Friday, June 10, 2016

Apocalypse: An Exercise in Bloat (a movie review post)

With each new X-Men Universe offering from Fox, I find myself more and more longing for the day when Marvel will refuse to renew the license to Fox and re-make the X-Men in the same style as they've done with the Marvel Universe movies from their own production company (the only recent exception being Deadpool). It seems that big studios cannot wrap their collective heads around the concept of building up the world, first, before deluging it with characters and blowing it up (yes, I'm looking at you, too, Warner Brothers). I mean, seriously, it doesn't have to be world-threatening every time.

This one, in particular, got off to a bad start with me. We open some 5000 years ago in Egypt during a ceremony in which En Sabah Nur, later to be known as Apocalypse, is transferring his consciousness into a new host so that he can take the man's mutant power. The ceremony is being held inside a great pyramid. A pyramid which has been built with a... Look, I'm having trouble even saying this, but it's been built with a self destruct mechanism. One of the great pyramids in Egypt with a, yes, self-destruct device. Seriously.

Then, when it's activated, not only does the pyramid collapse in on itself... The solid stone pyramid collapses in on itself. What? Anyway... Once it had done that, it proceeds to collapse right on down into the ground, becoming completely submerged and blocking it from the sun.

There is none of that that makes any actual sense. Sure, you go right ahead and try to win yourself a No Prize by coming up with an explanation that works, but there is none of it that will actually make any rational sense, especially the part where the pyramid is swallowed by the earth.

We're less than 10 minutes into the movie at that point (okay, maybe 15), and I'm already struggling.

The next major issue with the movie is characters. There are too many and too many of them with no introduction. There's been demand since the X-Movies started for everyone's favorite character, whomever that may be, but Fox has gotten into the habit of just tossing them in without bothering to tell the audience who they are, basically relying on audience knowledge. This is fine under two conditions:
1. The character takes no part in the story, as with Jubilee in Apocalypse. Or any of the background students at Xavier's school.
2. The audience is only made up of fans of the comics who already know all of the background information they need to have.
It's alienating to non-comics fans when there are a bunch of characters running around without any information provided as to whom they are.

That's one of the things Marvel Studios has done exceedingly well, especially since many of their movies have dealt with little-known characters outside of the world of comics fans and conventions, is to introduce characters in a plausible and meaningful way. Even with Spider-Man, probably the character with the least information given about him within the context of a movie, in Captain America: Civil War, there was an appropriate amount of background given to give the character context for the movie.

Fox failed to do that with pretty much every character they brought into Apocalypse, including characters who have previously been in X-Men movies. The introductions of Nightcrawler and Angel were flimsy at best. Storm, given the fact that they've never really revealed any of her background prior, was hardly better. And Caliban and Psylocke were abysmal. And, I have to say, Psylocke psi-blade is not a lightsaber; it's a psychic knife that doesn't have any physical manifestation. (Unless they changed that sometime since I quit reading comics?)

The story is plenty bloated, too. The whole capture by Stryker is completely superfluous to the actual story and is only there so that they can work Wolverine into the movie in a completely gratuitous killfest. That was at least half an hour of the movie that could have been used to further the elements of the actual story. Or cut out completely.

The Magneto plot line is also -- I don't know what to call it -- unnecessary. It provides the only moment of the film with any real emotional content, but, considering where things are left at the end of Days of Future Past, it felt contrived. That would be because it was.

All of that said, it might sound like I didn't like the movie, which is not precisely true. I didn't like it, but I also didn't not like it. It wasn't horrible; it just wasn't all that good. Still, I'd watch it again before Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice any day of the week.

I'm not a fan of the whole re-booting thing, but the X-Men is a franchise that needs to be re-booted and, this time, it needs to start with a plan, lay a foundation, and grow from there. It's too big a universe to keep throwing pieces of it in without laying the groundwork for them.


  1. The point about it not always having to be world-ending is a good one. But it's hard for fans to like it. People deride Superman Returns (in part) because it deals with some sort of real estate problem. In Star Wars, Eps 1 and 2 built stories, as did Empire, but only 1 of those was well-received. They went back to universe-destroying in Episode 7 (and I for one didn't think it was that great that there was ANOTHER Death Star.)

    So we'll probably continue to have the world ending all the time. "Secret Wars" and "Crisis on Infinite Earths" begat numerous giant earth-shattering storylines. I guess they're better than watching Cyclops stop petty thieves.

    As for the pyramid, that's something I always find kind of amazing: we can accept a character with a psychic blade, but the idea of a pyramid collapsing like this bothers us. I had the same problem with (among others) "Bee Movie," in which a bee sues humans over honey. The only part that bugged me was when they used pollen from roses to bring all the plants back to life. "It doesn't work that way!" I say when I think of it.

    I'm not sure why some things stick out like that. My guess is that it's the use of something intended to be completely realistic in an unrealistic way. The "Uncanny Valley" effect on concepts, instead of people: as something gets closer to reality, it can hit a point where it's just shy of being totally realistic -- and our minds reject that at that point.

    Either way, I've never been a fan of X-men. So I wasn't going to see this in the first place.

    1. Briane: Ant-Man was not earth-threatening.
      The original Secret Wars story, also, was not earth-threatening.

      I wouldn't have minded the pyramid collapsing because of the super-powered fight that took place; it was that it was built with a self-destruct mechanism that made me balk. Seriously? And, then, it fell into the ground. All the way into the ground. If it was going to fall into the ground, it would have done that without needing to be self destructed.

      The psychic blade is okay because we're already buying into the idea of people with super powers, but the rest of the world needs to stick to reality.

    2. Well, I never read the full first "Secret Wars." I agree with Ant Man. I'm with you: I think they can tell good stories without always having it be apocalpytic. Then again, everything is also heroes battling heroes now. If you based your understanding solely on the movies, you would assume that neither Captain America or Iron Man has many enemies other than each other.

  2. Thankfully, I'm not a fan of the X-Men movies so I won't be seeing this one. After the first one I lost interest. I tried to watch the second one when it came out on DVD but it seemed too forced for me. Now Deadpool, that's a whole different story. I can't wait for a sequel to that one!

  3. I expect we'll dig into the X-Men movies before long. My daughter loves the original comics. Of course, even the first movie includes characters she doesn't know yet.

    1. TAS: A few of them are good, but none of them really reach the level Marvel has it with its Marvel Studios movies.