I really thought X-Men: Apocalypse was going to suck. I didn’t want it to, but nothing about its promotion really left me feeling confident. The trailer looked like a mess, the poster felt like a tired cliché , and the billboards around LA definitely didn’t inspire much hope, between just Mystique being choked, or Jean Grey holding Jake Peraltclops’ head to aim it. Seriously, like the one thing he’s able to do is look at stuff he’s shooting at. Despite really wanting to have good faith in Bryan Singer’s ability to deliver solid X-Men films, and despite really loving First Class and really liking Days of Future Past, I really expected this to be another The Last Stand.
A lot of people seem to think it was. It has done terrible things to your childhoods, I got it. But maybe because I went in expecting it to be such a terrible mess, the fact that it was just kind of good made it extremely satisfying to me. I went in knowing a few things would be lame. I’ve never ever liked Apocalypse as a villain so him not being a good villain in this movie is sort of like eating the bland pile of peas on a dinner plate. Oh, I knew it would be flavorless mush, so that’s no surprise. Also Cyclops is never going to matter to me. I know some of y’all love him and good on ya, but, snooze. But who cares about what I didn’t like? There’s a bunch of stuff in here that I did and here is a SPOILER FILLED breakdown of that.
Again, just to be clear, here be spoilers.
1) Origins: Wolverine Never Happened
We knew from the ending of Days of Future Past that The Last Stand has now been wiped from the history of the franchise. It was hinted towards the end that the events also would be undoing what happened in Origins as well, but based on the events of this movie, we can actually definitively say that neither movie happened anymore. In fact we could probably go so far as to say that X-Men, X2 and The Wolverine didn’t happen as we know them either, that the result of DoFP is that only it, First Class, and now Apocalypse are currently canon for the X-Men cinematic universe. The idea of “Hey you know that future set of events that you got invested in and have solid memories of? Well that’s all gone” feels like one of the most authentic translations of the comic book experience to the screen that I’ve ever experienced. Retcons can be frustrating, but often they’re extremely useful for streamlining a series that struggles with the weight of its own continuity. My only real gripe here is that I wish the resurrection of Apocalypse had been a more direct result of the altered timeline of the last film to explain why it happens specifically in this continuity. I have a headcanon for that but it isn’t on the screen.
2) The Mystique Character Arc Really Works For Me
I *know* at least one person just threw a chair from having read that, but just stick with me a second, okay? Yes, it is absolutely clear that the reason Mystique has become such a major character in this new trilogy is that Jennifer Lawrence’s star blew the hell up in the years between First Class and now. But as much of a happy accident as it is that they got such a major star to be under a contract, it also led to something that is kind of an unexpected nailing of the X-Men narrative.
Last night at a party I listened to two other nerds talk about why a heroic arc for Mystique doesn’t work, even when we agreed to set aside “But the comics!” as an argument. The core position was that Mystique’s power of shapeshifting is an inherently “heel/villain/bad guy” type ability. It is a power that is deception in a physical form. I think that’s a solid case to make. I also think that’s exactly why Mystique’s face turn is such a perfect narrative choice.
The core debate at the center of the X-Men mythos is this question of whether or not mutants are inherently dangerous. Charles Xavier’s vision is of a world where mutant abilities will be seen as gifts that can be used to benefit society; they simply need guidance (and as this movie shows, Professor X’s powers seem like they’re pretty ripe for evil usage too). Mystique’s arc takes a character whose powers seem to be specifically catered to nefarious tasks and places her in an altered timeline where instead of becoming a murderer who helped facilitate mankind’s fear of mutants, she became the hero who stopped that same assassination. Putting Mystique into a world as the reluctant face of mutant heroism takes that ‘inherently dangerous’ debate and puts a distinct face on it, in a way that just having the always noble X-Men of the series doesn’t.
The best part about the way that works in this movie is that it doesn’t come from yet another yawnable struggle for Raven’s soul between Charles and Erik. Her hero’s journey in this film organically comes from her desire to keep her fellow mutants safe, which is a driving force that complements her powers in the aspect of whether or not doing such a thing can make her actions heroic or villainous. This doesn’t even bring in the very on-narrative nature of how she chooses to view her powers, which was already covered in a perfectly pithy way in X2 and far too heavy-handed in First Class.
3) Finally a Goddamned Wolverine Bloodbath
Wolverine has been clawing and slashing his way through this movie universe since 2000 and yet despite, at times, having literally dug his Adamantium claws knuckle-deep into the chest of enemy henchmen, he’s felt as nerfed as a soldier battling for the future of Narnia when it comes to the blood flow. Finally, and maybe this is entirely because the Wolverine that gets unleashed in the Alkali Lake facility is full on rampaging Weapon X, but there is so much blood everywhere. I’m sort of in the camp of people who feels like it should be possible to have an X-Men movie without needing Wolverine to be involved at all, but if you were gonna shoehorn him in, thank you for giving me this rage-filled version and making me legit excited for the R-rated third Wolverine movie due out next year.
Rather than the Last Stand depiction of Phoenix transforming Famke Janssen into an Emo Melisandre, the seeds planted here show an indication of my favorite X-Men ‘villain’ getting to rise from the ashes and stake a claim on another movie. The singed walls from night terrors awakened by the return of Apocalypse, the legit fear that the rest of the school, even Xavier, feel around young Jean Gray, and the just total badass of a moment when she lets herself go and unleash hell all combined to make me eager to see what happens with Jean in the future. This Jean Grey is an Omega-level mutant, and her story deserves to be the focus of at least one movie rather than shoehorned in with a bunch of other plots. I definitely would like to see it being a decades-spanning story that allows Janssen to come back into the role as well, but am also glad to see Sophie Turner has other duties to attend to when she’s not preparing to retake Winterfell.
5) Fight! Fight! Fight!
Look there are a lot of issues with the climax of the movie. First of all can we stop with villains whose plan is “Destroy so we can rebuild stronger!”? Ultron, Malcolm Merlyn, Sephiroth, fricking William Bell on Fringe… It’s like this strange attempt to try to make villains have seemingly noble goals, “oh I just want there to be a better world”, so that they just don’t want to slaughter for the sake of slaughter. Here’s an idea, maybe give them something else to do besides just slaughter. Zemo did pretty well by having a more personal goal. I do get that Apocalypse’s name is literally Apocalypse though, so I can see why they kind of needed to have him be the harbinger of wanton destruction. Still though.
Putting that aside, and also putting aside the question of what the hell happened to literally every single person who lived in… Cairo? Was it Cairo? Anyway the civilians of Vague Egyptian City, who must be dust or something. And even acknowledging that all of ‘Poc’s horsemen, even Magneto, felt like someone forgot to really write lines for them after the first act, the last fight was still a lot of fun. Previous mutant battle royals like the showdown in The Last Stand left us with the impression that the number one mutant ability was just being able to leap over stuff. While we don’t get anywhere near the choreographed glory that was the airport fight in Civil War, this was the kind of fight I expect when mutants fight mutants. Seeing how powers can complement each other, and clash, this is what superpower fighting is all about. Everyone has a specific set of skills and throwing them at each other is fun to see.
Seriously though, was Fassbender only available for one day or something?
Quicksilver’s sequence in DoFP was the breakout highlight of the movie, and while I usually hate when sequels take something unique and clever from the last movie and re-create it, this device has gotten me both times and while I want it to be used sparingly, I love it when it is. The fact that it wasn’t perfect and Alex Summers was still lost in the explosion was a nice added touch too.
It did get “Sweet Dreams” stuck in my head all weekend, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay.