Friday, June 10, 2016

Movie Review: X-Men Apocalypse (2016)

Last night I saw X-Men Apocalypse with my Myopia Defend Your Childhood crew, the same night the podcast on the 2000 film premiered.

The Plot

In 3600 BC, the mutant En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is undergoing a transfer of consciousness from one body to another. Unfortunately for him, there's a rebellion against the "false god" and he ends up entombed underneath a pyramid. Flash forward to the 1980s and he's awoken by a bunch of cultists and begins planning to take over the world. Instrumental to his plans are a new set of Four Horsemen, including one Eric Lensherr (Michael Fassbender). Opposing him are the earliest X-Men, led by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and including his associate Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), wild card mutant freedom fighter Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), young telepath Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), who can shoot energy beams from his eyes.

The Good

*Owing to the time-travel plot of X-Men: Days of Future Past, this movie serves as a bridge linking the films set in the 1960s and 1970s to the present day. There's a lot of foreshadowing the events of the first X-Men film for Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and the third film for Jean Grey.

*Speaking of Jean, the insecurities she suffers in the first film are clear here as well, even though the movie takes place 20-odd years earlier.

*We meet Magneto's doomed wife and daughter and see the vengeance he unleashes for their deaths. It's a bit more subdued than the scene from the comics I remember--he turns the guns of the soldiers sent after him on their owners and we see see silhouettes of men shooting themselves in the head--but it works. Points for the Polish police in this film being clever--they come after Magneto with bows and arrows and aren't wearing their badges because there's metal in them.

*And speaking of Magneto's family, Quicksilver (Evan Peters) has two really awesome scenes and a couple of really funny lines.

*The movie is set in the 1980s (I'm guessing the spring or summer of 1983, considering that Return of the Jedi is in theaters and the viral TV ad explicitly says "1983") and they capture much of the feel of the period, including the clothes, the media people consume, etc. This is pretty nice, although the fact they tried to make it historically accurate in that area makes the historical inaccuracies I'll get to a lot more damning.

*For those of feminist inclinations, there's a conversation between Mystique and the young Jean Grey about the 1960s X-Men of X-Men: First Class that probably passes the Bechdel test. Also, given how Mystique is probably around Xavier's age and Jean Grey would have been in her teens, it's a bit of intergenerational female bonding. :)

*We meet Colonel Stryker (Josh Helman) and we see him at a midpoint in his character evolution. He's still quite willing to exploit mutants for military purposes like in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Days of Future Past, but his behavior toward the youngest of Xavier's students shows he hasn't turned into the monster of the second film who refers to a child mutant as a "creature" and schemes to kill all mutants everywhere.

*There's a really funny dig at X-Men: The Last Stand and possibly a bit of self-referential mockery of this movie when the teenage X-Men go see Return of the Jedi at the local mall.

*The movie introduces Nightcrawler, who is a lot younger than his character in the second film but still has the fast-talking tendencies and strong religious faith. I liked that.

The Bad

*Where to begin? For starters, about a quarter of the movie could have been cut if they eliminated the Stryker/Weapon X subplot that's solely an excuse to include Wolverine. Much of the movie is dull, and considering how fast-paced and entertaining I found the first one, that's actually kind of sad.

*Other than Magneto, the Four Horsemen aren't really that developed. Angel and Psylocke are particularly weak in that department. Storm is a bit better, but not as good as Magneto.

*Xavier at one point is depicted as being able to contact everyone one Earth telepathically. That contradicts the first movie and the second movie too, both of which show him needing Cerebro to amplify his powers to that extent. If Xavier was naturally that powerful, the whole "evil Cerebro" plot of the second film wouldn't need to happen at all. Not only is he overpowered in one scene, he's also underpowered at a critical point--he somehow loses the ability to take control of enemies lacking mental shields like Magneto's, which he demonstrated in the first film. That could have come in really handy in that one scene.

*Speaking of being overpowered, the fact depicts Magneto being able to cause magnetic events on the other side of the planet. Even with...some assistance...that's ridiculous.

*They bring in Jubilee, but do very little with her. It wouldn't have been that difficult to have her join the adventure along with Cyclops, Jean, and the newly-introduced Nightcrawler that I won't go into for reasons of spoilers (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

*There's a scene where Apocalypse uses Xavier's telepathy to go after the world's nuclear arsenals. That would explain why this "god" doesn't get wiped from the planet immediately upon revealing himself, but given how many weapons are in storage or aboard aircraft (which he completely overlooked), that issue would be remedied in hours if not minutes. He'd still get nuked.

*Apocalypse claims to be the inspiration of behind Elohim (Judaism), Krishna (Hinduism), Ra (the Egyptian religion), and many other faiths. However, he's depicted as being trapped under a collapsed pyramid in 3600 BC. This Jewish site states that Moses lived 1393-1273 BC, while this site states Abraham would have been born in 1800 BC. He's much too early to be the "historical God of Abraham." And this site here depicts the earliest Vedic (proto-Hindu) faiths to be in the second millennium BC. Apocalypse can't be Krishna either. Moira McTaggart theorizes Apocalypse could have inspired the Four Horsemen of Revelation, but that could be her own ignorance talking--Revelation was written in the late 1st Century AD.

*Apocalypse in ancient Egypt is depicted as having all this super-tech, which in the comics is explained but in the movie it's not. That's a problem.

*The teen pickpocket Storm is threatened with having her hand cut off by Egyptian shopkeepers. Yes, losing one's hand is/was a common punishment for theft in the Islamic world, but this is Egypt in the 1980s. It was ruled by an aggressively secularist military regime that I doubt would tolerate that. This page here even cites the Egyptian penal code to show that this would not have been the case. Stereotyping much?

The Verdict

A bunch of missed opportunities, too much New Powers as the Plot Demands, and far too long. 5.0 out of 10. I'm seriously tempted to write a "how I would have done it" page.

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