PG-13: I just keep getting proven right time and time again. Unless the superhero movie is full on shooting for an R, it will always get a PG-13. This one gets a little scary for little kids, so I get it. Is it weird that many of these movies sell merchandise towards kids? You know what I just realized? X-Men stopped really selling merchandise for kids. I wonder if Marvel has some kind of hold over them.
DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer
This is really silly and emotional, but Joanie Lee cameoed with Stan Lee in this movie. I don't think that's happened before. Joanie Lee passed away fairly recently and my heart kind of went out to the family. Stan Lee has always been vocal about how much he loved his wife, so before I get all snarky and start the "Pun Intended" jokes, I just wanted to point that out.
This is the most recent X-Men movie to get panned. Out of the main franchise, the only other X-Men movie that was critically panned was X3: The Last Stand. X-Men: Apocalypse didn't get savaged as much as X3, but it didn't do well at the box office and I heard lots of people complaining about the movie fairly vocally. I didn't really get that. I really liked the movie both times I watched it, in the theater and at home. The movie is pretty good. Bryan Singer is really good at making an X-Men movie, so I wonder where the weakness lies in the movie. This was the overarching question I had while watching my copy for the first time. I'm about to rip this movie apart, even though I really liked it. This review isn't so much a criticism of the film because, I swear, it's a good time that I'll probably watch a few more times. I think this is more of a look back at superhero fatigue. I might get back on course over time and review elements of the film, but there's a larger phenomenon that is going on here. The critiques I have heard about this movie don't really make a ton of sense. Unless everyone suddenly got a way higher bar to meet taste wise, I think that we need to look at the overall problem.
1) The biggest thing that is happening now to comic book movies is comic book fatigue. This happens with every major trend. Think about when The Walking Dead came out and everyone was talking about it. The second there was a fall off in terms of quality, there was this "abandon ship" attitude. (I realize that The Walking Dead is also a comic book as well.) It takes a lot for me to abandon ship. I've stayed with shows way after they have lost their courses. I'm a guy who finished all of Lost and The X-Files with the hope that it would always get better. Heck, I stayed with Smallville because I loved those early seasons so much. I don't know if "fatigue" is a status thing. Perhaps the world is a hipster and wants to feel validated that their choice is the right one. Look at Pokemon GO! (I still play Pokemon GO!) When I tell people I still play the game, I get eye rolls and treat me like that is so last year. Perhaps people don't find any validity in fads. On top of that, with Marvel hitting quality films time and time again, but without much deviancy to the formula, it is easier to say that the movies don't hold attention anymore. The X-Men movies have it even worse than Marvel. Marvel, and this could be argued, really hasn't had a genuine failure in the MCU. The 20th Century Fox Marvel Movies have suffered time and time again. I know some will defend these movies, but after three bad Fantastic Four movies, X3, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine, I can see why people would want to lean towards Apocalypse's faults. After so many X-Men movies that could be hit or miss, comic fatigue could lead to people leaning towards failure. It kind of became a binary system. Unless the movie could be considered an unequivocal success like The Dark Knight, people tend to want to find fault in a movie. I think it is always easier to claim why a movie is bad than it is to say why a movie is good. Lord knows I could wax poetic on Man of Steel, my least favorite movie of the decade. But when I really love something, I tend to beat the same points over and over. That incommunicable trait that makes something beloved is exactly that: incommunicable. If an audience comes into a movie tired and demanding greatness, it is easy to pigeonhole a movie as bad because it didn't meet expectations. Remember, "only good" is now a synonyms for "abysmal."
2) Apocalypse is a hard character to do. He is kind of a paradox and I think the comic books mostly get him. Apocalypse is one of the X-Men big bads. He's the threat in the back of everyone's mind. Magneto is main antagonist to the X-Men, but he is intimately related to the protagonists. He is the dark side of the heroes. He acts as a fantastic allegory for the Civil Rights Movement and he just makes a ton of sense why he keeps showing up in these movies. Apocalypse, however, is the science fiction bad guy. He scares everyone in the X-Men universe because he is the worst case scenario. That really sets up unreasonable expectations because he is the unbeatable. I stopped reading X-Men a while ago. I dabble from time to time, but most of it doesn't make a lick of sense. But when I did read X-Men pretty closely, the reason that Apocalypse always worked (and this was supported by the awesome animated series in the '90s) was that he really never lost. He got delayed. He got postponed. But in a straight up fight, it didn't matter what the X-Men had on their side, Apocalypse would always win. It's the fight against Superman. Nothing could really stop Apocalypse. That makes him super scary, but not the subject of a narrative in film. A film is two hours where a resolution is expected. I could say that would be possible, like the upcoming Infinity War movie. But that has been built up and supported for multiple films. I feel like 20th Century Fox is always re-evaluating the status of the X-Men universe. To commit two movies to one plot seems a bit risky for them. But that's what makes the MCU work when the 20th Century Movies have hits and misses. If a Marvel movie misses, like some people say Age of Ultron did, there's still chatter to the movie. You have to see the movie because they are setting up some big stuff. It was actually one of the major criticisms towards Age of Ultron. Too much time was spent setting up future movies. I disagree, but I can understand that criticism. But it gave the movie value, regardless of quality of the film. The tease is important sometimes. Lost understood that. Even when the show got kinda garbagey, they still teased enough for much of its audience to keep coming back. So setting up a villain that can't be defeated and then to defeat him, that's a little disappointing. SPOILER: The movie did set up Dark Pheonix, so that's pretty cool. But that was definitely a bit of a deus ex machina. There are hints that Jean is more powerful than previously expected, but it isn't exactly a throughline in the piece. I imagine that Singer didn't want to telegraph the ending of the movie.
3) There is a bit of a pacing problem. I think it comes from the problem with fan service. Before this movie started, Singer and company (Donner, maybe?) kept telling the world that the Wolverine cameo was going to blow some minds. And it is a cool sequence. But the problem is that the story had to be changed to accommodate Wolverine. That entire Alkalai Lake sequence, which is pretty long, is just to shoehorn Wolverine into a story that he doesn't belong in. The same deal with Quicksilver. I will admit, the Quicksilver thing was the best part of the movie. But it was also the exact same joke as Quicksilver's bit in Days of Future Past. As much as I like it, it doesn't carry a lot of weight to have Quicksilver demonstrate the exact same set of powers as he did in the last film. He's hilarious and I love the joke, but it does limit the value of what is happening. Spinning off of that, the loss that these characters experience are either temporary or without impact. SPOILER: The X-Mansion is blown up and Havok dies. The movie ends with the X-Mansion being repaired very quickly with the help of Quicksilver, Magneto, and Jean. I had the same problem with the Enterprise blowing up in Star Trek Beyond. (Sorry if that was a spoiler for another movie.) If the place can just be rebuilt, what impact was there? Similarly, Havok's death should be a major moment of the movie. Scott has, maybe, two seconds of heartbreak over the loss of his brother, but that's really the only impact of that moment. He was a return from two films ago. He is friends with many of the characters in the film. He is the only death that occurred during the explosion sequence. Why isn't this a bigger moment? The pacing. There was far too many fan service moments to cover. On top of this, and this ties to item # 2, there is an intentional delay in confrontation with Apocalypse. Apocalypse is so powerful that there really can't be a moment where the X-Men get beaten up and make a retreat. If the characters fail against Apocalypse, they are dead. So the movie is spent distracting the audience from the fact that they will eventually confront the most powerful mutant in history. That doesn't necessarily make for good storytelling.
(Remember, I actually really like this movie. I'm just trying to be objective.)
4) This movie follows Days of Future Past. DoFP was the great hope for the X-Men franchise. The franchise was really getting tired after a string of fairly bad movies and I'm sure that 20th Century Fox was probably considering rebooting the whole thing. As a soft reboot, the movie works fabulously. The things that made people love the X-Men movies in the first place were returned. Original X-Men director Bryan Singer returned, who seems to fundamentally understand how to tell fantastic stories involving these characters. Both casts were going to meet. There was going to be a moment where Patrick Stewart's Professor X was going to meet James MacAvoy's Professor X. Hugh Jackman starting teasing that he would be leaving the X-Men franchise behind soon. This was one of the rare movies that threw everything at the wall and it worked. The casts were awesome. The story was complex, but cool. After many movies teasing the Sentinels, they were finally on screen. How do you follow that with a standard X-Men movie? The teaser after Days of Future Past hinted heavily at Apocalypse, which may have only made matters worse. People started to get expectations. That's gotta be a hard act to follow.
5) Small stuff. There's a lot of little things to get mad over that I've heard when people whine about this movie. People don't like how Apocalypse looks like. I don't care. I think he looks fine. I wish Singer made him huge throughout the movie, but I can see that being a problem when Apocalypse is learning about humanity. Psylocke and Storm are awesome in this movie, but like with these big cast movies, they don't really get their time in the sun. I didn't love the portrayal of Angel, but that's pretty nitpicky. Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique seems to be learning the same lesson about embracing her true nature in each movie. I'm sure the more famous that J-Law gets, the less she wants to spend 10 hours in makeup. So she always has the same character arcs.
But there is so much cool this movie. I told you that I like this movie a lot. Singer really sells me the X-Men when he gives Magneto character beats. I like that he doesn't treat his primary villain as a villain. Magneto's story in this one is crushing and it is only accentuated by the fact that Michael Fassbender is an acting tank. I think it is so cool that Singer doesn't have everyone speaking English throughout the movie. As fantastic and bizarre as this movie can be, the conversations ground the movie in reality. There is a sequence when Magneto is confronting the local police in the forest and it just feels like this really intense drama. His powers become a weapon like a man holding a gun. It's mindblowing. Plus, there's the opening credit sequence. That leap through time is so darned cool. I love cool credit sequences and this one is probably the best in the X-franchise.
It's not a perfect movie. But what happened to liking very good movies? The movie had so much against it, I feel like it almost couldn't win. The same thing will happen when Dark Phoenix comes out. People will either expect very little based on the ambivalence of Apocalypse or they won't even bother to give it a chance. It's a shame because I can't believe how lucky I am to be experiencing the era of great comic movies. Think about it. If this movie had come out in the era of the 1989 Batman, no one would give Batman a second look. That movie was as Burton-y as could be. The X-Men universe, as many comic movies do now, embrace the crazy stories from their source materials. But I hope that we move past this fatigue and eventually learn that a slightly imperfect movie does not mean catastrophe or...(pun intended)...cinematic Apocalypse.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.