Recently I’ve made another trip overseas, which means more movies on a plane! Although it was not an especially long trip, and a lot of it took place overnight, so I only got two movies in this time.
(Incidentally, even though this is a blog post about movies, it’s not part of my 47 Movie Blogs series, as I chose the topic myself, rather than having it chosen for me).
Long-term readers will know that my usual philosophy when choosing what to enjoy on intercontinental travel is to find films that make me curious but are not too demanding. In other words, films I kind of want to see but that I’m not all that hopeful about and therefore am glad to see for free.
To this end, I’m waiting for the day that GI Joe: Retaliation turns up, but failing that I was happy to tune into a recent superhero film that I’d missed in the theatres…
Apocalypse is either part 3, 6 or 9 of the X-Men movies, depending on how you count. You could potentially consider it the third chapter of the X-Men “prequels”, all of which take place prior to the original X-Men movie that came out in 2000. Unlike the Star Wars prequels, there is no effort made to try to make sense out of the original film’s backstories. In some cases they do set up things from the original film, but this seems incidental. More often than not, they blindly contradict things from the original films, while in other cases they appear to purposely contradict things from the original films but offer explanations for why this makes sense. In short, it’s actually kind of impressive how much of a mess they can make of the cinematic X-universe’s internal continuity in just a mere 9 movies (10, now that Logan is out–I guess that’ll have to wait until another plane ride). Doctor Who took 30+ seasons of television, and the X-Men comics took thousands of stories, to accomplish the same thing.
So let’s leave aside fanboy slavish issues of continuity and just try to enjoy each film on its own merits, shall we? After all, this is a commentary on X-Men Apocalypse, not the entire franchise. Let’s judge this film for what it is, rather than what I, a superhero fan, would want it to be, for just me and all the other nerdy geeks in the audience.
OK, no problem….it’s atrocious.
Yeah, really really bad.
Recently, I read a quote attributed to Steven Spielberg: “People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.” Well, X-Men Apocalypse is a prime example of this. The beginning eventually stops, but not until we’re past the halfway point in this 144 minute monstrosity. I was continually astounded by how the movie kept introducing new “major” characters up until then, and at one point I counted about 14 that I was supposed to be following on some level.
Inevitably, people were underdeveloped and given the short shrift. Indeed, nobody came across very well, including the alleged stars of the film, James McAvoy (Professor X), Magneto (Michael Fassbender) or Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Michael Fassbender is the biggest casualty. He’s got this big character bit near the beginning of the movie (ie, the first half) where he’s married with a daughter and trying to be a good guy. But then a distracted small town police officer half-heartedly shoots an arrow which magically manages to kill both of the people dearest to him.
Seriously, it’s ludicrous. I can only imagine we’re watching the secret origin of Yondu’s magic arrow from Guardians of the Galaxy here.
And not only is it ludicrous, it’s also painfully predictable. Magneto then demonstrates that his evil side was not buried all that far below and kills everyone, and then decides to kill everyone else he knows in the town as well. He gets recruited by a super-powerful bad guy who gives him a power upgrade so he can help him kill everyone he doesn’t like. Magneto uses this power upgrade to basically lift all the ground into the sky. Then he changes his mind and fights back, but nobody is sure why. Indeed, the movie blithely makes up a good reason Magneto might have for changing his mind (I know, it’s a thing in the comics, but here, it is completely unjustified), and then goes out of its way to show that nobody tells him this. Then, it keeps his moment of decision off-camera. So, Magneto changing is mind is one of the most obscure, least motivated, most implausible decisions that I ever seen a character have in a movie.
Of course, he does not make this choice until after he’s spent ages using his upgraded powers to basically lift the ground everywhere into the sky, most probably killing hundreds of thousands or even millions of people.
But nevermind, at the end of the film, everything is fine. Magneto and Charles are back to their friendly verbal repartees, and nobody is, you know, upset about the global destruction of life and property.
Not even Charles and “good mutants”. Their little mansion in Westchester is conveniently rebuilt, so I guess it doesn’t matter that whole cities worth of people are now dead and displaced.
Now, let’s back up a minute here. Bryan Singer directed this mess. He’s the guy who first brought the X-Men to the live action big screen. His first movie is considered a general success and the second is really one of the better superhero movies ever made. Then he baled on the third and the near-universally derided X3: The Last Stand was made with another director. X-Men Apocalypse even makes fun of this very fact with a meta-reference to how the third chapter of any series is always the worst.
Anyway, one of The Last Stand‘s many faults that is often brought up is the poor handling of the Jean Grey / Phoenix story: Jean goes crazy and gets a massive power upgrade at the same time, turning into an awesomely powerful villain. She then gets recruited by Magneto and proceeds to spend the rest of the movie standing around and ominously carrying Magneto’s suitcases, until it’s time for her to do something during the climax.
Now, flash forward to X-Men Apocalypse and we see that in this film, the same thing happens. It’s Magneto (previously one of the more compelling characters in this generation of X-Men movies) who is recruited by a super-villain, given a power upgrade, and then proceeds to stand around doing nothing until the end of the film when he is needed again. Thus a potentially interesting villain is sidelined for a less interesting one, and Bryan Singer makes the same mistake that his oft-mocked replacement did.
And make no mistake, Apocalypse, as the film refuses to actually call him, is not an interesting character. He has recruited Magneto and some other guys because he has a fetish with having four assistants to help him rule the world. His powers are vague and fuzzy but make no mistake, he’s super powerful and he’ll suck you right into the wall or the ground if he doesn’t like you. His goal is to kill most people because he’s disgusted with the culture of the 1980’s. Hey buddy, most of us are disgusted with the culture of the 1980’s, but there’s no reason to get so testy about it.
He’s only defeated at the end because it turns out that Jean Grey is even more powerful than he is. During the climax where all her allies are being devastated, Jean literally sits there and does nothing for minute after minute, until Professor X finally rallies her into the battle and then it turns out she can pretty much single-handedly eviscerate the baddest of the bad. So, I’m glad to see the heroes come out on top, but it’s not particularly interesting.
What else is bad about this film? Wolverine is now so powerful that multiple point-blank machine gun shots to his chest do not even slow him down. Rose Byrne’s Moira MacTaggert is terrible. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique delivers some of the least effective inspirational speeches I have ever heard. And the movie finally answers the age-old question that nobody cares about, which is how did Charles lose his hair?
Is there good about this movie? Well, the effects are good. The Quicksilver (can we call him that?) super-speed rescue is stupid but fun. Cyclops has the best part he’s ever had in an X-Men movie.
And maybe that’s it. Except of course, the ending is good because the film finally ends. And not just the film, but like six movies of “setting up” the idea of the X-Men finally ends. At the end of the film, the X-Men are standing there, being announced as the X-Men, and being trained to fight evil.
Huh, imagine that. A movie about the X-Men, being a team of superheroes who fight bad guys.
But would anybody want to watch it?
Independence Day: Resurgence
Now, I ready somewhere that when making the X-Men movie described above, one of their ambitions was to show global destruction on a level we hadn’t seen in a superhero film before. They wanted to do something on the scale of Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich.
Did you hear that? Roland Emmerich was their inspiration! That brings us to the other film that I watched on this journey, and that was the sequel to Independence Day, Independence Day: Resurgence (both directed by Emmerich).
Now, I’d like to say that Independence Day: Resurgence was an erudite character study about the human condition being played out on a canvas of an epic struggle for existence which works on multiple social levels. But of course, I can’t. Because this is Independence Day: Resurgence, and it’s incredibly loud and incredibly stupid.
But at least it knows how to tell a story with a beginning, middle and an end, which is more than I can say for X-Men Apocalypse.
And there is a lot of global destruction. Indeed, I’d say that whoever survived the events of X-Men Apocalypse probably got wiped out by this one, when a giant spaceship crashes into the Atlantic Ocean and starts drilling a hole to the centre of the earth.
Beyond that, what is there to say? Humanity has advanced in the 20 years since the War of ’96, as it is known, but it’s not enough when the aliens return with a ship the size of a planet. They plow through our defenses like they are nothing and set about systematically destroying things again. Turns out they want to extract our molten core for…something. I can’t remember what. But Jeff Goldblum stammers out some ideas and humanity begins to take back a victory. Bill Pullman convinces everyone to let him fly a plane again even though he’s now an old man with mental problems. Judd Hirsch kvetches his way through everything again. Brent Spiner acts like a lunatic. Viveca Fox dies abruptly. A bunch of other characters (the young pilot, the nerdy government guy, the African warlord) unexpectedly survive. Another alien shows up that looks like an egg but talks like a little girl and gives a whole bunch of convenient exposition. And Will Smith is nowhere in sight, nor is there anyone with his charisma, though Liam Hemsworth gives it his level best.
It’s funny that the most memorable things about this movie are the appearances of the characters from the first movie. The original Independence Day is not a good movie. And it’s not as a good of a bad movie as it should have been. It took forever for it to get where it was going, making us wait for like 40-50 minutes before the exciting stuff took place. But I guess nostalgia has taken hold, I guess, so it’s seeing the alumni from that film that most gets our attention this time around.
Anyway, Resurgence is not a good movie, but this is not because it pales compared to its predecessor. They’re both bad movies. Thought, admittedly, still kind of fun. And that’s something you can’t really say about X-Men Apocalypse.
So, Independence Day Resurgence for the win!