Thoughts on X-Men: Apocalypse

So, I recently watched the latest X-Men movie, and as a long-time X-Man all I can say is that I was very, very disappointed in it and it might well be the worst of the X-Men movies, at least in my opinion.

Since this is a relatively recent movie, my thoughts on it will be below the fold:

First, the minor comments. Wolverine, my favourite X-Men character, gets essentially a cameo in this movie, which is disappointing. It also contradicts his original origin story, and not in a good way. Cyclops, another of my favourite characters, gets a much reduced role and shows little of the leadership qualities and seriousness that was his hallmark in the original X-Men. This follows from how his powers are introduced, as while in the comics he learned about it himself and the relation to the ruby lenses, here he finds all of that out when he comes to the school, which leads to his being more of an outsider and less as someone with a great responsibility that he had to struggle with. Also, it was annoying that the original interactions between himself and Jean Grey are hostile up until the point that he sees how hot she is; it would have been better if either they had started out more cordial or else that he softened towards her while still blind, but after learning a bit about her issues with her powers. Anyway, given that, Mystique takes on more of a leadership role … and is just incredibly irritating about it, coming across as someone pretending to be tough and competent when, really, she isn’t really that much more experienced than the others. Also, I don’t like her as part of the X-Men, as she does fit better into the Brotherhood. I was also waiting for Moira to slap Charles when he revealed that he had manipulated her mind, and it never happened.

On the plus side, I liked Psylocke and Quicksilver, but think that they were badly underused.

Ultimately, though, all of the issues with this movie come down to one big mistake that compounded throughout the entire movie: making this movie be about Apocalypse.

See, Apocalypse is one of the X-Men’s iconic villains, and in terms of story the storylines have been deep and emotional, with a lot of emotional baggage and backstory built into it. But this movie had to be about bringing together the classic and traditional X-Men, because they hadn’t done that yet. So, what they did was introduce Apocalypse, and then had him basically recruit people in interludes until the reveal towards the end. But the movie is a rather long movie (about 2.5 hours) so for a long-time X-Men fan like me it seemed to drag. This wasn’t helped by the fact that Apocalypse’s recruitment scenes had no emotional gravitas. For example, the recruitment of Angel and fixing his wings was a very emotional part of the original comic storyline, both because of how established Angel was and because of the circumstances of how he lost them, in an attack by the Marauders. Now, in a movie establishing all of that backstory wouldn’t be easy, but as it was he merely damaged one in a cage fight with Nightcrawler and we don’t really get to see any real angst because of that, dulling the emotional impact. Also, while I can see Magneto being impacted by the death of his family, I can’t see why he’d join Apocalypse rather than try to recruit a Brotherhood, as even in this continuity he’s definitely too arrogant to merely serve someone else, even if beaten by him (which I don’t think he really was). This leaves Storm and Psylocke who have absolutely no history and so their joining has no impact if you don’t know who they are already, and little if you do because there’s little room to establish their backstories enough to see why they’d join the wrong side in this continuity.

It would have been better to have this movie be about Magneto starting up the Brotherhood again. Do the X-Men thing, and even have Charles not want to recruit a team to fight while Mystique, seeing the issues in the world, argues with him that something like that is needed. Have Magneto in hiding and have his family killed when they find out who is is (but please don’t have it be an accident like it was in this one. Let Magneto be at least overreacting to actual hatred and fear here). He starts recruiting a Brotherhood. Psylocke can join it. Eventually, Mystique joins it when Charles still demurs at the need for it. Then lead into them doing something that Charles thinks he needs to stop, and have him take the team out. Have Cyclops then demonstrate leadership abilities while the other leaders prove ineffective, putting him clearly in his proper position. Have them defeat Magneto, but at a cost: the death of an X-Man, and Angel’s wings being crippled.

In the next movie, introduce Apocalypse. Have Angel dealing poorly with the loss of his wings, that not being helped by the not-very-helpful but true comments from Charles about having to learn to deal with disabilities. Have him join Apocalypse to get that fixed instead. Have Apocalypse attack the Brotherhood to “test” them, and have him take Psylocke as a Horseman, while Magneto escapes and Mystique is left behind and saves herself, or perhaps is captured but not turned. Or even turned, if that’s the way you want to go. This way, we have established characters and backstories to explain why each Horseman joined, we don’t have the issue of Magneto’s arrogance, and the movie could be all about Apocalypse. We’d also see up-front just how powerful he actually is.

Another way it could have gone would be to use the Shadow King for this movie. The advantage here is that most of it could proceed as normal, but if the undertone of mental control was introduced even the recruitment scenes would have had an insidious undercurrent that would have made them suspenseful and interesting.

At the end of the day, the movie had some good moments, but was dragged down by having absolutely no real emotional gravitas for most of it. All of the other movies either did that better or had plots that didn’t need it so much. As one of if not the first real appearance by Apocalypse outside of the comics, it was an incredibly disappointing effort.

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