Wednesday, June 8, 2016
X-MEN APOCALYPSE (2016)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, sociological*
After the merely mild enjoyment I had from 2011's X-MEN FIRST CLASS, and the general boredom I derived from X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, I considered X-MEN; APOCALYPSE more of a return to form, at least roughly comparable to the strongest X-film thus far, 2003's X2. That said, APOCALYPSE has some of the same problems as FIRST CLASS: "too many superheroes spoiling the cookery."
FUTURE PAST seems to have come about largely to allow Singer to reshuffle the continuity of the post-Singer films, particularly the third film, in which both Jean Grey and Professor X were killed. While I don't oppose such reshuffling overall, the X-franchise isn't as easy to reboot as some concepts, in large part because it does feature such a polyglot of interrelated characters. In APOCALYPSE Scott Summers and Jean Grey have a fleeting encounter with Wolverine for the "real first time," thus invalidating the continuity of the first film. But if the franchise ever makes it to the present day-- APOCALPYSE is set in 1983-- through what sequence of events does Wolverine eventually become a full-time X-Man? Or will Singer just hop over such confusing matters?
Though I do think the film could have benefited from some pruning, what I liked most about it was that this did not seem focused only on Singer's "favorite characters," as was the case with FUTURE PAST. The titular mutant villain, preserved in suspended animation since the reign of ancient Egypt, revives in 1983 and decides that he wants to destroy-and-remake the world-- to which end he enlists four modern-day mutants as his henchmen as he prepares to destroy the world. I confess that I don't remember much about Apocalypse from the comics, except that when he makes the modern-day scene he spends a lot more time learning the lay of the land. Thus, when he enlists various mutants to serve as his "four horsemen of the Apocalypse," it makes a little more sense that the comics-character might invoke such a Judeo-Christian reference, as opposed to the fellow who's never seen anything since the days of the pyramids. I guess if Singer had wanted to keep faith with his villain's Egyptian associations, the evil mutant might have called his henchmen "the four sons of Horus"-- though that reference would have gone over the heads of most moviegoers.
Wolverine's brief appearance allows other, often-marginalized characters their chance to shine, particularly Summers, Grey, and a new version of Nightcrawler, whose history in X2 must also be considered null and void. That said, Singer does insert one of his "favorites" amid the Four Horsemen. Rebooted versions of Storm and the Angel, and a newly-minted cinematic Psylocke, serve as three of the Horsemen, and all three of them must make do with less than generous backstories. The exception is the fourth Horseman, perpetual X-villain Magneto, who seems egregiously out of place in his role as a flunky to another Big Bad Mutant. Neither the excellent performance of Michael Fassbinder-- who is given some burn-down-the-barn dramatic scenes-- nor a subplot about Magneto being the daddy of X-ally Quicksilver, can smooth over the rough edges here.
Mystique, whose alternate name "Raven" may have confused some audience-members, was opposed to the X-Men most of the time during FUTURE PAST. Here she seems to walk into the X-mansion without so much as a by-your-leave, though I confess this may have something to do with FIRST CLASS continuity I've forgotten. Frankly, I barely remembered the presence of Scott's brother Alex in the earlier film, and though he serves the purpose of a narrative bridge here, he's another figure I wouldn't have minded seeing excised.
What the film does have going for it-- if one can negotiate all the convoluted histories-- is action. Not counting the solo films for Wolverine and Deadpool, the group-oriented X-films haven't mounted any impressive action-sequences since the aforementioned X2. One may not have much sense of Apocalypse's motives, but he makes for a great 'everyone-beat-on-the-bad-guy" opponent: arguably a much better one than the fairly sympathetic Magneto. The concluding battle, in which all of the X-Men keep throwing their multifarious powers at the Big Bad, is much better choreographed than the big concluding fight in BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN, and most of those in CAPTAIN AMERICA CIVIL WAR-- with the obvious exception of the 'airport battle."
Finally, given that the other two "pre-summer superhero" films were rife with all manner of hazy political pontifications, APOCALYPSE is refreshingly free of such overtones, even if there's a de rigeur reference to "groups who hate and exploit mutantkind," et al. APOCALYPSE, simply by virtue of being an "apocalyptic" superhero tale, reminds us that at heart such combative works transcend the mundane realm of politics.