X-Men: Apocalypse Trades Character Development for Generic Evil

Hello, everyone! I’ve had a whirlwind of a pop-culture weekend. On the good side, I got to watch X-Men: Apocalypse and finish season 4 of Orange is the New Black. On the bad side, X-Men Apocalypse did not live up to its predecessors, and OITNB killed one of my favorite characters in a horrible way. That said, I don’t regret watching either of them.

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You win some, you lose some

Plot Synopsis: Back in the days of Ancient Egypt, a mysterious cult attempts to transfer the consciousness of the all-powerful Apocalypse into a random Egyptian boy. During  the transfer, angry Egyptian rebels trap them inside a pyramid, though not before the random Egyptian boy can become the new Apocalypse. After sleeping for 10,000 years, Apocalypse awakens in modern Egypt and becomes upset. He decides to end the modern world and return it to the glory of its past. He recruits other disillusioned mutants including a young Storm, a young Angel, and some lame-ass character played by Olivia Munn.

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I don’t care if she has a name or if she is in the original comics. Her power is pink lightning. Nuff said.

While Apocalypse is recruiting, the other mutants deal with their own problems. Young Scott Summers is enrolled at Professor X’s school after destroying a bathroom with his laser eyes. He meets a young Jean Grey, who has had visions of the world being destroyed. The pair also becomes friends with a young Nightcrawler, who was discovered in a German fight club by Mystique. Magneto, meanwhile, is living an anonymous life as a steelworker in Poland with his wife and daughter.

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Unfortunately, as the laws of X-Men comics dictate, Magneto cannot be happy for more than ten minutes in any movie, and chaos occurs. After saving a man at the steel mill with his powers, the Polish secret police capture his daughter. Magneto tries to exchange himself for his family’s safety, but an overeager officer lets fly an arrow that kills both Magneto’s wife and child. Thus, since a Magneto in a devastated state must resort to violence, he joins Apocalypse, kidnaps Charles from the school, and attempts to end the world. The young X-Men must learn to hone their powers and save their planet, all without antagonizing those darned humans in the process.

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He’s just.so.angry.

My take: X-Men Apocalypse was not a disaster, as some of the reviews seem to implicate. It was not even a bad movie, not at all. Overall, however, it was a disappointment, mostly because it didn’t match the first two prequels tonally or thematically. Besides introducing the young version of characters we already knew and loved, it was unnecessary. It failed on several levels, the most prominent being a lack of a compelling conflict. Oscar Isaac is a wonderful actor, but this Apocalypse guy was super lame. He was the type of generic evil that has existed in movies for decades, but that I thought the X-Men movies wouldn’t stoop to include in their franchise. He has no motive for his evils. Seriously, none. “Cleansing” the world is not gonna cut it for me, it might as well be explained as vague nefariousness. It’s the type of over-the-top villainy that requires the accompaniment of evil laughter. And from the get-go, it eliminates any real threat from the movie. Do we have to worry that Apocalypse is going to destroy the world? Of course not, because there are several more movies in the franchise. For the viewer to find the evil remotely compelling, the stakes have to be immediate and believable. Destroying the world doesn’t fit the bill. No villain has ever gotten away with it, and I doubt any villain will. That’s why I was disappointed to see all of these mutants scrambling around a storyline that should’ve been cut from the beginning. We know they will win, so what’s the point?

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Oh no, he’s going to disarm the entire world! Wait, is that a bad thing?

The only good villain so far in the X-Men franchise is Magneto. There’s something about his story that is so emotionally driven, complex, and compelling that I doubt his story could ever get boring. In fact, the only time I’ve ever seen his story approach boring is when he enters the service of the stupid Apocalypse guy, a move that is very out of character for Magneto, who detests the type of man who blindly follows orders. I was heartbroken during the scene where he lost his wife and child, but I appreciated the need for them. Magneto is the perpetual anti-hero. If he is happy, then he has no cause for villainy, and then there is no conflict. In the past, however, Magneto’s villainy has been direct and targeted. His actions are all retributive for past wrongs. In the first movie, he goes after the man who killed his parents, in the second movie, he goes after the man who is trying to destroy the mutant race. Killing the workers at the steel mill for ratting him out to the secret police, and indirectly causing the death of his family, is exactly the type of vengeance he would take. Joining a crazy blue mutant to destroy the world is not that type of vengeance. For the whole movie to revolve around this action makes no sense and is one of the reasons that it fails to satisfy.

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There is also a major lack of character development. I’ve seen all of the X-Men movies, so I know the backgrounds of Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, and Angel. But for a viewer who has only seen the last two prequels, these characters are completely new. They mean nothing and X-Men: Apocalypse does little to flesh them out. On a visual level I like the casting (both Jean and Scott are beautiful humans), but their performances and story in the movie leave much to be desired. Jean’s role is mainly to sit around lamenting her visions until, out of nowhere, the extent of her power is released and she helps to defeat Apocalypse. If you had seen X-Men: The Last Stand, then this would make sense because Jean Grey is also Phoenix, one of the most powerful mutants in the world who manages to destroy every one in her path. But if you haven’t seen that movie, her sudden blast of power defies explanation. The movie goes to great lengths to show that Apocalypse is damn near unbeatable; even Xavier or Magneto can’t defeat him, yet Jean, an untrained teenager, is instrumental in his defeat. Scott and Nightcrawler are equally untrained, yet they, too manage to help defeat Apocalypse. Yet, it’s Mystique, perhaps the most experienced  mutant who ends up almost being strangled to death. How does that work again?

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Another flaw is that the plot feels very similar to X-Men: First Class. In that movie, we had all of the young mutants training to become X-Men and defeat an “all-powerful” enemy. This movie had the same plot, with tiny variations. It had Xavier working with the CIA (again) and Mystique trying to remind Magneto of his humanity (again) and Quicksilver running through a slo-mo scene of destruction (again!). But it all felt weaker, watered down, especially the scene with Mystique and Magneto. Those two characters have such a strong connection, but the scene felt so false. As false as Quicksilver randomly telling Mystique that Magneto is his father, and then conveniently postponing that reveal into a later movie, when the fact that Magneto still did have family might have helped persuade him to stop his havoc sooner.But really, why the fuck didn’t Quicksilver address that?

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I’m not sure why there is such a drop in quality between this movie and DOFP. Both are directed by Bryan Singer, but  DOFP balanced humor and darkness and even had an end-of-humanity plot that worked. X-Men: Apocalypse had very little humor (hearing those jokes fall so hard was painful) and too much meaningless darkness. Did I need to see Magneto go through so much pain and suffering AGAIN? If you’re going to use suffering to motivate him, at least let him be the main villain. Otherwise, it’s a waste of a story and a waste of Michael Fassbender. He deserves better than to spend the movie floating in the air and pondering his existence like a numpty. We all deserve better.

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