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'X-Men: Apocalypse,' Or How A Once Great Franchise Collapsed Into A Pit Of 'Meh'

By Petr Knava | Trailers | March 21, 2016 |

By Petr Knava | Trailers | March 21, 2016 |

In case you didn’t notice, the new trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse hit at the tail end of last week.

Here it is:

It’s not looking good is it?

I re-watched it a few times and ruminated on it a lot during my weekend hangovers (the most lucid, insightful period of a person’s week), trying to figure out exactly why this is.

I’m gonna start from a purely personal perspective here and say that the X-Men have always been my favourite comic book property. They were, in fact, the only comic books I regularly bought and read as a kid. Sure, I’d pick up the occasional Avengers or Spider-Man, but really, fundamentally my interest lay with the outcast band of mutants out in Westchester. Interest and passion, as story arcs like The Dark Phoenix Saga, the arrival of Onslaught, and especially The Age Of Apocalypse would keep me reading under torchlight night after night, and they remain to this day some of the most indelible memories from my childhood.

So I should be bloody loving what Brian Singer and his team are doing right now. Assembling an amazing collection of actors, bringing to life a long-cherished narrative and characters — I should be so excited I temporarily forget to pay the bills because I’m convinced I’m a child again. Except that’s emphatically not the case because that trailer and the ones that have come before it are, basically, pure Interest Repellent. Oh, you love the original saga this is based on and you can’t wait to see what the final movie version brings? Well, watch these trailers and you’ll get progressively less excited with each one! We’re the Fox Marketing Department, and this Opposite-March we are Employees Of the Month!

And this isn’t me being a die hard, The Comic Book Guy-style of fan who is upset that his favourite property isn’t being adapted ‘properly’, either. I don’t care if you shift things around for a movie version. You have to. That’s why I’m not fussed about, and in fact even welcome, the Dark Tower casting news. That’s how things work.

So, no, I don’t think that’s it.

I think it’s the combination of two converging factors; namely the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the simultaneous overall decline of Fox’s X-Men franchise, as well as a nasty and nascent case of CBMF (comic book movie fatigue). The X-Men movie franchise is positively ancient compared to the MCU — predating as it does Iron Man by eight years, and helping to kickstart the whole modern comic book movie phenomenon alongside Blade and Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man — and in its lifetime, the game has changed. Where once X-Men and X2 were held up as the high points of the genre, we now have the virtuoso comic book fun of The Avengers (the first one), the slightly darker and genre-fluid Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the boundary-pushing gonzo madness that is Deadpool representing the heights of the form. That’s not to say that the first two X-movies don’t still hold up — they do, and X2 still one of the finest examples of the genre — it’s just that it’s a decade since their heyday, and if a franchise wants to stay relevant then it has to, like Wolverine, keep regenerating.

Or, you know, just keep putting out good movies.

Instead what we’ve had over the period of the aforementioned MCU rise is, in sequence: one of the worst spin-offs in any genre and medium ever made (X-Men Origins: Wolverine); one half of a compelling movie (Charles and Erik) married to an insubstantial teen flick (the young mutants) in X-Men: First Class; another spin-off light-years better than the previous one but with most of its potential unfulfilled (The Wolverine); and a movie that was mostly collection of decent and great scenes but which was never more than the sum of its parts and which introduced a completely plot-breaking character (X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Quicksilver). That isn’t exactly a healthy, buzz-worthy resume. As a moviegoer you can only take in so much, and with Marvel going all full spectrum dominance on the genre, the X-Men would have to pull off something really special to break through the surface. They have the more compelling source material — the world hates you and wants you dead, do you fight, or do you try and make peace? — they just need to hit their stride again. I don’t think Apocalypse, with its apparent world-ending, gladiatorial mutant combat shtick and its partial torch-handing-over function, will be the one to do it. It would take an absolute whopper of a trailer to convince me otherwise.

But I dunno. Maybe it’s just the look. Maybe I am being The Comic Book Guy and I can’t get past the fact that one of the most iconic villains from my youth has gone from looking like this:

To looking like this:

(And that’s Oscar Isaac playing him, goddammit! How do you do that to Oscar Isaac? The Actors Currently Working Who Are More Compelling Than Oscar Isaac list isn’t exactly an unfurled rug of a parchment — it’s more of a store-inside-of-a-matchbook kinda deal.)

Look, I know that you wouldn’t be able to pull off the comic book Apocalypse look in a live action movie. It just doesn’t translate. But then maybe Singer should’ve picked another story line.

So, all in all, where once my anticipation for a new X-Men movie would’ve had me raving in excitement to a random stranger down the pub, it now has me occasionally bemoan its fall into irrelevance to myself during the drunken stumble home.

Or I might be completely alone in this and everyone else is loving these trailers and it’s the inclusion of a Coldplay song that’s gotten to me (don’t try and hide it behind a cover version either. I can still smell that shit.)

But hey, whatever happens, at least we’ll always have X2, which gave us one of the best X-Men moments ever committed to film:

As well as one of the best sequences in any comic book movie ever:


Petr Knava plays music

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Petr is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.