The latest entry in Fox’s superhero reboot debuted to an audience, and critical reception, that has recently seen the best and the worst of superhero movies within a few mere months. After the rollercoaster of emotions that was transitioning from Batman v. Superman to Civil War, it’s understandable that both critics and fans may be weary of yet another superhero movie produced by Not-Disney. And while it doesn’t reach the heights of the Russo brothers’ latest entry, it’s still eminently watchful, with a few caveats.
The scene in which Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, and a Jubilee who still has nothing to do, all come out of a theatre debating the merits of Return of the Jedi versus the rest of the trilogy floated over my head when I first saw it. The film, at times, seems to try a little too hard to keep your eyes focused on the fact that this is the 80s. But as I thought about it later, their mutual agreement that the third entry of the series is always the weakest (honestly, RotJ was my favorite in my younger days…) is obviously a dig at the critically panned and fan-despised X-Men: Last Stand, but it can also be a self-referential understanding of Apocalypse’s place in Fox’s MCU. First Class was the “Star Wars” that got people excited about X-Men again. Days of Future Past was the Empire Strikes Back that critics and fans nodded in enjoyment of. But while Return of the Jedi was not a critical success, and most fans still prefer Empire over it, it’s still an enjoyable film.
That’s kind of where I fall with this movie. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but I wouldn’t say it was the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen. It’s well worth a theatre viewing, and not necessarily even a cheap Tuesday ticket either. It’s a fun summer movie with a lot of good superhero action, great characters, an intriguing plot, and fantastic action sequences. That said, it falls under some of the same problems as BvS, in that it’s too ambitious. There’s way too much going on in this movie, too many characters, and so some of the most exciting new characters end up falling short.
Before we go any further, here’s the obligatory spoiler warning.
*********SPOILERS AHEAD!!!! YOU MAY WANT TO WATCH THE MOVIE FIRST!!!!!!!!**********
The Good: The Psychology of Apocalypse
There’s been a whoooole lot of criticism going around about the portrayal of Apocalypse. Many say that he’s one-dimensional, boring, and not terrifying in the least bit. Eh, I disagree. I think the movie did an excellent job of portraying Apocalypse, but the problem is entirely psychological. We’ve gotten three incredibly massive superhero movies with awesome powers and giant scaled destruction over the last few months. Plus, look at the villains we’ve gotten with these three movies.
- Lex Luthor – Works behind the scenes. No innate powers. Manipulates super-powered people into civil war. Unleashed bonkers powerful thing ( that must be defeated by heroes. Boring despite batshit performance
- Helmut/Baron Zemo – Works behind the scenes. No innate powers. Manipulates super-powered people into civil war. Unleashed bonkers powerful thing (Winter soldier) that one side believes must be defeated. Unstated performance means nobody will ever talk about him when discussing Civil War
- Apocalypse – Works behind the scenes. ALL THE INNATE POWERS. Manipulates super-powered people into civil war. Unleashed bonkers powerful thing (super-powered Magneto) that must be defeated/converted. Understated performance BECAUSE THAT’S HIS FUCKING CHARACTER.
While all three movie studios knew what everyone else is making, it’s unlikely that they knew they were all making literally the same villain. The biggest problem with Apocalypse is that we’ve seen him twice within the last few months. That means he’s going to be doomed by fate.
I think many critics forget the scenes where he literally waves his hand and embeds people into walls and floors just on a whim. That’s literally the most terrifying and torturous power we’ve seen in the X-Men movies before. As someone with a mild form of claustrophobia, I got goosebumps seeing that in action. And that’s not all. He force-shoves people, transfers energy to superpower and even transform his four horsepeople, he even mind-crushes the most powerful psychic mutant currently alive. Let’s also consider that during the final battle against Apocalypse. Even with the combined forces of a Level 5 Magneto, Cyclops, Storm, Professor X, Beast, Nightcrawler, Quicksilver, and Jean Grey, Apocalypse only seems to grimace a bit. If it weren’t for the Phoenix Force emerging, you know…the most powerful force in the entire freaking universe, Apocalypse would have annihilated the X-Men right then and there.
What I’m saying is that critics may be blind to what’s on screen because of superhero overstimulation. What we saw in Apocalypse is a villain who is nearly invincible, patient, confident, incredibly smart, and powerful as fuck. Unfortunately, his only unique characteristic (his bonkers power) is going to seem subdued because he’s not flashy or theatrical. He has a well-deserved god complex, and like a god, he values loyalty and worship over flashy shows of power. He has a distaste for direct confrontation because it bores him. And like I said, the X-Men got lucky. They shouldn’t have won, but Jean Grey invoked the Phoenix Force, and that’s the only reason they’re still alive. That’s like using cheat codes.
Oh and one final thought about Apocalypse, there’s a lot of criticism for his seeming hypocrisy around blind followers. Once again, think about his psychology. He believes in the autocracy of the powerful. It seems illogical for anyone to follow a leader who isn’t powerful. In a world where mutants exist, in his mind, the mutants should be the top of the world. People are blindly following weak people who claim to be powerful. It’s not hypocrisy for the horsemen to follow him, because as far as he’s concerned, they’re following him out of self-interest. He is the most powerful creature alive and he also unlocks their own powers. As far as Apocalypse is concerned, they’re not following him blindly, they’re following him because they believe in his future and what he has to grant them.
The Bad: The Destruction of Auschwitz
Let’s be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed about 80% of Magneto’s story arc in this movie. His attempt to create a quiet family life after his villainy in First Class could have easily felt forced. But it feels genuine. He regrets his actions, seeks to atone for them, but the shadows of his past haunt him. The film does a great job of not only portraying the love he has for his family and his quiet life, but you also feel his frustration, his sadness, his anger when he loses everything because of the misguided but fearful prodding of his fellow villagers. The “good in him” that Xavier constantly reminds us of throughout the movie ends up causing him to lose everything he has gained, and so his conversion to the dark side, his dedication to Apocalypse’s cause, feels justified and suitably tragic.
So why the hell did they have to bring up Auschwitz again. We get it, he’s a Jew. Jews are not defined by Hitler and the Holocaust. Sure, it was a major event, but not everything in a Jew’s life has to spiral back to that horrible episode. The poor guy’s wife and child were just murdered by a guy barely paying attention to his archaic bow and arrow. That’s enough tragedy without having to draw parallels to the damn holocaust. That’s like saying “Oh sorry your family died. Hey, doesn’t that remind you of the time when Hitler’s goons also murdered your family? Why am I saying this? I dunno, thought it was interesting that your family has been murdered twice in one movie trilogy, that’s all.”
Okay, Apocalypse is somehow convinced that his current anger isn’t enough and he has to unlock his hidden anger about a past situation that was not all that similar at all, despite the fact that he can power dump on everyone else and even straight up transform Angel’s wings into some Weapon X-like metal growths without such theatrics. But fine, he has to warp his mind, whatever.
But while I, myself, am not a Jew, I’m fairly confident that Jew in mourning about the Holocaust would want to blow up Auschwitz. There’s a reason why it’s still there today, and that reason is not bald or fitted with a weird reverse fu-man-shu. Auschwitz is an important monument, not just for its historical significance, but for the emotional and spiritual significance it gives to the Jewish people today. Yes, it’s a reminder of a terrible thing, but by wiping it from existence, Magneto is also wiping its significance from history.
This is all to say that this scene should have been cut from the movie. It was at best not necessary, and at worst, incredibly insensitive.
In a related note, I feel like Brian Singer and co missed an incredible opportunity to confirm Magneto’s villain status, by inevitably making him betray Apocalypse. At the end of the movie, Magneto and Xavier are in “agree to disagree” status, but generally they’re cool with each other. I understand that Xavier and Magneto respected each other, but fought about political ideologies within the previous three movies, but that’s not necessarily how things worked in the comics. Magneto was a straight-up villain. I like that they’re giving him depth, but I worry that these constant emo trips into kill-all-humans mode are going to get a bit tired. I’d rather not see a flip-floppity Magneto if at all possible. I personally would have rather seen him fly off still as a villain, but maybe no longer complicit in Apocalypse’s madness, than be effectively ineffective at stopping Apocalypse. But this is a minor quibble.
The Good: The Emergence of Phoenix
Yep, this is the second time we see The Phoenix Force portrayed in an X-Men film. It won’t be the last. Those who might see the emergence of Jean Grey’s destructive connection and thought it appeared kinda out of nowhere, are probably thinking more of The Dark Phoenix arc, which was portrayed really badly in X-Men: Last Stand. Don’t worry, this is just a taste of The Phoenix Force, it is the initial unlock of power. The ramifications of its use will be large and terrifying, both within Jean’s mind, and for the world at large.
The Phoenix Force is literally the most powerful force in the universe, but it’s also sentient. It’s only goal is to preserve the forward progression of life (evolution). When something emerges that threatens to stifle evolution or is an extreme threat to life, the Phoenix Force emerges to balance the threat. Jean Grey is the lucky channeling point of this force, and as brilliantly portrayed in this movie, gets to experience its emergence when an imbalance arrives. Apocalypse rose, and the Phoenix Force rose in Jean Grey, through nightmares and unconscious power, to meet his immense power.
The problem with The Phoenix Force is that it has a strong will and an incredibly powerful mind of its own. As Jean develops her connection with it, it will seek to take over her body and mind, and she will start to lose control. By letting her unleash her The Phoenix Force, Xavier unwittingly started a chain of events that will lead to The Dark Phoenix storyline being told, and hopefully it will be told much more respectfully this time.
Also, as I mentioned above, the use of The Phoenix Force to destroy Apocalypse has some interesting repercussions. Not only does it concrete how stupidly powerful Apocalypse is (only it can destroy him), but it creates some legendary final words, stating that he sees all. What this means is anyone’s guess, but I’d say it’s possible we haven’t seen the last of him.
The Good: Quicksilver, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, and Storm
While Quicksilver isn’t exactly a new character for us, he hasn’t had a whole lot to do in these movies so far. Well, he finally joins the team in this movie, has a surprisingly entertaining time around saving literally everyone in the Xavier mansion, and even gets a few good licks in on Apocalypse. Even if he does look like a guy who’s trying out a VR headset. If we had to choose either Disney or Fox’s version of the character, I’m glad that Fox ended up getting the nod for Quicksilver, because he’s freaking cool.
The new mutants in this movie are great, portrayed perfectly, and are introduced in smart ways. The fact that Cyclops manifests his powers after a bonerific stare at a beautiful classmate is adorable and works perfectly to introduce him as the moody teenager we all know and love.
I actually really liked the Nightcrawler we got in the original trilogy and I’m glad to see that Singer didn’t change the formula much. They didn’t even both to give him a backstory, which is a relief in a movie already packed with characters.
And boy was this movie packed with new characters. We even saw the emergence of a Mohawk-wielding Storm. Her character was a bit of a divergence from the comic book origin, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. In this version, she’s kind of a street rat wo runs with a gang of freedom fighters in Africa and hero-worships Mystique. She ends up joining Apocalypse simply because he offers her a better life and a more fulfilling purpose. Perfectly understandable. Then she betrays him when she figures out what a dick he is. Her arc wasn’t mind-blowingly unique, but it was smartly built and made total sense to me. Most of all, I appreciated that it was simple, realistic, and gave us an idea of her moral compass, but the plot didn’t have to derail itself to tell her story.
The Bad: The Horsepeople
While Apocalypse was well used and developed to my standards, the Horsepeople (half of them are women, people) ended up unfortunately being footnotes in the story. I understand why Apocalypse wanted minions, but they didn’t really have much to do. Magento’s role is made perfectly clear, but the other three are just there to fight the X-Men, I guess? And even then, they do it badly.
The movie tries to build a rivalry arc between Angel and Nightcrawler, but it falls pretty flat and ends up being more of a slap in the face of Angel. Their arc would have made more sense if Angel was beating Nightcrawler’s ass in the underground fighting ring, but Nightcrawler does a great job of holding his own. Angel’s wings get burnt to a crisp when Mystique overloads the electric fence surrounding the ring, and he goes off to drink himself into depression. Apocalypse gives him his wings back, brings him back into power, and they inevitably fight again. But Nightcrawler once again defeats him, this time single-handedly. I’m not really sure where the character development is there. What’s worse is that Angel later changes sides, and then gets easily smacked down by Apocalypse without doing anything of note.
Psylocke is also pretty damn cool, but criminally underused. She joins Apocalypse because it’s either that or be a minion to freaking Caliban (who is actually a horsemen in the comics), and fuck that. Funny enough, all Apocalypse gives her is a longer blade. Whoopdeedoo. She’s pretty badass in the final battle, but she also doesn’t seem to do much. Slices up a car or two.
Well, here’s the funny part. Apparently Brian Singer didn’t know a damn thing about Psylocke when making the movie. Olivia Munn was quoted as having to “pitch the character” to Singer because she knew more about Psylocke than the damn director did. From the sound of things, she saved that character from irrelevance by forcing Singer to stay loyal to the source material for the character and not muck things up. Go Olivia.
Interestingly, she’s the only horseperson who just takes off when Apocalypse is defeated. Will we see her as a villain in future movies? Maybe. Apparently Olivia is now pitching to get Psylocke added into the new Deadpool 2 movie, which I would love to see.
The Bad: Give Jubilee Something to Do!
The Sad: Fox Just Killed Scarlet Witch
For those who haven’t read the comics (and I don’t blame you), Magneto has two children: Quicksilver is one of them (addressed in the movie), but so is Scarlett Witch. They were supposed to be twins, but you know, rewriting history and such.
There was a short time when Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch were possibilities for both Fox and Disney at the same time. While Fox only ever introduced Quicksilver, we fans always wondered. But then when the twins were introduced in Disney’s Age of Ultron, and only Scarlett Witch escaped alive, many of us assumed we’d never see Scarlett Witch in X-Men. It was almost as if the two universes were being frustratingly divvied up between two media super powers. Almost.
While the movie doesn’t confirm this at all, I believe we actually see what could have been Scarlet Witch, because we also see her death.
See, the thing is that the Scarlet Witch that Disney is working with is very different from the original Scarlet Witch. The red manipulation fields and force beams are nice and theatrical, but her abilities are more akin to causing misfortune through curses. In Scarlet Witch’s original introductions, she would weave some sort of magic, and enemies would trip and fall, or a tree would fall on them, or something to that effect. Misfortune would follow her commands, so to speak.
In the scene where Magneto’s young daughter manifests her powers for us to see, all we see is that a massive flock of crows suddenly starts attacking the men. This could involve some sort of animal control, but I found the circumstances of that whole situation quite strange. Yes, the crows attack, but also a guy who doesn’t even seem to be paying attention happens to casually shoot an arrow, which pierces the daughter’s body, goes through it, and then kills the mother who’s holding her as well. What are the freaking chances of that?
It’s almost as if some untrained probability manipulation was going on there, right?
But it was inevitable that even if Fox introduced a mostly canon correct Scarlet Witch, they would have to kill her off. Disney would have none of that shit. Unfortunately, there’s probably nothing Fox could have done about it. But what makes it “sorta bad” for me, is that I actually like this version of the character better than Disney’s version. I’m just imagining the possibilities of a character who actually has the power of probability manipulation, and ultimately how dark and terrifying that child’s powers appeared in that scene. I was greatly intrigued, until they shot an arrow into her heart.
The Good: The Future and Freaking Weapon-X
I have to admit that I was a bit confused when I heard that Fox was making another Wolverine movie. As far as we were concerned, the previous Wolverine storylines had been retconned after Days of Future Past. I mean, granted, I’m excited that the new Wolverine movie will be getting a hard-R rating after the success of Deadpool, but I was a bit scared about what the hell they were planning to do with it.
Well, this movie answered those questions. While Wolverine was sorta introduced as a cameo in First Class, he’s been fully introduced as the full-Weapon-X version of himself, claws and everything. While the movie is careful to keep it’s PG-13 rating, the scene is still brutal as fuck. Wolverine literally cuts a hole through lines of Weapon-X paramilitary soldiers and only manages to not slaughter Jean and Cyclops when Jean touches his mind and grants him a little bit of his memories back. The whole scene could have felt weird and disassociated, but it works.
I do still feel that if they didn’t do this scene, they could have concentrated on some of the areas where the character development lacks, but I’d imagine Fox pressured Singer into introducing Wolverine for the purposes of their next Hugh Jackman movie. Thankfully, Singer nailed it. The Weapon-X scene actually sells its existence in the movie, and sells its importance for future movies.
Because like most Marvel movies, there’s an end credits sequence. And this sequence actually has to do with the Weapon-X scene in the movie. Essex Corp comes to the facility and grabs Wolverine’s special sauce, which means that not only will we see Mr. Sinister making an appearance soon, perhaps even in the Wolverine movie, but we’ll probably see X-23 as well. Both of those things stands by hair on end. In a good way.