I really did not plan for posts on superhero movies to take over my blog this year, but here we are with my fourth one in a row. Ah, well – at least this won’t be dwelling too much on the hero vs hero theme, because X-Men: Apocalypse is not an all-out, hero vs hero brawl like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War. But, it still has some significant talking points – not to mention some crazy continuity issues – so let’s get to it! (Minor spoiler-ish stuff ahead).
So, the big bad of the movie is Apocalypse, an ancient Egyptian mutant resurrected in the 1980’s who wastes no time in setting waste to the world as we know it (and played by Oscar Isaac as if he were Marlon Brando in Island of Dr. Moreau after Boo Berry-esque makeover). According to legend, Apoc always employs a guard of four mutant-powered horsemen to stand with him, help protect him and generally wreak havoc. This time around the mutants he has chosen are Storm, Psylocke, Angel and Magneto. This sets up the big hero vs hero battle of the movie, where Apoc’s X-Horsemen face off against Xavier’s X-Men.
Except it’s not really a hero vs hero battle. In the comics, Storm, Psylocke and Angel were all well-established members of the X-Men years before Apocalypse first appeared. The movie, however, has Apoc recruiting the trio long before they’ve even heard of Professor Xavier’s School for the Gifted and Never-Aging, so there’s no real “good guys vs good guys” morality going on here. The Horsemen are the straight up bad guys, doing the bidding of an even badder guy. No moral choices hang in this battle, it just straight forward good vs evil.
That said, it still gives those familiar with the X-Men comics a superhero smackdown, because even though they’re “evil” versions of their comic counterparts, they are still Storm, Psylocke and Angel. And as such, we get some great scenes of Mohawk Storm dishing it out with Cyclops, Ninja Psylocke and Beast swiping and slicing at each other and (Arch)Angel’s metal wings of fury trying to pin down the teleporting Nightcrawler. And the fact that it isn’t a hero vs hero issue, actually works in its favour. It doesn’t have to get bogged down the heavy-handed sermonizing of BvS or deal with the weighty moral issues of Civil War, it can just give us a pure throwdown. And that’s just fine for this flick. And next to the expected Quicksilver slo-mo sequence, the final smackdown is the most enjoyable part of the movie.
FUN FACT: While it may lighter in tone than both BvS and Civil War, it definitely has the most collateral damage and massive casualties, not to mention the least fallout – than the other two films combined. I mean, Apocalypse morphs half of downtown Cairo into a big pyramid, and sooo many inhabited buildings, houses, cars and landmarks the world over get dismantled and sent skyward – the Sydney Opera House, Golden Gate Bridge – were talking tens of thousands of deaths, in addition to those who mercilessly perish at the hands of Magneto, Apocalypse and Weapon X (who was let loose by a remorseless Jean Grey – way to go Jean!).
Lampshading The Muties
Of course, being an X-Men movie, there are also some story problems – and I think it’s hilarious how the filmmakers have gone from not being able to line up the continuity of the first X-Trilogy with the current one to not even being able to line up the continuity of the films within the current trilogy…and it doesn’t seem to bother them a bit that so much stuff just doesn’t make sense. In fact, they call themselves out on almost all of it before the internet legions could have at ‘em.
First off, “lampshading” is trope where an element of a story that make shake a viewer’s willing disbelief is specifically called out by the characters in the story, as a way of saying “we get it, it doesn’t make sense, and we know it, but we’re going with it”. And X-Men Apocalypse is one of the lampshadiest movies to ever have lampshaded a lampshade. Just some examples:
- Apocalypse takes place 20 years after X-Men First Class, yet no one in the cast seems to be 20 years older, which Professor X calls out when he sees Moira McTaggert and marvels at how she looks like she hasn’t aged a day since their first meeting.
- Quicksilver is first seen chilling in his mom’s basement, exactly like he was a decade earlier when the X-Men first met him in Days of Future Past. He later calls this out when he mentions that he does nothing and has been living in his mom’s basement for 10 years.
- Mystique, always a champion of not being ashamed of who you are and who would proudly display her natural blue skin whenever she could, spends a large portion of the film in her human guise (Jennifer Lawrence has gone on the record several times about despising the Mystique make-up process). Is Mystique no longer “loud and proud” about her mutant-ness? Nope, she just didn’t like all the attention she was getting for being a “hero” after the events of Days Of Future Past, so now she goes incognito as human. (So, she’s still not ashamed of who she is, she’s just trying to dodge the paparazzi, y’all)
- The X-films have never done right by their mutants when it came to their uniforms, usually sticking them in nothing more than glorified flight suits. Apocalypse’s iteration of this is by far the blandest and most generic – but also the most acknowledged: “Hey guys, look – flight suits!” – Cyclops, stumbling across a locker in the Alkali Lake facility, which the X-Men quickly plunder.
- When Scott, Jean, Kurt and Jubilee go see Return of the Jedi, they have a very meta talk about trilogies and how the third one always sucks (a slight dig at the less-than-loved X-Men: Last Stand, which got all but erased from X-continuity after Days of Future Past…or DID it?)
And then there are things that the film does not even mention, but just hang there, taunting viewers – like how Alex Summers is the X-Men’s own Benjamin Button. To wit:
1) We’ve got a 20+ year difference between siblings Alex and Scott Summers (Alex/Havok was a teen in First Class, and now, 20 years later, he has a little bro Scott/Cyclops who is just a teen himself in Apocalypse)
2) Alex should be pushing 40, but looks like he still hasn’t started shaving yet
3) Mr. and Mrs. Summers look to be in their late 40s themselves, and definitely not old enough to have a child of Alex’s supposed age.
So what gives? Well…does it even matter? The filmmakers don’t think it does, so why should we?
And therein lies part of the fun of the X-Men movies these days. In this age of superhero cinematic saturation, at least the X-Men films can stand out by being the most comic book-y of them all – complete with an implied mission statement that resonates with any comic fanboy or girl. Something like, “Give em’ some big flashy battles with the characters they wanna see, and if it doesn’t make sense, who cares – we’ll just ret-con it all later…maybe”