Saturday, May 28, 2016

Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

While calling X-Men: Apocalypse the third best Marvel movie released in 2016 so far is technically the same as calling it the worst, I think the nuance is important. This has been an extremely good year for comic movies which don't involve Batman attempting to murder Superman because he thinks their moms have different names. Coming in behind Civil War and Deadpool is nothing to be ashamed of.

As a whole, movie critics are fairly split on this one - it's absurdly close to 50% on Rotten Tomatoes right now. My guess is the divide can probably be tied to whether or not the reviewers are familiar with the X-Men. I suspect if you've never picked up any of the comics or seen the various animated incarnations, your odds of enjoying this are going to be heavily diminished (though I'm sure some of the movie franchise's fans will still be happy enough).

This movie made mistakes, especially from a more critical perspective. There are character beats that feel misplaced, plot points that serve little purpose, and thematic elements that fall flat. If you want a comprehensive rundown of these errors, I'd suggest looking up a few reviews from actual movie critics. I won't dispute their claims - aspects of X-Men: Apocalypse's story absolutely grated on the writer in me - but the truth is I was more interested in something else.

And what is that? Well, I'm going to let me from two years ago explain. Here's a passage from my 2014 end-of-year wrap up when I talked about Days of Future Past, a movie I generally respected but that ultimately left me underwhelmed:
I loved a lot about this movie, but I feel like the X-Men franchise has been fifteen years of build-up without much payoff. I'm ready for something big and exciting, and I'm hoping Age of Apocalypse delivers that.
I'm happy to say that Apocalypse did, in fact, deliver some honest-to-goodness superheroic payoff. The stakes were huge, the fights were cool, and the sequences were operatic - in short, it was the opposite of Days of Future Past.

The price is that the opposite thing cuts both ways (with a psychic energy blade, no less). While Days of Future Past did solid work building a tense political thriller constructed around ethical dilemmas and philosophical differences, Apocalypse just kind of threw a ton of stuff against a wall to see what had the mutant power to stick.

But a lot of that stuff was really cool. There were moments in this I'd been waiting for since the first movie hit back in 2000. And, while not all of it met my expectations, enough did to make up for the rest.

Sure, there were plot-lines here that hurt the movie - hell, you could have cut every character whose name starts with an 'M' from this movie (Magneto, Mystique, Moira, and Magda) and been left with a stronger product. I'm a big fan of Magneto overall, but his story here just kind of drew attention away from the plot (though the effects around his powers were cooler than they've ever been). Also, the movie suffers from a timeline that doesn't fully accommodate all its actors - shouldn't Havok be 40? How old is Quicksilver now?

But, again, I'm sure you can read about such trifles in real reviews. I walked into this movie caring far more whether I got something that felt like the X-Men, and I was extremely happy with the result. Not as happy as I was with Civil War - this is still a Fox movie - but it was definitely a major step forward in terms of iconography, action, and premise.

My biggest complaint is that it sounds like Singer wants to jump ahead another decade. I'd rather he picked up with this team a year or two later. These are X-Men I really want to see.

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