Movies & TV / Columns

411 Comics Showcase – Why X-Men: Apocalypse Is Awful

June 4, 2016 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard
X-Men: Apocalypse

Welcome to 411 Comics Showcase, where the author usually prefers to stay positive and talk about the things he loves about comics and comic book movies. Sadly, today is not going to be a particularly happy article, because a very, very awful movie has left the author somewhat depressed.

Guys, it’s time to let the X-Men Movies go.

X-Men: Apocalypse was one of my most anticipated films of 2016; I was more excited to see this movie than Batman v. Superman or Doctor Strange or Deadpool. If you read last week’s article, then you know that I love the X-Men wholeheartedly; they are the reason I got hooked on superheroes as a kid. I don’t just have a passing interest in this franchise; I’ve got a deep, abiding affection for it that has allowed me to look over the various flaws of seven X-Men films of varying quality. I love Wolverine and Storm and Kitty Pryde and Beast and Cyclops and Gambit and Jean Grey and Nightcrawler and even characters like Angel and Jubilee. I love Magneto and Mystique and Juggernaut and the Sentinels and Sabretooth and Toad and Apocalypse and I even kinda tolerate Mojo. I love the quaint charm of the 1960’s comics and the game-changing Claremont era and the goofy over the top 1990’s and I’ve loved recent comics like All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men. I grew up on the 1990’s cartoon, I loved X-Men Evolution, I loved the first two X-Men movies when I was a kid, I liked First Class and I loved Days of Future Past.

I. Love. X-Men.

And X-Men: Apocalypse made me hate X-Men.

Apocalypse is a truly awful movie, a convoluted mess of plot points we have already seen, with an empty, meandering, boring script performed by uncaring actors and directed by someone who clearly has run out of new ideas for this franchise. It utterly fails to present us with a single compelling character, whether it be the returning cast of First Class and Days of Future Past who have all outgrown this sinking ship, or the half dozen new characters that barely get enough screen time to develop and fall flat when they do. Jennifer Lawrence appears totally vacant as Mystique, Fassbender alternates between cheesy overacting and muted wooden acting, and enthusiastic as the younger kids might be, they just don’t have much to work with.

The film has trouble balancing a large cast, with Charles Xavier, Mystique, Beast, Magneto, Havok, Moira MacTaggart and Quicksilver returning from the last installment while we get used to new, younger versions of Storm, Nightcrawler, Angel, Jean Grey and Cyclops, plus Apocalypse and Psylocke. And of course, the film still finds it necessary to give us a completely out of nowhere detour to Alkali Lake, giving us William Stryker (again) and completely distracting away from the main issue, simply to give us a five minute cameo of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, because of course, no X-Men movie could possibly be interesting without Wolverine in it. Aside from that tacked on sequence by a marketable but unimportant character, we also get subjected to an overly long Quicksilver scene at a critical moment that should be dramatic and heart-wrenching, but instead just provides flat comedy in one of the most jarring displays of mood whiplash I can recall. At least this scene features a character who gets some character development, even if the movie fails to deliver the logical conclusion to his story arc.

The Russo Brothers proved that it was possible to balance a large cast in Civil War, developing existing characters and establishing new ones, tied together by a simple, cohesive and compelling narrative that allowed the more personal journeys of the characters to drive the story. Here, the only truly important thing in the film is the world-domination scheme of Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse, who wants to cleanse the world and remake it in his image while looking like a polished up version of Ivan Ooze from that god-awful Power Rangers movie and having jarring, almost hilarious vocal effects. It’s truly painful to watch one of Hollywood’s breakout actors be confined by bad costume design and a repetitive, cliche-ridden script. Good thing he convinced J.J. Abrams not to kill off Poe Dameron, or I’d worry about his big-budget career prospects after this go-around. This is one of the all-time worst villains in any comic book movie, made even worse because so much of the film is dedicated to him and his boring story.

The new kids are a mixed bag; Alexandra Shipp does a good job as a young Storm, and gets the closest thing to a real arch of anyone in the movie, changing from one of Apocalypse’s horsemen to a member of the X-Men by the end of the film. Kodi Smit-McPhee is a great Nightcrawler and a true bright spot of the movie, but sadly the film really drops the ball with Scott Summers and Jean Grey. Tye Sheridan is definitely trying, but Scott’s personality is just abandoned, turning him into a rebellious, disrespectful punk. Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey is a total bore, but also gets to be the spotlighted character of the film’s climax in one of the most painfully telegraphed and drawn out sequences I can recall seeing. One of the only new characters that manages to be entertaining is Caliban, played by Tómas Lemarquis, making the most of a few minutes of screen time.

But few fare worse than Olivia Munn’s Psylocke, who has no personality, dialogue or purpose beyond providing us with “cool” powers and a “sexy” outfit. In that way, she’s a perfect metaphor for the entire film; the audience is provided with dull, uninteresting characters performing bland action in atrocious CGI environments because I guess “mutant powers” and vague resemblance to comic book costumes is enough to pass for character development in the eyes of director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg.

But you know, if this was just a badly written, badly acted, badly directed mess of a film with bland heroes and laughable plots, I might have still managed to have a good time. I’m forgiving. I’m inclined to like these characters in any format. It would have still sucked, but at least I wouldn’t hate this film the way that I do. See, this film didn’t just settle for being “movie” bad, it decided to be culturally insensitive to the point where it became genuinely offensive.

Let’s all talk about the character of Magneto for a moment. Whether you’re a fan of the comics or the movies, whether you prefer Ian McKellen or Michael Fassbender, chances are that if you have even a passing interest in the X-Men movies, you’re probably familiar with this guy’s story. Erik Lensherr and his parents were interned at Auschwitz during World War II, where his parents were murdered and mutant ability to control the forces of magnetism first manifested. He is a Jewish man who experienced and survived the worst kind of persecution in Jewish history, something that informs every future action that he takes to defend mutants from a similar fate. This isn’t hidden, this isn’t subtle; this is the core of his character. And he’s a great character, arguably the greatest comic book villain of all time, because we can all understand where he’s coming from.

So can somebody tell me why Erik is allowing an ancient mutant claim to be Elohim and HaShem convince him to destroy Auschwitz, which is now a memorial museum that honors the memory of the Jews, Poles, Romani, homosexuals and other minorities that were tortured and murdered by the Nazis? I mean, is Bryan Singer just this clueless? Or does he just not care because Jewish people aren’t his minority?

Look, guys, I get that most of my readers probably aren’t Jewish or know anyone who is Jewish, but this isn’t complicated. This is history, this is stuff we all know. This would be like Tony Stark getting really angry at the Mandarin and destroying the memorials at Ground Zero because he got upset. If that idea offends you (and it should), then you have some idea of how poorly this scene plays. I would have rather have seen Magneto die while rejecting En Sabah Nur’s godhood in this scene, because at least that would have been in character.

Look, I’m not a religious zealot, I’m not against using religious themes in movies; I’m not upset with the concept of Apocalypse referring to himself as Elohim and HaShem. That’s keeping in character. But when you have this character claim to be specifically Jewish names for God, claiming that he was absent during the Holocaust but has returned now, speaking to a Jewish Holocaust survivor in Auschwitz, you’re pushing a little further than you need to go. And when you then have Magneto destroy the memorial that honors his people (and others) and going along with Apocalypse’s plan to “cleanse the Earth”, you’ve totally crossed a line.

I get that some people are going to be upset that I’m offended by cultural insensitivity, or say that I’m reading into things a little too deeply, or that I should just shut up and enjoy this movie for what it is. I don’t agree, and I won’t take off that lens when I consume any media, but I’ll acknowledge that this is a fair point… in most cases. See, the problem is that what this movie ostensibly is, what it’s branded to be, what it’s selling is The X-Men.

And in case you forgot, The X-Men is a comic about persecuted minorities. The X-Men are about embracing and understanding different cultures, religions, and beliefs. The X-Men is a place where men and women are equal, where sexual orientation doesn’t matter, where skin color or religious belief or country of origin doesn’t matter. The X-Men are greater than the sum of their parts because every single member is treated with respect and dignity.

This movie spat on all of that. It wasn’t just a bad comic book movie, or a bad X-Men movie, or just a bad movie period. It was a movie that brutally spat in the face of everything that the X-Men stand for. Do I think it was malicious? Probably not. I think it came from ignorance. And the X-Men deserve better than that.

And so do we.