33.  X-Men: Apocalypse

Being the comic book aficionado that I am, I generally try (and succeed) to remain positive going into each new adaptation that hits theaters.  With X-Men: Apocalypse, though, I went it with some trepidation.

While they have performed better with Marvel adaptations – at least critically, if not financially – than Sony, Fox’s efforts have been slightly underwhelming as a whole, in recent years.  I absolutely loved both X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine.  But since then, I’ve typically felt satiated but not blown away.  Days of Future Past was good but lacked a lot of excitement and originality in its action set pieces.  The obvious exception to that was the Quicksilver scene.  That scene was great but was also shoehorned in to try to stick it to Marvel Studios.  I also found the movie version of Quicksilver to be unfaithful to the spirit of his comic book progenitor.  Also, Kitty Pryde suddenly had new, inexplicable powers and got the narrative shaft in favor of Wolverine.  Blink was frickin’ sweet, though!

Deadpool was a riot and a blast but lacked a lot of heart.  The cast was low-budget, as well, and it spent a lot of time trying to convince itself and the audience that this was Deadpool from the comics.  Fun, yes.  But it had very little to say or to sink one’s teeth into beyond the laughs.  So, a win, but it lost some of its groove upon subsequent re-watches.

And then there was Fantastic Four.  I didn’t hate FF.  I actually rather enjoyed the cast (except for Toby Kebbell who was beyond miscast), particularly Kate Mara.  The film had a great look and the special effects were on point.  But the story – particularly in the third act – just didn’t hold together in any way.  And Doctor Doom wasn’t just an awful adaptation but just an awful character, as well.  And as nice as the effects looked, we could have used more of them.  It wasn’t the total misfire that so many claim, but it lacked in several important areas.

So, I don’t have complete faith in Fox but they’ve also delivered enough times that I haven’t completely lost faith, either.  I sat down knowing it could go either way (and at least I’d get to see Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, which is brilliant casting).  I wish it had gone the other way.

Apocalypse is such a jarring departure in terms of quality and consistency when compared to Bryan Singer’s other films in the X-Men series that I’m wracking my brain, trying to ascertain what happened. I know he loves the property and the characters.  But it barely shows in this newest entry.

The problem lies with the majority of the characters – both in their characterizations and, in some cases, their casting.  Many will complain about the lack of characterization of some of them and, while true, I argue that nearly every movie in existence features characters that are there to be a plot device and not a fully fleshed-out being.

The real issue is that the majority of the characters behave in ways that directly contradict how they have been previously established, both in the source material and in the previous films.  Some will say that Days of Future Past changed the timeline and, therefore, characterizations, as well.  But it didn’t change anything from First Class through Apocalypse, so that doesn’t fly.  (Also, seeing as how this film takes place in 1983 and the original X-Men was set in the early 2000s, for their sake, I hope DOFP changed Magneto’s and William Stryker’s aging processes.)

Just to offer up some vague, non-spoiler examples, we have Xavier using his powers in the most unethical way imaginable on people he’s supposed to care about, and nobody bats an eye.  Cyclops is largely portrayed as a slack-jawed mouth-breather who talks his friends into bucking authority to go have fun.  Storm projects absolutely no sense of power, presence, or command of her surroundings.  Angel is just an outright jackhole.

And then there’s Mystique.  Mystique  (as portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, of course) gives up on everything her character has ever believed in and fought for.  Previously, she’s maintained her natural blue form at all times unless there was a tactical reason not to.  Mystique was proud of her appearance.  “Mutant and proud,” she said.  It was a nice message that was coming from someone who turns out to be a villain – adding complexity to the character.  But it was always believable.  Yet, here she is in Apocalypse, parading around in Jennifer Lawrence’s natural form, not Mystique’s.  By choice.  Through nearly the entire movie.  She gives up her entire belief system and the reasoning is tossed out in a throwaway line that doesn’t even really have any logic behind it and passes by so quickly that it barely even registers.

But the real reason for it is the star.  I’m not saying Jennifer Lawrence demanded it.  Maybe she did, I don’t know and I have no way to know.  But I have no reason to believe that and that’s not what I’m suggesting.  I like Jennifer Lawrence.  I think she’s supremely talented and even more likable.  However, it’s obvious that, since she’s become such a giant star, Fox wants her face all over the marketing (and it has been) and they want it recognizable.  So, they prioritize money over artistic integrity and severely damage the credibility of one of the franchise’s key players.  It’s possible to keep that integrity and make money with comic book films, Fox.  Just ask Marvel Studios.  Sony did.

The character designs are also a mixed bag.  The real problem is that, as usual, Fox (and Singer, as I d think he shares the blame in this regard) refuse to go all the way and fully embrace the wackiness of the world these characters inhabit.  It might be out of budgetary concerns or it might be due to fear of rejection.  But they only take half-measures to portray most of the characters we long to see in all of their glory.  So, as a result, we get half of a Mystique (rarely blue), half of a Beast (also rarely in Beast form and, when he is, he looks less like Beast and more like Blue Elvis), half of an Archangel (gets the metallic wings, but that’s it.  Keeps the stupidest hair in film, this year.), half of a Storm (the Mohawk is awful.  Rather than coming across as badass punk Storm, she looks like a My Little Pony cosplayer.), and half of an Apocalypse (the basic design is there but he’s kept regular-sized, probably to make him more human and relatable.  But he’s not supposed to be human and relatable, he’s supposed to be awe-inspiring and godlike.).

Nightcrawler looks fine (again, I don’t like the hair, but at least they kept him blue) and Jean Grey is great.  The Cyclops design is kept nice and simple, though I didn’t care for Tye Sheridan.  Most of the carry-overs from the two most recent films are okay and Psylocke also looks fantastic, if impractical.  But there is an overall lack of commitment to world building and it hurts the film.  We have seen over and over again from Marvel Studios that full commitment resonates with critics and audiences alike and brings in the money.  I don’t understand the continuous hesitation from Fox.

For the most part, I also feel like Fox held their wallet close to their chest when casting the new (for this timeline) characters.  This is also nothing new for them.  They did it for Fantastic Four and Deadpool, as well.  It worked out much better in those two films.  I already mentioned that Sheridan is weak.  I didn’t care for Alexandra Shipp as Storm, either, as she never radiated elegance, confidence, or strength.

And this film is supposed to be about Apocalypse.  We don’t need Magneto.  Again.  Look, I love Michael Fassbender in the role.  But he’s become to the X-Men what Lex Luthor has been to Superman.  Magneto doesn’t always have to be there.  Neither does Mystique.  Have faith in the new characters.  Let them shine.  If previously established characters fit organically into the story, then by all means, bring them in.  But both Magneto and Mystique are forced in with a shoehorn and the Jaws of Life and Apocalypse, himself, suffers for it.

The highlight of the film is Jean Grey.  I wish there had been more focus on her but Sophie Turner works with what she’s given.  The character is designed and written well, too, so she just works, all around.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of her.

(There’s also a great secret-until-it-was-totally-not-secret cameo that go everything right, thankfully.)

And, yes, I will see the next X-Men movie.  The final few moments presents the audience with that full commitment that I want from one of the movies in its entirety.  It gives me a little hope that, next time, just maybe . . ..  Unfortunately, though, I walked out of this film with less faith in Fox than I had going in.  I suspect studio interference is to blame for many of these issues.  As I said, I know Singer loves the franchise and his films have never suffered from these problems, before.  It just feels like reactionary decision making by Fox in the hope that they’ll be able to turn a very successful property into a Marvel-like Mega Property.  If I had to sum up the film in one statement, I would say that it feels like the characters are written for the cast rather than the cast being chosen to fit the characters.

I miss the feeling I got from the first few X-Men films.  I miss my only complaint being the marginalization of Cyclops (he and Jean are my favorites).  There are several direct throwbacks to the first two films in the X-Men series that huge fans of those films can’t possibly miss.  While they are certainly designed to tie the different films together (and maybe even suggest that the new timeline is trying to echo itself), sadly, it instead just made me wish that I was watching those other films instead of this one.

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