Thursday, May 24, 2018

X-Men Apocalypse

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
I never watched X-Men Apocalypse until recently. I really liked what "First Class" did back in the day, yet I was disappointed with "Days of Future Past", and the trailers for "Apocalypse" didn't look promising at all, so I only now got my hands on the DVD and watched it in lieu of something better to do. And boy, this movie is a mess. It's bad. 
It's not bad in a "Batman v Superman" way, not at the slightest. There is a ton of interesting ideas in this one, but the thing falls apart in execution. It's like someone taking a ton of pieces, building them all into a sculpture, and then it breaks down the second it's completed. It's interesting to look at the reasons for why it breaks down so badly. 
First, there's the sheer mass of characters involved, a lot of them being introduced for the first time. Even with the bloated running time, following up on all the plot threads from the previous two movies (six, if you accept the larger continuinity, which these movies also do, going so far as to include a totally random Wolverine cameo) is practically impossible, and so the movie relies a lot on you just accepting what's happening on screen. Apocalypse's recruiting of his four riders, for example, lacks any significance, since we know only one of them (Magneto), and their motivations are barely established beyond Apocalypse giving them some more power than they previously had, and what Bryan Singer seemed to think was a cool outfit. 
Second, the scale of destruction is absolutely ridiculous. Literally the whole world is in the middle of an apocalyptic breakdown, and yet, there is not the slightest sense of urgency to it. Whole cities are casually destroyed to whirl dust and debris in a circle around the main baddies, an imagery as tired as anything I've ever seen. It actually reaches the heights of lack of taste in Auschwitz, where four people in ridiculous costums stand around and wreck the preserved site of one of the biggest crimes ever perpetrated, just to let Magneto join Apocalypse. I actually got angry at Singer here, which is the strongest emotion I could channel up throughout the whole movie. 
Third, the world makes no sense. This is the, what, third time that mutants threaten the entire world? Millions of people have to have dies in that aborted apocalypse (not that anyone in the movie cared or even mentioned it), trillions or more must have been accrued in property damages, and so on. That no one started an actual genocide on all mutants yet is beyond me. These guys are so obviously dangerous to every living being alive, that no one's taking action is totally beyond me. The world continues to go on like it did, only with political and military leaders looking distraught to raise the stakes (hint: it doesn't work), and then letting out a collective "phew" when Xavier rescues the day. Literally nothing of this would happen did Xavier and Magneto not exist, so seeing the poor people who try to imprison (not even kill) Magneto as the bad guys is a reach. 
Fourth, the themes do not have the time to grow and rely on odious cliches to move forward. Those poor saps that try to imprison Magneto? They accidentally kill his wife and son, because what else could motivate Magneto to do his stuff? This "the world has wronged me and now I'm killing everyone"-schtick is getting really old, and killing two female characters obviously introduced only to spur him into action should be a criminal offense at this point. Besides, what do you have Auschwitz for? The callousness with which Singer discards things like this just to move the plot along is grating. 
Fifth, the powers of the X-Men vary so wildly there's no balance to the force. Seriously, Quicksilver is so ridiculously strong compared to practically everyone else they keep his powers to two scenes that feel like a cameo, just like in the first movie, for no reason. Apocalypse's team, on the other hand, doesn't have any powers that matter whatsoever. One has wings. Another has a purple sword. Eh...this is what you came up with, strongest mutant that ever existed? Come on. 
Sixth, there is simply too much going on. There are whole side-plots that are included only that we don't forget about characters previously established, such as Moira Taggert or Colonel Stryker. They weigh the movie down and don't add anything. In the end, Jean Grey even transforms into Phoenix, without any buildup whatsoever. Too. Much. Going. On. 
Seventh, the movie is unclear about its own themes, especially in regards to civil rights and diversity. The only black X-Woman, Storm, is given practically no introduction, immediately seduced by Apocalypse, and joins the X-Men in the end because, you know, destroying the world is absolutely no problem for anyone. What happened to the question of mutant rights? How do people react and interact with them? What happened to all those questions?
Eigth, there's a repetitive element to all of this, especially to the character of Magneto. Another time, the world is threatened. Another time, Magneto takes out his anger on everyone. Another time, Xavier projects good feelings onto people so they act instead of using his ridiculously strong powers. And so on and so forth. 
I mentioned there are good ideas in this. The final fight has some of them, without being able to make them work. Apocalypse is, for the most part of the movie, going between ridiculous and grating, but in the end, they split him into what amounts to multiple entities (fighting Magneto in a swirl of CGI, close-combatting most X-Men, and engaging Xavier and Jean Grey on the astral plane). But it's too little, without weight, and too late. This should have been done more consistently over the movie.
There are good ideas, there is a foundation of themes, but all of it is buried under so much bloat in story and visuals alike that the whole thing comes crashing down under its own weight. It's a shame.

No comments:

Post a Comment