Sunday, May 29, 2016

Near-Apocalypse

I caught X-Men: Apocalypse last night. Opening weekend meant the seats were pretty full so I had one of those less than ideal angles for 3-D watching. Still, besides the curious hallucinogenic after-images that appeared whenever the camera moved to a deeper field, I think I got the basic experience. An apocalypse, smoothly delivered, always a beat too slow to really land with the impact the film-makers wanted.



As always, I try to go into these experiences with an open mind and a forgiving heart. When you pay $16, you tend to find ways of salvaging enjoyment. Or I do at least, maybe someone else could get more worked up about the movie.

There are some great scenes. The final confrontation between the resurrected Egyptian god Apocalypse and his mutant adversaries is well done and impressive.

They have another way-OP moment with Quicksilver, also set to a period specific song. This one goes on longer than it should but still has enough light-hearted moments to carry it through the patchy special effects.

I also liked how the spectacles set-up any number of side-projects I'd definitely spend another $16 to see. Look, I've been on team mutant since the beginning so seeing a credible version of what the comic looks like still warms the receptive places in my heart.

The problem, as near I can figure, is that even being the sixth X-men movie and ninth or tenth movie within the X-Men Universe, X-MEN: Apocalypse happens too soon. Let's focus for a second on what the titular villain of the movie represents within the comic book for a second - after decades of strife between the X-Men and a fairly stable cadre of villains, Apocalypse was introduced as the primary enemy of X-Factor, the spin-off X-title including all of the original Silver Age mutants. Whew!

Anyway, Apocalypse was conceived at that point as being an arch-nemesis who transcended and surpassed the previous X-Foes like Magneto or Brotherhood of Evil mutants. In order to really feel the impact of this particular character, a reader needs to have a working knowledge of the rest of the X-Men continuity. In other words, Apocalypse enters into a world that's already sort of settled into a status quo, one with established characters and storylines. See where I'm going with this?

After all of the sequels, prequels, reboots, and side-projects, I felt myself constantly doing a mental checklist whenever a character entered the movie. Is this a new character or an old character, or a new character to this continuity? Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique are all basically the same character as previous movies, but Angel (previously seen in Last Stand) is reimagined as a cage-fighting Angry Bird. We last saw Storm as portrayed by Halle Berry as a resourceful but catch-phrase challenged American, but here she is an Egyptian street urchin using very minor storm-summoning powers to help commit petty larceny. Then the movie also gives us Psylocke - a very cool character relegated to the background.

The movie serves up an origin story of Cyclops and Jean Grey which basically makes sense within the prequel continuity and the original trilogy while still containing several annoying ambiguities. For example: when Jean Grey helps (SPOILER) recover his memories, is that why he is so obsessed with her in the original trilogy? But if that's part of the larger continuity, why doesn't Scott Summers recognize him?

There's just too much. The first half of the movie does an admirable job introducing all of these people (plus Apocalypse) and advancing the stories of the established characters without really giving enough time to SELL them. Without emotional investment, the slow parts really drag and the loud parts seem curiously bloodless and consequence free.

Avengers, the first one, was so successful because all of the pieces were already on the table by the time of the first act - the movie just had to throw them together in interesting ways. Civil War introduced a bunch of new characters but kept the story focused on the big drama of Captain America vs. Tony Stark. Apocalypse picks up two heaping handfuls of characters, throws them to the wall with the hope enough of them stick.

One final positive observation because despite all of what I've written above, I did enjoy this movie. This was funny. Maybe not quite as witty and knowing as Civil War, but certainly more amusing than anything I've seen from DC. And you know, when you've got people shooting lasers from their eyes, maybe that's not such a bad idea.
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