WARNING – This article contains spoilers about X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. If you don’t want anything spoiled, don’t read this. Feel free to still share it on Twitter and Facebook though!)
The first time I saw X2: X-MEN UNITED, it was a midnight screening in Santa Monica. Bryan Singer was, unexpectedly, there. He revved up the audience before the movie started. Everyone loved it. We had a blast.
When the movie came to DVD, I rushed to buy it. I watched right away. It wasn’t as good. The opening sequence with Nightcrawler in the White House is still one of the best openings to a comic book movie, but the rest of it doesn’t really hold up. Turns out, that kind of works for all the X-MEN movies.
The first one is a bore.
X2 is messy and trying too hard to ape the flow of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.
X3 (which I like more than most people) has some terrible action and no real push to it. Things just kinda happen.
FIRST CLASS is the best of the bunch, but the low budget really hurts the movie. The FX are slightly above what you may see on a large budget TV show.
DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is fun, and it moves fast. Fast enough to make it easy to ignore the serious script problems.
APOCALYPSE is… well, it is boring, with bland action scenes and some of the worst FX I’ve seen in a major release.
If we want to include the satellite movies:
WOLVERINE: ORIGINS is burning garbage.
THE WOLVERINE is good until the lackluster 3rd act.
DEADPOOL is the saving grace of the X-MEN film universe. Fun, character driven, and willing to accept its own flaws.
For the most part, there is one guy we can look at for these movies – Bryan Singer. Of the straight up X-MEN movies, Singer has directed four of the six. It is his universe. It is his playground. It is his fault. Outside of Magneto, I don’t think Singer gives a shit about the characters that make up X-MEN. He ignores their powers, their comic history, and what makes the X-Men so popular in the comics – the interactions between the heroes.
Take, for example, X-MEN APOCALYPSE. When Angel gets his metal wings and becomes Archangel, he shoots a few metal feathers into a wall so that the audience can see what abilities the guy has. Then he never does it again. The entire final fight has Archangel battling Nightcrawler, and all they do is punch each other a bunch. How you don’t have Archangel shooting blades at a teleporting Nightcrawler, I have no idea. The action is so simple to see, and yet Singer and his crew seemed to miss it. They also have Storm appear to travel through a bolt of lightning in a single instance – something the character cannot do.
Even worse than any of that – Singer has the beginnings of the relationship of Jean Grey and Scott Summers at his fingertips, and he never gives them a real moment together. There’s a brief scene where they talk under a tree, but it gives the audience nothing. There is no reason to think, from this movie, that Jean and Scott would ever end up together. There’s no connection made between the characters. Insanity.
Still, there is time to fix the X-MEN film franchise. All Fox needs to do is follow these five simple steps:
GET RID OF BRYAN SINGER
Despite all my crying above, Singer does deserve our gratitude. When he first brought the X-Men to theaters, nothing like it had existed before. Singer made a comic movie with a deeper meaning. He didn’t shy away from the aspects of the X-Men comics that dealt with discrimination. He reveled in it. From the opening scene with a young Erik at Auschwitz, we know that this movie isn’t just about cool super powers and fun action.
Singer lost that meaning somewhere. There are hints of it in X-MEN UNITED, but when Singer returned to the franchise for DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, that deeper meaning seemed to be gone, which is amazing since so much of DoFP deals with it. The whole plot revolves around fear of mutants, but it feels less like Singer is trying to say something and more like he’s just going through the motions. X-MEN: APOCALYPSE totally sidesteps the idea of mutant discrimination by not bothering to have a single fleshed out human in the movie. Rose Byrne only appears to be in the movie so Singer and his team can have someone give the plot of the movie to the X-Men and the audience in less than five minutes. There was literally a point towards the end when Byrne shows up and I was confused because I forgot she was in the movie, and she’s in the movie the whole time.
Singer seems bored with these characters he never bothered to learn about in the first place. Let him go off to make other movies. He, and the X-MEN franchise, will be better for it.
RESPECT THE CHARACTERS
I mentioned that one of the most important things to the success of the X-MEN comics is the character interactions. More than any other comic, X-MEN is a soap opera – the romantic lives of the characters is just as important as the bad guy they’re fighting that month. Members of the team full out despise each other, but still work together as a cohesive unit. We’ve barely seen any of that in the movies, partly because the focus has always been on Wolverine or the Xavier/Magneto relationship. Fox needs to let the other characters breath, to let them live.
I hate to be that guy, but a big part of why the Marvel movies that are controlled by Marvel work so well is because they respect the characters, and they take time to let us know these characters. There is a scene in X-MEN: APOCALYPSE where a few of the students at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters take Nightcrawler to a mall for the first time.
They go to a mall with a blue kid who has a tail – here come some good character moments, right?
Wrong. We see nothing. All we get is a moment where Singer bags on X-MEN: LAST STAND by saying the 3rd movie in a series is always the worst. What could have been a scene where we get to see the discrimination against mutants first hand, where we could maybe connect with any of the characters introduced (or reintroduced) in this movie in a way we haven’t been able to yet is instead turned into a chance to bag on another director’s work. What shit.
Also, less blue characters. Half the characters of X-MEN: APOCALYPSE are blue. And the ones who aren’t blue are wearing blue costumes. Seriously. Look at a color wheel and choose some other colors.
UP THE FX BUDGET
Seriously. Please up the FX budget for these movies. In APOCALYPSE, there are shots where I’m not sure the FX was completed. There’s a CG helicopter that looks like something out of a video game. In the final battle, a shot of Archangel flying is so badly done, the audience in my theater laughed. He looked one dimensional and rubbery. Like something from the early days of CG.
And the tree scene. Apparently Xavier’s favorite tree was made in Maya by a sophomore in art school (nothing against you sophomores, but your work shouldn’t be in a summer blockbuster). I know that when Rothman was the big cheese at Fox he hated the X-MEN movies and wanted to spend as little as possible on them, but he’s gone now. Don’t be afraid to put some money behind these movies, guys.
EXPLORE THE X-MEN UNIVERSE
Every X-Men movie has been the same fucking thing – mutants fight mutants. There is so much more to the X-Men universe for Fox to explore. The X-Men have had adventures in space fighting alien races. They’ve traveled to the Forgotten Land where there are dinosaurs. They’ve battled vampires, hung out with leprechauns, and traveled to other realities. Explore some of that stuff! Well, maybe not the leprechauns stuff.
Hey, Fox, did you know that in 1987, Marvel did a miniseries called FANTASTIC FOUR VS X-MEN? In it, the X-Men, in order to save the life of one of their own, turn to Doctor Doom for help, and end up fighting the FF as Doom tries to save Kitty Pride. Fox, you have both of these properties and can’t figure out how to make people interested in the Fantastic Four. Along with actually making a good FF movie, why not have these two properties come together for a story that is based not just on action, but actual emotion as well?
The point is, we’ve had six X-MEN movies now, and every one of them has been about Magneto wanting to kill everyone, then getting beat or changing his mind randomly. Mix that shit up.
HAVE SOME FUN!
You don’t need to, nor should you, go full DEADPOOL with the X-MEN movies, but there’s no reason not to have some fun from time to time. Every character is a bummer in these movies. Prof. X is all sad that his buddy Erik is mean. Erik is all sad that humans keep killing people he loves. Jean Grey is all sad because she’s real powerful. Scott Summers is all sad because his brother died. Hell, even Quicksilver is all sad now because he can’t bring himself to talk to his dad and he’s 30 and still living in his mom’s basement.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t moments in these movies that are funny, but these characters are all real Debbie Downers. One of the things that made Quicksilver stand out in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST was that he looked like he loved being a mutant. I didn’t get that feeling from him in APOCALYPSE. You need someone like that in these movies, someone who revels in being different. Otherwise we’re looking at two hours of watching a bunch of pissy pants crying. That shit is dullsville.
Yes, the X-Men works best as a soap opera, but that doesn’t mean some of the characters can’t enjoy their lives.
*Photos: 20th Century Fox, Marvel Comics