Thursday, August 18, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

Year 8, Day 231 - 8/18/16 - Movie #2,425 - viewed on 6/19/16          

BEFORE: As I write this, it's June 19, Father's Day, and this film's been out in theaters for about three weeks, so enough time has passed that I can convince my wife to go out to the movies and see it with me.  She's given up on following the Avengers and Spider-Man movies, but she's stuck with me through the recent X-Men films.  

But things being what they are, and the linking being what it is, I can't see a way to link to it until at least after my trip to Comic-Con, and probably not until a month after that.  If I've done this right, I can post the three Marvel Comics movies I saw in theaters right in a row, with Kodi Smit-McPhee carrying over from "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", or if not that, then maybe Nicholas Hoult carrying over from "Mad Max: Fury Road".  And then Stan Lee's appearances in the other Marvel movies will make this quite easy.

EDIT: I decided not to cheap out by linking the Marvel films via Stan Lee (not this time, anyway...) so Tye Sheridan carries over from "The Forger" to play the young Cyclops and tomorrow's linking will be its own issue.  More on this later. 

FOLLOW-UP TO: "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (Movie #1,797)

THE PLOT:  With the emergence of the world's first mutant, Apocalypse, the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.

AFTER: I gave the last "X-Men" film a 9, and I don't think I'll be quite as generous tonight, because even though this seems like a worthy successor to "Days of Future Past", which took a bit of a comic look at the X-Men in the 1970's, they didn't really do enough with this one to justify fast-forwarding 10 years to the 1980's.  Where were the 80's fashions, except for Storm's mohawk?  OK, so Quicksilver was seen playing Ms. Pac-Man instead of Pong, is that enough?  Geez, man, I lived through the 1980's and there's so much to make fun of!  

OK, at one point a few of the characters go to the mall and catch "Return of the Jedi" in a theater - but this was included mainly to get in a dig on director (and loathsome near-human) Brett Ratner, as the characters declare "the third film in a franchise is always the WORST" - referring, no doubt to the dreadfully ill-advised "X-Men: The Last Stand".  

The filmmakers had a great opportunity after the timeline was changed in "Days of Future Past", it was like a reset button on the franchise, they could take the team's story in any direction they wanted - and THIS is what they chose?  An ancient Egyptian mutant wakes up after 5,000 years and decides to cleanse the world of humanity?  Jeez, I think I'd rather have the Sentinels back.  At least you knew where you stood with them.  Is Apocalypse really the first mutant?  Did his existence cause the other mutants to appear, thousands of years later?  Is everything, like, connected, man?  We'll never know, because the film never gets around to even asking these questions, let alone answering them.  

It's very cagey to check in on the early X-Men every 10 years - "First Class" in 1963, "Days of Future Past" in 1973, and now maybe it's 1983?  And I get that less-important things in these characters' lives take place during the in-between years - relationships, getting their powers, training - and we don't necessarily have to see everything in a character's life.  If that were the case, then movies would have to show people sleeping, eating and taking care of bodily functions, so it's probably better that we just get to see the important stuff. 

But man, the reset was supposed to fix the X-Men's timeline, and now it's screwed up worse than ever. Take Havok, for example, he was part of the "First Class" X-Men in 1963, so let's say he was 14 or 15, by the time of "Apocalypse" he should be 35, and he just doesn't look that old.  Same with Professor Xavier and Moira MacTaggert, they should look 20 years older, and they don't, because that X-Men prequel was made just 5 years ago.  (I'll give a pass to Mystique, since she can change her appearance, so theoretically she never has to age.)  So Havok's brother is now 15 or so, so Havok is 20 years older than Cyclops?  Mathematically possible, but very unlikely.  Anyway, Havok is supposed to be Cyclops' YOUNGER brother in the comic books, not older. 

Magneto's timeline doesn't work either, if he was a child at the Auschwitz concentration camp, let's say he was 5-7 years old sometime between 1941 and 1945, so he was born between 1936-1938?  That would make him 45-47 years old in 1983, and he didn't look that old (the actor was 39).  That also makes Magneto about 85-87 years old during the future scenes in "Days of Future Past" - again, possible but it's still a bit of a stretch (Ian McKellen was 75 at the time).

The opening scenes are set in ancient Egypt - these were quite cool, I wanted to learn more about the Horsemen at the time - were they mutants, too, or did they just get their powers from him?  I get that they were his protectors, and they watched over the process as they switched bodies, but what could they DO?  Maybe this was part of the movie's problem, since they made ancient Egypt look like such an exotic and interesting place to live, it made the U.S. in the 1980's look boring by comparison.

If you don't know who Apocalypse is, he's got a usual M.O. in the comics - he first appeared in "X-Factor", which was a group of the 5 original X-Men after they graduated from the school and aged out of the program.  He would find a mutant or two that was having a rough time, or down on their luck, and turn them into one of his "Horsemen" - Angel was the first, he became Death (angel of Death, get it?) and then later Archangel.  They created three other mutants for Famine, War, and Pestilence.  But every time Apocalypse came back, he'd do a check to see which X-Men were available for turning to the dark side - Wolverine was Death for a short while, and I think one time the Hulk was War?  

(The best Apocalypse-themed storyline was perhaps "Age of Apocalypse", in which Charles Xavier's son went back in time to kill Magneto, but killed his father by accident, and this created a new alternate timeline where Magneto formed the X-Men, and Apocalypse eventually took over most of the planet.  But I think the films are done with alternate timelines for a while, so this was probably a no-go.)  

So, in general, I think it was a great idea for Apocalypse to find the disgruntled and dis-affected mutants, and get them into his Horsemen team.  But here there was nothing for a lot of the characters to do.  For Storm and Psylocke, there was a lot of standing around, doing nothing.  What's the point of casting Storm if she never uses her weather powers?  Why not mark her as "Famine" and show her turning a lush forest into a desert?  And was Magneto "War" and Angel "Death", and if so, how was Psylocke "Pestilence"?  If you can't DO anything with the characters you chose, maybe you should choose different characters.  

I get that a new writer comes on board the movie franchise, or to a comic book for that matter, and they want to use the X-Men they like, but at this point it shouldn't be about personal preference, it should be about picking the characters that work well together, whose powers coincide with others, without much overlap.  If Prof. X is a telepath, and Jean Grey is a telepath, they don't need to be on the same team, for example.  By the same token, if Apocalypse has Psylocke on his side, then why does he need Professor X?  Oh, the Professor is more powerful?  Then drop Psylocke, and use a different character.  

The problem with characters using psychic powers, it's just not that visually interesting (like in "The Force Awakens", which featured 7 minutes of Kylo Ren and Rey just STARING at each other.  Bo-RING!).  The visual uses of Cerebro help, as do montages of people all over the world "hearing" Prof. X's words in their heads, but I'll take a fight scene over a man broadcasting his thoughts, any day. 

There were three fight scenes, but three scenes spread out over 2 1/2 hours left a LOT of room in-between.  We don't need 10 minutes of Xavier and Mystique debating the purpose of the Xavier Institute, this was covered in previous films?  They should have trimmed this down to 90 minutes, and that way the three fight scenes would have felt so much more important.  

This should have been a no-brainer, like the fight scene in "Captain America: Civil War", where we had like 10 Avengers fighting each other, five on five.  I wanted to see 11 or 12 X-Men fighting Apocalypse at once, which he COULD defend against, but it never happened.  At most, maybe three or four were fighting him at a time.  Now, admittedly these characters were thrown together without much chance to train, but some teamwork should have been involved as that battle took place on both the physical and psychic planes.  

I've got so much more to say about some of the characters, I'd better take them one by one.  (I'll skip the four "main" characters from this trilogy - Prof. X, Mystique, Magneto and Beast - because they're all very solid in the roles at this point.)

Quicksilver - he's got one of the best scenes in the whole film, even though my wife thought it was too reminiscent of his big scene in "Days of Future Past".  Hey, it's what he does, so I was OK with it.  He got a few minutes to shine, and they advanced his character by revealing his connection to Magneto, finally, which was only hinted at in the last film.  (Very appropriate, me seeing this film on Father's Day...) But where is the Scarlet Witch, they're supposed to be twins after all!  Is this a reality without her, or did Peter's mother forget that she had another baby?  Or is she off somewhere at magic school, and nobody talks about her?  (I know, I know, the X-Men movies don't line up with the Avengers movies, but there's still a chance here, just a mention of the Scarlet Witch is all I ask...) I do like the irony of the extremely fast character always being "late" when it comes to personal relationships, it fits the character from the comics, who's been a terrible husband and an absent father.  (Ironically, it took so long for them to talk about Quicksilver being Magneto's son in the movies that the comic books are now saying that Magneto is NOT his father.  So, who is?  Remember, the movie character could always be mistaken about who his dad is.)

Cyclops - pretty bland, fairly boring, his origin is pretty much the same as it's been in the comics, but he's a straight arrow type, so he's supposed to be bland and boring.  They can't go nuts and suddenly make him a trouble-maker, although sneaking out of the school to go to the mall was an OK first step in giving him a little bit of an edge.  As I mentioned, having a brother who's 20 years older and was in the X-Men 20 years ago makes little sense.  

Nightcrawler - I approve of this one, the actor did a good job with a tough character, he didn't overdo the German akh-cent like Alan Cummings did, and the origin being tweaked so he was found in a German underground fight club instead of a German circus, I'm OK with that.  My wife noticed that he bought a Michael Jackson "Thriller" jacket in the mall scene and wore it for, like, the rest of the movie.  It's a nice touch, but it shouldn't count as character development.  And what about the fact that in the comic books, Mystique has been revealed as Nightcrawler's mother?  It makes sense that she rescued him from danger, but are we not even going to talk about the relationship?  I'm fine with Azazel (from "First Class") being his father, as well as him being born midway between that film and "Days of Future Past", but let's get all these secrets out in the open, OK?

Angel - however, giving Angel a similar back-story makes no sense.  He's supposed to be the son of a millionaire, how did he get from American club kid to German fight club?  Did Daddy cut him off from his trust fund when he learned he was a mutant?  More information is needed, otherwise he's just another blank character.  I guess he works in contrast to Nightcrawler, the whole angel/demon thing, and he gets a little more interesting when Apocalypse turns his feathers into metal spikes, as in the comic, but even when the fight finally starts, they just don't know what to do with him, since he flies, and that's about it.  This was an impressive character back in 1964 comics, but in more modern times, he just falls flat.  

Storm - her origin was fine, they just took the comic book story of her growing up as an orphan thief on the streets of Cairo and replaced the Shadow King with Apocalypse.  But, we never see her use her full powers until the very end, so a lot of standing around - they can't make her much of a villain, because we all know she's going to join the X-Men someday.  I could believe that this actress could grow up to look like Halle Berry, but it's such a quick turnaround.  Hey, remember that girl we were fighting against, like, 10 minutes ago?  Well, she wants to live here now.  No!  Not OK!

Jean Grey - along with the aforementioned problem of not being able to see psychic powers, the other problem was that this actress seemed to be cast for her red hair, and not much else.  Jean's supposed to be stunningly attractive, so that Cyclops falls for her, Wolverine falls for her, pretty much everyone falls for her, and I just didn't see those possibilities in this girl.  She had a dumb look on her face most of the time, and her acting ability was nearly non-existent.  (So, if the goal was to cast someone who could grow up and become Famke Janssen, mission accomplished.)  Ah, she comes from "Game of Thrones", so she was cast to put asses in the seats.  Then we've got this whole "I'm a teenage girl, so I'm so damn COM-plicated" B.S.  "You have no idea..."  Ah, shut up and go listen to "Careless Whisper" by Wham!, get over yourself and have a good cry, you'll be fine.  Maybe you'll be more interesting in the next film if they can turn you into Dark Phoenix somehow, and put you in a corset.

Psylocke - they didn't know what to do with her either, except she's got a psychic sword that comes in handy in the final fight.  But she's like an extra telepath, do we even ever get to see her psychic powers?  They could have just as easily cast Dazzler with her laser beams, she would have fit right in with the 80's theme, but I guess she's still a famous recording artist at this point in time.   

Jubilee - they REALLY didn't know what to do with her.  Her non-impact on the story means she gets to go to the mall (which is where the X-Men first discovered her in the comics) and that's it.  She doesn't use her powers, she doesn't get to join the team, she's just a background player, like Colossus was for years.  

Wolverine - he's in this film for about 5 minutes, doing what he does best, which isn't very nice.  The role is uncredited, because he's still in his "Weapon X" mode, he doesn't talk, just slices up a bunch of guys and runs off into the woods.  But he's more interesting in those 5 minutes then Storm, Angel, Jean Grey and Psylocke COMBINED.  Not a good sign for those other characters.  

There seemed to be attempts to link up with the first "X-Men" film - why?  This isn't the "Star Wars" franchise, you don't have to end with Anakin in the Darth Vader suit in order to set up "A New Hope".  Remember, the timeline was changed, so they didn't have to get us back to Wolverine roaming the woods without his memory, and Cyclops, Jean and Storm running the school.  But it seems like they were heading there, anyway.  

Then again, maybe not - there's a post-credit sequence that suggests who the villain's going to be in the next X-Men film.  Hmm, it could be promising, but based on this, they'll probably find a way to screw it up.  What they SHOULD do is fast-forward 10 years and send this X-Men team into space, meet the Starjammers and the Shi'ar and really do the Dark Phoenix story right.  But they won't. 

And if you think agree with me and think this timeline is screwed up, check out what's happening in the comic books - thanks to some time-travel, there are both young AND old versions of the same characters running around - so two Beasts, two Angels, two Icemans (the young one is out and proud, the older one's in the closet).  I think there's only one young Cyclops and one young Jean Grey, the older ones are dead.  Wolverine's dead, too, except after the "Secret Wars" crossover, an older Wolverine from an alternate future came to the main Earth, and joined the X-Men, but so did a young female clone, who also calls herself Wolverine.  So it's a royal mess, and it doesn't look like it will be sorted out any time soon.  These mixed-up timelines in the "Apocalypse" movie seem rather simple by comparison.  

Bottom line, I wanted to be blown away by this film, and I wasn't really, not the way I was with "Captain America: Civil War".  I'll stick with the franchise, but the law of diminishing returns is starting to apply.  This one needed to be tightened up, with maybe a half-hour of downtime trimmed out of it.  I'm not sure that would have fixed it outright, but it might have helped.

Also starring James McAvoy (last seen in "Muppets Most Wanted"), Michael Fassbender (last seen in "The Counselor"), Jennifer Lawrence (last seen in "American Hustle"), Nicholas Hoult (last seen in "About a Boy"), Oscar Isaac (last seen in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Rose Byrne (last seen in "Spy"), Evan Peters (last seen in "X-Men: Days of Future Past"), Lucas Till (ditto), Josh Helman (ditto), Sophie Turner, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Ben Hardy, Olivia Munn (last seen in "Iron Man 2"), Lana Condor, Tomas Lemarquis (last seen in "Snowpiercer"), with cameos from Hugh Jackman (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"), Ally Sheedy (last seen in "She's Having a Baby"), Zeljko Ivanek (last seen in "The Hoax"), Stan Lee (last seen in "Ant-Man").

RATING: 7 out of 10 nuclear launch codes

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