X-Men: Apocalypse and a Post-Script to the 2016 Superhero Smackdowns

xmenapocI 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).

The Battle

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?)
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Professor Xavier’s first class of mutants, (Top, circa 1962) are shocked to discover that none of them have aged more than 5 years over the past two decades (Bottom, circa 1983)

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”

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Be Dazzled!

PROBLEM: Can a former roller-skating mutant/disco diva ever become regarded as a serious, credible super hero?dazz1

You have to feel a little sorry for Dazzler. She’s had a rough go of it even before she made her official superhero debut in 1980. Originally created by Marvel Comics as a multimedia tie-in with Casablanca Records, Dazzler was to be a first – a comic book singing super heroine with a real-life recording artist counterpart. As Marvel made a big push to establish Dazzler as a presence in the Marvel universe (with high profile guest appearances in The Uncanny X-Men and Spider-Man) Casablanca Records was supposed to be developing an actual disco diva counterpart. But, after numerous delays, Casablanca Records suddenly withdrew from the project.

Despite this setback, the groundwork had been laid and ignoring the fact that disco had all but died, Marvel went ahead with their plans to launch  Dazzler as an ongoing series. Telling the story of Alison Blaire – a disco singer with the onstage persona of “The Dazzler” – who discovers she has the mutant ability to transduce sound into light, it was initially a success and practically every big-name hero and villain popped up in the book’s first year. Dazzler seemed to be on her way to making it a credible super hero, working with the likes of the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man and going toe-to-toe with heavyweights like Dr. Doom, The Hulk and even Galactus.

Unfortunately, the series began to focus more on Alison Blaire than Dazzler and even went so far as having her throw in the towel on her singing career, ditch her kitschy yet iconic disco duds and leave New York for an L.A. acting career. Now being portrayed as the ultimate reluctant super-hero, even the fans couldn’t get behind her (letter columns from these issues contain a number of comments  lamenting how boring, dull and downbeat Dazzler had become – and these were the fans!). And how can you expect for a super hero to seem credible when she doesn’t even want to be a super hero?

dazzlermarvel-graphic-novel-12After a well-received graphic novel – Dazzler: The Movie – in which Alison comes out as a mutant, then quickly becomes a scapegoat, Marvel finally stepped in line by giving Dazzler an actual costume, amplified powers and some training with the X-Men. But it was too little, too late and Dazzler was cancelled at issue #42. But Dazzler’s rocky road to rebirth had already started, so let’s take a look at some notable points on her journey and see if Dazzler was able weather the ups and down to come her way (as both a property and a character) and emerge as something more than “former disco diva”.

THE X-MEN YEARS

After her title is cancelled, Dazzler resurfaces and officially joins the X-Men after taking on Juggernaut all by xmen218herself.  She ends up sacrificing herself (along with the rest of the X-Men) fighting the villainous Adversary, (but they are all resurrected because, comics).

Dazzler is chosen as one of the core characters in the 1989 X-Men animated pilot “Pryde of the X-Men”. Unfortunately, the pilot isn’t well received and undergoes massive retooling. When X-Men: The Animated Series finally debuts in 1992, Dazzler is noticeably absent.

Due in part to her role in the animated pilot, Dazzler becomes a playable character in Konami’s classic side-scrolling X-Men Arcade game. However, being in a video game where the other playable characters are Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler pretty much means Dazzler never makes the 4-player short list.

Dazzler falls in love with fellow X-Man, Longshot, and they eventually the leave the team to become rebellion fighters in Longshot’s home dimension (the Mojoverse). Dazzler is only seen sporadically over the next decade.

NEW EXCALIBUR

Dazzler resurfaces again, but without Longshot, and it is revealed that she suffered a miscarriage in her time away.new excalibur

She finally reconnects with Longshot…but he has comics-amnesia and can’t remember much – if anything – about their time together.

Dazzler tries to jump-start her singing career in the UK – sporting a tougher look and an ill-advised short pink hairstyle. She ends up joining Captain Britain and others as part of the team New Excalibur (who launch in a comic book of the same name).

As a member of New Excalibur, Dazzler gets killed – TWICE! But she’s okay because she has somehow developed new resurrection-based powers (?!).

New Excalibur is cancelled after 18 issues. Dazzler returns to the U.S. (and her resurrection powers and pink hair are never spoken of or alluded to again – yay comics!).

X-MAN, AGAIN

Dazzler resurfaces yet again, this time at the X-Men’s new base, Utopia. She’s almost unrecognizable, now with long blonde hair and a completely new costume.

She becomes a supporting member of the now-sprawling X-Men roster, occasionally taking part in an adventure or two while also pursuing singing gigs in nearby San Francisco.

Dazzler is chosen by Cyclops to head up the X-Men’s unseen “Street Team” to help foster relations between humans and mutants.

X-TREME X-MEN

A statuesque Classic Dazzler (via Bowen Designs).

A statuesque classic Dazzler (via Bowen Designs)

So, now we’re pretty much back to square one, with Alison Blaire making her way via singing gigs and taking part in the occasional heroic exploit. And even though her power set has greatly increased over the years and despite the fact that she has sported three distinct looks since her white-jumpsuit days, it’s still “Disco Dazzler” that gets the most love and recognition (both in the comics and in the real world – see right) – everyone loves that Dazzler – the now retro-cool, sparkling, roller-skating human mirror ball.

So it would have to take something drastic, something unexpected to shake up everyone’s preconceptions of Dazzler. Something where she could prove once and for all that she was not a frivolous lightweight but xtreme12that she has what it takes to be one of the top guns. Fortunately, that something came along in the form of X-Treme X-men.

In this series, Dazzler gets sucked through a portal to an alternate Earth and ends up taking charge of a rag-tag group of alternate reality X-men as they race against enormous odds to prevent the destruction of the multiverse. This is where Dazzler finally gets to shine. And while the series only lasted for 13 issues, it was enough to make a mark for Dazzler. It showed this new, empowered and powered-up Dazzler stepping up to the plate, gaining confidence in herself and becoming a steadfast (not to mention quite good) leader. She even gains the respect of Wolverine after she returned home and joined forces with her former teammates for her final mission with the X-Treme X-men.

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Dazzler has no doubt now proved to both readers and naysayers that she can be taken seriously as a hero, but the effects of  how this new take-charge Dazzler will fit it with the rest of the Marvel Universe proper has yet be seen. However, if this teaser page from a recent Uncanny X-Men is any indication, it looks like she’s about ready to shake things up.

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