SUPERflix Movies presents our 5 on 5 series! We pit 5 things we liked versus 5 things we didn’t like and you can decide which ones hit home and add your own in the comments. Add your own like or dislike to the list.
In this 5 on 5, let’s jump in and talk about 5 things we liked about X-men: Apocalypse and 5 we didn’t. Decide for yourself if you liked the movie and please let us know what you think about any of these topics or the movie as a whole.
Let’s start with the good. Non-telepathic SPOILERS follow.
Five: the Apocalypse god-complex
Say what you will about the “first mutant” En Sabah Nur, but I think they got the god-complex personality of his character absolutely spot on.
I think we can thank Oscar Isaac and perhaps the writing/directing team for a lot of those moments. There certainly is a lot to be desired from Apocalypse but he does act like Apocalypse. He believes himself to be a god, the most fit to rule and to empower others to enforce his rule over the lesser beings of earth. It shows through in big speeches and little nuanced mannerisms. After Charles Xavier hijacks Apocalypse’s declaration to the world, he simply smirks at Professor X like a petulant little child. Apocalypse swipes away Beast like a fly, holds off Magneto’s arsenal of metal and Cyclops's optic blasts like he is holding the door closed while a toddler pushes on the other side. It isn’t until the very end that he is in awe of something worthy of his attention, the Phoenix.
Four: Simple, Solid Story
Apocalypse is not a complex villain. He believes that survival of the fittest is the way of the world and that it puts him as a deity above those he would rule. It is a simple story.
Apocalypse returns, sees a changed world, and sets out to put things back in the only way he knows. He will test the world to see who is strong enough to be a part of his new world by recruiting some pals and try to burn the whole place down. The X-men oppose this whole plan for obvious reasons. Simple is better than a muddled mess every time and as far as the narrative goes, X-men Apocalypse doesn’t take on too much.
Three: Fassbender and McAvoy
Fassbender and McAvoy were brilliant. Both stand out among all superhero, comic book movie actors, and Bryan Singer directs them to really go for it. It gives the film and the series a heart.
Magneto’s painful journey is an exceptionally powerful dramatic story. He relives a redux of his childhood losing people he was closest to, now his wife and child. While that is a retreaded trope with Magneto, Fassbender sells it - oh man, does he sell it. I was surprised at how far they let him go as an actor and I loved it. It made me a little nervous at first because it is so powerful and seems a little out of place. But my second time watching, I really appreciated the power and excellence of Fassbender’s acting. The gravitas of the situation is palpable. It wasn’t just a revisit for us. This second time losing everything for Magneto seemed to make this pain all the more cavernous. Where a superhero film usually cuts off this level of drama for the sake of being a fun, popcorn flick, Singer lets Fassbender really suck the air out of the theatre. The MCU doesn't dive this deep, even in Civil War. McAvoy didn’t get the same counterposition in the story this go around. But, McAvoy nails it every time when he taps into another's pain especially with Magneto. Both actors put themselves at the tip of the dramatic spear in the superhero/comic book film genre. This was certainly Fassbender’s pinnacle shining moment.
Two: Most of the New Characters Steal the Show
Quicksilver stole the show in Days of Future Past, and he does it again with a hilarious and epic action sequence. This time he isn’t alone. Nearly all of the newcomers make some impact on the film while Jean Grey, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Storm get the most screen time. They are all done very well.
Sophie Turner is brilliant as a confident young heroine who powerfully steps out onto the scene, quite literally. Nightcrawler is another great new portrayal as his character both shines visually and as comic relief. Storm was well done. We see a bit of her origins then arch with her character as she joins the charismatic Apocalypse. She then betrays him in the final sequence as she sees the good she truly wants to be in her hero Mystique’s fight. Psylocke gets very little time and only a handful of lines. When she does, visually she was spot on and that was great to see. This movie definitely leaves me wanting more of these new characters. I hope they get their just due in a future, less crowded film series.
One: Drama, Character Driven & Intense
This movie and really all of the X-men movies really thrive in character driven human drama. The X-men franchise opens with Magneto during the holocaust being separated from his parents. Later we revisit his pain when we learn how he was forced to watch his mother murdered before his eyes. Point in case for X-men Apocalypse is the drama around Magneto again.
This time he loses his wife and daughter in a scene that really forces the audience to feel his struggle and share in his pain. Among the popcorn Marvel movies, the visually stunning DC films, the X-men movies solidify their core as powerful drama. It hasn’t all been Magneto either. Professor X is continually tapping into the pain of so many others, and now Jean Grey is starting to take up that mantel as well. The actors do a great job. Havok is killed and Cyclops deals with his brother’s loss in a very well done and character focused way. The X-men franchise hits that dramatic nerve center in a more compelling way than most other films in the genre. It comes to a crescendo in X-men Apocalypse and this sets the powerful narrative tone.
Now that we’ve gone through the good, let’s slice and dice this film up with some nitty gritty good old fashion internet-style nasty comments...not really, well maybe. Here are some things we didn’t like.
One: Rigid, Bland Combat & Flight
I’m sorry but the X-men franchise is lagging behind other comic book films in their combat, flight scenes. The movies have great visual moments but the action is comparably weaker.
They don’t seem to focus on characterization with the movements and style across the board. One minute it is great and the next, weak. X-men really failed to ever “wow” me with any action moments.
The flight of each character was mostly bland, similar among all characters, and clearly done with wires. Magneto flies just like Storm. Archangel really never had a moment. Jean walks out in a too easy, practical effect.
Wolverine runs down another hall slashing and stabbing. It wasn't even as good as X-2 Wolverine. Psylocke, Wolverine, Beast - they all looked like actors, honestly. Batman Vs. Superman had a lot of these “wow!” moments. Captain America: Civil War had me smiling like a little kid throughout the different action sequences, but X-men never got me. It was all ok. But honestly, it could have been X-2.
The Quicksilver sequence was the exception and it was astonishing. From a production standpoint, I think they spent their time & budget on this one sequence. It is too bad it served more as humor than wow! It was brilliant, no doubt. The rest was not bad but didn't raise the bar and terribly inconsistent.
Two: Angel & Psylocke - STRIKE TWO for both
For an ensemble cast film, it is difficult to have your minor characters get enough screen time to make an impact. Angel & Psylocke are unfortunately still on the short end.
We talked about how some of the smaller parts in this film worked. We liked Jean, Scott, Nightcrawler, but Angel & Psylocke didn’t get their moment to shine. Some of this is due to the last issue we had with the film, their action sequences didn’t wow us. You’ve got maybe a handful of scenes with these characters doing anything meaningful and maybe 1-2 action sequences. You have to seize the opportunity and make them wow the audience or they clutter up the film. Some of the best comic book genre films have made that work while X-men Apocalypse falls short with most.
Three: Too Fast, Too Soon to be this EPIC
We’ve had two decades in the X-men Universe to build up to this scope of impact on the world, but it still feels too fast after reset with DOFP.
Maybe it is because we just got to Scott, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, and the core of our new X-men. I think the X-men universe wasn’t big enough to sustain this scale, just yet. Too many ensemble movies to genuinely care about this fight. Too many shots of the world from far away for us to feel the destruction deeply. The whole world we watched seemed far away, except a couple of character moments. Apocalypse felt far off and not as accessible. It made for an impersonal epic tale with disjointed, personal drama (Magneto, Charles, Cyclops). It's a personal reaction, but that is my take.
Again, I don’t think it was terrible, but it just lacked that extra impact of a good film. I think that it because of the narrative world building philosophy employed by 20th Century Fox’s X-men. This is the 3rd ensemble movie in this series. I think we needed stand-alone films set in this world or at least smaller, more focused ensemble pieces. Like BvS, we need build up to get to this epic world changing film. It falls flat without it. Most of the cast were new to this film and suddenly we’re fighting the big bad of this universe. It felt rushed. Thanks Batman vs. Superman.
Four: Flight suits...black paramilitary - again, really?
Would we rather have yellow spandex? YES!
The Danger Room scene at the end of the film was pretty cool, but this movie suffers a little bit from the “not far enough” syndrome. We're 6 X-men movies in to this world and a handful of x-men universe offshoots. X-men released in 2000! 16 years ago. It is 2016 and we live in a world with ~30 years of MCU films planned so far. Several different full universes are in development. Comic and Superhero tv shows are doing well across different channels like Netflix, ABC, Fox, CW. The MCU and DC films have proven that comic book costumes work. We don’t have Hawkeye in Robin Hood-esque garb, but we do have a comic-real Deadpool. We have a comic-real Colossus, size and all! Hulk pops off the page and onto the screen in full green CGI glory, in 2012 mind you. Iron Man is zipping around in hot rod red & gold fighting Cap in red, white, and blue. Wonder Woman is leaping at a fully realized Doomsday monster in Amazonian battle armor. And, it all looks AWESOME! The kids buying comics in the 1970’s-90’s have grown up into big kids that love superhero movies. Commit to the genre's look and action. Beast is ok. But, can you imagine if he were actually wider in stature, moved like Beast in the comics - not just an actor in a blue Chewbacca costume doing wire work. That would be epic! Deadpool figured it out on a fraction of the budget. They did Colossus better than 16 years of X-men movies.
It’s time to see some FULLY comic-real X-men across the board. Retire the black paramilitary armor.
Five: Time for a new era of X-men
Apocalypse means essentially “to reveal”. X-men: Apocalypse reveals to us that it is time to fully commit to this new group of X-men. The time has come to embrace the full potential of the X-men as a fully realized X-universe.
We’ve had our fill of Mystique, Wolverine, and the Charles & Magneto dynamic taking center stage each time.
All of these highly visible characters should be in the X-men Universe forever. The character journey of new stories and adventures need to be for other characters. Let's center other films on Jean & Scott with a few targeted cameos and smaller X-men parts. Just like Deadpool, a focused, simple narrative on one character with smaller roles to other X-men works. The upcoming Cable/Deadpool film is just what we need more of - film set in this universe but not highly packed, full x-men ensembles. Nightcrawler, Storm, Gambit, Colossus, Psylocke, and Angel can all be a part of smaller ensemble pieces with more targeted, focused stories. Let's introduce new villains like Mr. Sinister, Stryfe, Brotherhood of Mutants, and the Morlocks. Use Mystique, Charles, Magneto, Wolverine to mentor these movies. Sell them in theatres like Tony Stark is doing with Spider-man, and Hulk combining forces with Thor. Make the stories center on some new, fresh characters.
Most of our comments center around a primary theme. X-men started the modern era of comic movies, but never evolved into the modern era of superhero films. They don't seem to be planned, long-term, cohesive, continuous, and complimentary. Now it is time to fully commit to costume, action sequences, character development, story arcs, continuity, all of it!
The next generation of X-men should be a fully realized. It needs to be a rich vision of the source material brought into a series of cinematic stories weaving in and around each other. It needs to have phases that end in major conflicts just like the comics. The MCU didn't invent this philosophy; they just committed to where it came from, the comics.