X-MEN: APOCALYPSE: Forgettable, In Every Way
Man is an individual only because of his intangible memory; and memory cannot be defined, but it defines mankind. -- Ghost in the Shell X-Men: Apocalypse, the capper to the X-Men:
Man is an individual only because of his intangible memory; and memory cannot be defined, but it defines mankind. — Ghost in the Shell
X-Men: Apocalypse, the capper to the X-Men: First Class trilogy, has arrived and it has revealed the dearth of competent comic-book movies. First Class was, itself, the start of a new and lighter era for the mutant team extraordinaire, while X-Men: Days of Future Past brought a darker and more serious middle chapter that all trilogies apparently have to have. Days of Future Past is probably one the smartest, if not the smartest, superhero movies ever made (don’t worry, more on this will be discussed). Closing out the franchise’s narrative arc, X-Men: Apocalypse unfortunately ends up being another mindless and uninspired third chapter in the long, sad history of imploding-third-act films.
Oddly enough it knows it’s terrible. Because X-Men: Apocalypse is a pastiche-laden film, like nearly all modern movies anymore, it relies heavily on self-awareness. It is in this regard that Days of Future Past excelled as a valedictorian, probably making what would follow an ineffectual course no matter what the plot could’ve been. There’s a scene where several mutants are talking about the Star Wars saga and which one is the best when Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) astutely puts it, “We can all agree the last film is always the worst.” So to that end we must assume that director Bryan Singer must’ve purposefully phoned it in on this one, knowing full well he couldn’t top his previous movie.
Following a decade after the events of Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse finds Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) in 1983 running his School For The Gifted like we’ve seen before on its best days. A young lad who shoots lasers out his eyes gets brought to school, one Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and he gets to meet the socially awkward Jean Grey, who is struggling to understand her powers.
Across the Atlantic, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has started a family in seclusion, hoping to find peace after decades of persecution and retaliation. And Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is finding mutants in Germany and helping them book passage to another part of the globe where they won’t be persecuted. But unbeknownst to all of them, a secret society in Egypt has awoken: En Sabah Nuh/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the first mutant who plans on ridding the world of the human disease.
Getting to the good because there’s not much here to praise, there are a few okay aspects in the film. Oscar Isaac gives as good of a performance as he can, given the stilted and one-dimensional dialogue that was written for him. Michael Fassbender is as good, too, though Magneto seems to be arced in circles and not in a positive way. Evan Peter’s Quicksilver once again has the scene-stealing moment in the film, where his ultra-fast powers are used for comedic pleasure and slight visual might. But everybody else in the movie is tonally deaf and nobody really shines, and that’s due to the overall redundancy of the storyline.
Look, it’s called First Class for a reason, but the younger mutants are as green as they’ve been throughout all six X-Men movies, and the older “mature” mutants are just as juvenile and petty about their powers as they were back in the 1999 film. Both Days of Future Past and X2 dealt with the exact same plot, where it boils down to Professor X and Cerebro, this newest iteration ends up feeling like a hip-hop hybrid of a couple solid rock-and-roll hits. In Days of Future Past it was an actual apocalypse that the remnant mutants had to try and permanently undo. In X2, the threat of annihilating the mutants got swapped to the humans while the job at hand in Apocalypse roughly the same.
One could get caught up on the pedantic minutia of the plot and nitpick all the errors about events not matching up and so on, but the bottom line is that the older people aren’t any the wiser from their previous missions and are constantly make dumb decisions trapping the youth, who are talented but lack discipline, in recycled lessons. Today’s schooling can be so monotonous.
Beyond The Fundamentals
Making the most egregious casualties is, of course, Singer. Not that summer blockbusters have to be extremely intellectual or be about anything like boasting a meta-subtext (though that marker was set in Days of Future Past), but they need to be entertaining and visually pleasing and neither of those things are at play in X-Men: Apocalypse. It’s a dull-looking movie and distant from catching the eye. Singer disappoints with all his good intentions, and doesn’t build on the crazy-smart world he fashioned in Days of Future Past.
What makes the good X-Men movies stand out from the rest of the superhero canon is that they deal with current threats and fears, true, but they go beyond that and constantly question what the definition of being human means. Pick your five favorite Star Trek episodes from any of the series and, boom, that’s the X-Men universe thematics. As the opening quote to this piece says, “memory defines mankind,” and yet the human mind is frail and prone to all types and manners of mistakes and false information. So what is left? Why ontological history, of course: the grand hallucination of convention. But that, too, is prone to all sorts of lies and deceits and omissions, by conscious will or ineptitude.
So what is that keeps a memory and preservers it the best? Film, images. In Days of Future Past the camera becomes the driving force of the film. Even Bryan Singer himself put himself in the film as a Zapruder-type, capturing a world changing event. In that movie it’s the revelations of mutants similar to the Kennedy assassination, when Mystique is exposed to the world and when Magneto goes to try and kill Trask. And this followed up in the denouement when Magneto attacked The White House and turned the world’s cameras to him as he told the truth. The conceit was in the title of the film and it gave away the movie before it was released; Days of Future Past, or captured light of time will be remade one day.
And it was to this that the film’s plot played out, where a literal dead past was brought back to a new time and space. Entire timelines could be rewritten thanks to the advent of film. Though it was altered, the mechanical light could give hope and bring a stable frame of reference that was unique and splendid. For all this wild imagination that took place in Days of Future Past, the only extent that it goes to in Apocalypse is when Apocalypse awakens from his sarcophagus and puts his hand to a TV screen to, as he puts it, “Learn.” The insightful lengths Singer went to in Days of Future Past are forever lost in the deadly cycle of adhering to tired and worn out formulas and storylines.
X-Men: Apocalypse is homely and leaves mental blankness. The lesson to take from this is for our artists and filmmakers is to throw off the shackles of convention, and be freed from the burden of conformity, lest we are sand and dust never evolving from the lowly destruction of dismemory.
What’s your favorite X-Men movie?
X-Men: Apocalypse is playing in the US and the U.K.
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