for him, such a being as Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) exists that he might be able to achieve mental control over the entire human populace.
You can tell the bad guys from the good guys in the X-Men movies by a simple visual representation:
The bad guys make dramatic entrances with low camera angles
The good guys just sort of amble on-set.
His first step is to establish his "four horsemen" which he does by accentuating the powers of mutants Angel (Ben Hardy), Ororo (or as she's called "Storm," now played by Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who is once again polarized against mankind for one more crime against him. Magneto seems to attract bad human behavior as well as metal.
"Meanwhile," back at Xavier's School for Gifted (and Callowly Attractive) Students, they're picking up new recruits: Havoc (Lucas Till) brings in his brother Scott (Tye Sheridan) who has begun to shoot destructo-beams from his eyes (you know those teenage hormones); Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has rescued a fellow blue mutant named Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit McPhee), Nightcrawler, a devil-tailed transporter (*BAMF!*) from a German mutant fight-club; Quicksilver (Evan Peters)—who must have grown into the Russian accent he had in Age of Ultron—runs in just in time to have an extended super-speed demonstration when the School is attacked (again—"once every two years" as they said in Deadpool).
And then there's little Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), the Princess Elsa of the X-Men (who seems to be preparing to star in a Disney musical called "Flamin'"), who is reluctant to give full throttle to her powers (and since they're bringing it up, you know that it won't be long before she lets "it" go). When Xavier is abducted from the School (Hey! Ally Sheedy teaches there! Where's Judd Nelson?) by Apocalypse (after hacking into his brain to launch all of Earth's nuclear missiles into space—Hey, thanks, Apocalypse!), he is transported to Cairo, while the Egyptian King uses Havoc to destroy the X-Mansion—cue Quicksilver for the rescue.
While the students are standing around moping about the school being destroyed, not thinking about how they're super-powered so they might (ya know), clear some debris, then eventually make a trip to Home Depot to buy some cement for a foundation or something (even an impromptu frisbee game might be appropriate instead of just hanging around doing nothing..."mutant kids these days"), Col. William Stryker shows up in a Huey and kidnaps (let's see) Beast, Raven, Quicksilver...and non mutant CIA agent Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne), either because he knows of them, or they're the ones who seem to have the least lethargy of the mutant lawn ornaments. Cyclops, Phoenix, and Nightcrawler go off in hot pursuit (*BAMF!*)
"Meanwhile," back in Egypt, Magneto is convinced to start building Apoc's city and temple from all the metal building materials in the world, causing world-wide destruction (evidently Singer didn't get the memo about extensive casualties in super-hero movies and to stage these things AWAY from civilization!). Once his temple is constructed, he intends to take over Xavier's body in order to be able to have control over EVERY MUTANT IN THE WORLD...In the the world.
To what end is hard to fathom besides absolute power for absolute power's sake...(not unlike the current presidential campaign). But, Apoc's determined to do it, and so once the Phoenix/Cyclops/Nightcrawler team rescue the Mystique/Beast/Quicksilver/CIA gal team from Stryker—and prompt a Wolverine cameo by releasing Weapon X from Stryker's mutant experimentation facility (check off the X-Men Origin: Wolverine gap from Singer's list**), all the X-ers go to Egypt to have the final showdown so they can end the movie, while the countdown ticks as Apocalypse does his "katra" transference to Professor Xavier—a process that is so elaborate and time-consuming that it provides that much more time for it to stop.
Can't we just throw a SWITCH or something?
The fight is pretty perfunctory, mutie e mutie, where folks get dirty, but that's about it, so you can be assured that the next movie will be just as crowded (especially considering that the contracts for Lawrence, Fassbender and McAvoy are up with this film). Opponents are paired up, without much cross-fighting, ala Civil War, so this movie has the appearance of being behind the curve despite it being in production simultaneously—it's just that the Roussos decided they'd do everything CGI rather than green-screen like Singer does...probably because they were more interested in a really cool battle royale than identifying the participants.
The Apocalypse group all make big dramatic entrances, and the rookies have to find their courage, which they do the closer the near-misses come, and, as these things go, they find that they are most effective if they put their differences aside and work together, but they have to be convinced to do that (like they do every movie). This is usually where the X-Men movies cheat a bit by making the motivations as simple as "you don't HAVE to do this..." (the conversation I usually have with myself before going to an X-Men movie). The transitions are a little quick and convenient, but when you've got people who have mental powers, I guess it's a bit easier. Evidently Professor X wanted me to spend my money. Jerk.
Dramatic entrance: check
The thing is the film is really hollow. There's lots of sturm and drang, but very little of consequence that doesn't involve property damage happens—we're spared seeing the casualties of all that metal extraction (which, although it gets repetitive and numbing to see, not to mention a bit of a cheat) to the point where you think that world is absent of anybody but X-Men. The biggest result of all of this is a new X-team is configured and Professor X loses his hair. Not sure a multi-million dollar movie was needed to mark that event (although I can't remember the last time I saw a movie about male pattern baldness).
Dramatic entrance: check
The most frustrating thing about X-Men: Apocalypse is its seemingly incomprehensible sense of loyalties. In the Marvel Mutant Universe, you are either an activist or a commingler, a radical or an appeaser, Malcolm X or Martin Luther King. Professor X is always among the latters, but the more radical types like Magneto and Mystique are the agitators, until such times, that is, as the movie-makers deem them to be hypocritically antithetical. Convenient to do so, I'm sure, but it sure makes those characters look like flakes, or at the least weak-willed flip-floppers. 
ZAP! "Missed"
ZOTZ! "Missed."
You don't need mutant genes to do that. Heck, that trait is all too human. And I'm sure the convictions will stick as long as the writer-directors aren't in some sort of creative jam. They appear to be in one now, as X-Men: Apocalypse fulfills its own critique of being the worst of its trilogy.
* Although I've taken to calling it "X-Men: Isaacalypse."

** Wait, wait, wait...Professor X appeared in that film and he looked like Patrick Stewart. Now, at the same point in time, he looks like James McAvoy. There's a discrepancy in the continuity cameo continuum.

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