X-Men: Apocalypse is a powerful film which deepens the X-Men universe with the continued expanse of background story fleshing out complex characters. The origins of the original X-Men continue to unfold within the matrix of evolutionary power which is the interweaving of storytelling mediums. However, the role of the observer, the audience, plays a powerful role in how this story is perceived and supported. After two weeks in theaters, the film has grossed over $400 million globally, but that has not been enough to silence naysayers who refuse to be satisfied (Lang). As much as X-Men is an entertaining story, it is a philosophical inquiry into the evolutionary power of transformative power, and the franchise continues to investigate this question entertainingly.
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In X-Men: Apocalypse the immortal Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is the first and most powerful mutant, and thought of as the father of all mutants. Apocalypse awakes after thousands of years, and finds the contemporary world disgustingly warped by the weak. He recruits the disheartened Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and other disgruntled mutants to make way for a stronger world through destroying the current.
The fate of the Earth is determined by the young X-Men, brought together through the compassion and wisdom of Professor X (James McAvoy) and the rebellion of Raven (Jennifer Lawrence). The question of whether or not the weak deserve to live as much or as free as the strong is a continued philosophical investigation in this film, at the end of which the strong choses to defend the right to live of the weak (Guerrero). The film is fun, engaging, and appreciatively expands the scope of the visual X-Men universe. Despite smashing early box-office success, and a growing franchise of movies that rivals the vast impact of the James Bond movies, the reviews do not support the true movie-going experience.
True X-Men Fans vs. Film Fanatics
The critical reception of X-Men: Apocalypse is tepid at best and hostile at worst. From the American perspective, everything is valued through money, and this viewpoint inherently corrupts the capacity of the playful experience of being entertained. The willfulness to be entertained entails tuning down the highly critical aspect of the mind, and allowing oneself to be transported into the realm of fantasy. This playfulness is what enables people to bring their passion to enflame the comic books (Robinson and Bishop). Thus, the biggest key difference between the comic book medium and the medium of film are illustrated-reading a comic book is an active experience while watching a film is a passive one.
When playing in one’s interior realm fantasy, one can create in their own preference, but when putting the story into filmscape the actual must blend with the real. Those fans who love the X-Men universe will have the appetite to appreciate the many twists and turns the films take. However, the reality of the Internet has given everyone the power to be a critic, and similar to the power of memes on politics, many films are made or broken by the collective opinion of the film. This collective opinion is rarely influenced by die-hard lovers of the story, and more by who has the largest font online. Rather than allow the new version of X-Men characters to add to the universe, some “fans” insist on comparing the new generation to the old. As a conversation between two “fans” online shows:
Jonathan: The new cast just can’t live up to the old one.
NorcalJr: Is that honestly true? Or is your nostalgia and admiration of the old cast blinding you of the new talent? The original cast were all unknowns at the time.
Jonathan: I know what you’re saying; unfortunately nostalgia plays an important role nowadays and you have to take that into account, rather than trying to be completely objective. Lots of the cast were unknowns yes, but where it counts they had ultimate gravitas. Mckellen and Stewart in the main two roles for example. As good as Fassbender is, I don’t think he’s doing as good a job as Mckellen. McCavoy too, not good enough. (Goldberg)
X-Men Magneto and Professor X
Keeping in mind the characters of Magneto and Professor X are younger in the current franchise, why should they be as polished and refined as the performances of Stewart and Mckellen? The vulnerability, confusion, and pain that McCavoy and Fassbender bring to these roles enhances their humanity, as well as fleshing out the background of how these characters become great.
“Fans” unwillingness to appreciate the process these characters must go through to be great reflects their irrational desire for constant perfection rather than appreciating the varied processes of becoming which backstories represent. Real fans take the good with the bad, and simply love that the story continues. They’ve come a long way from the Frank Miller inspired comic books. Below, a real fan responds to this hashing out of personal preferences with unguarded passion:
Jimmy: Loved it! On some level, it’s maybe not quite as good as DOFP or X2, the stories and arcs there were a bit more personal, but it was a heckuva lot of fun and above all else, it was just a really cool superhero movie. Probably Singer’s most ambitious effort yet. This is coming from a huge fan of the X-Men, not just the movies, but the comics & tv series as well. This is the X-Men movie people have been waiting for and it’s a really good sign for the future. Really can’t wait for what’s next, Wolverine 3, the next X-Men with Cyclops leading the squad, it’s going to be awesome. (Goldberg)
This is the voice of someone who went to the theater to have a good time, not to hone his critical film appreciation merit badge. Film snobs complain:
There are glimmers where it looks like Bryan Singer is really trying. But then he seems to lapse back into Jack the Giant Slayer mode and just puts the film on wheels where he forgets to put in character arcs or a compelling antagonist or think through the ramifications of characters’ actions. (Goldberg)
This whine is ignoring the fact that X-Men: Apocalypse is one in the series of X-Men films, and as such the character arches through the many films. Attempting to fit a huge character arch in each film would either require less characters, or more superficial arches. The time spent with Magneto when he is crying, soul searching, and trying to understand what his place is in the world may seem trying to an action junky. However, in the context of the relatively steady emotional portrayal of Mckellen in the early films, Fassbender’s emotions give valuable context to the iron will determination of Magneto.
The X-Men Story Lives On
One thing to keep in mind, why so many may be unsatisfied with the X-Men innovations, is that the franchise has taken on multiple timelines with the same characters. While the actuality of multiple timelines may be clear to those who understand the ramifications of quantum mechanics, or those who have read the many branches of a comic world, the average film goer has not been conditioned for multiple realities with apparently conflicting aspects. Magneto is the best example of this since he moves back and forth from good guy, bad guy constantly, but in the end is always doing what he believes is best for mutants.
Diehard fans of X-Men hold these multiple realities of the story alive at the same time even as they are being exposed to new aspects of the story. This is one reason why X-Men: Days of Future Past was so successful, playing into the multiple timelines aspect, but there is no reason this function of the story should detract from the experience of X-Men: Apocalypse. One reason this is so is the philosophical imperative of absolute power. The X-Men story is consistently asking the question of what is the nature of humanity within the context of its evolutionary mutability, and Bryan Singer has held to this fulcrum point honorably. A strong example of this quandary is the character of Jean Grey, the Phoenix.
The Phoenix saga
The Phoenix (or the Dark Phoenix) is the most powerful mutant in the X-Men world. Jean Grey contains a power within her which is akin to the planet creating power/destruction that is a supernova. Thus, she is aptly named after the bird which lives again even as it is destroyed in the fire of the sun. This type of power is associated with the unconscious (Dark) and with the feminine, and Jean understands she is simply a host to the power, but that it transcends everything it means to be her. Just as many are afraid of their potential, mutant or not, Jean is frightened of the potential she has to destroy and create.
When she conflicts with Apocalypse she is the only one who can overcome his power. Apocalypse is her ancestor, and in true style he is proud of the Phoenix and admires her beauty even as it destroys him. Thus, the X-Men story is non-polarized, and complex. A highly polarized culture such as America will have difficulty appreciating the many nuances of the story as conditioned as they are for a simply bad guy and good guy scenario.
Jean Grey vs Phoenix
Jean Grey has the power to destroy the planet, and her inability to control her power is what leads her to allow Wolverine to kill her-in one timeline-while in another Wolverine has averted the war which leads to extinction, thus giving her another chance to live. All aspects of this story, and the potential for further growth is present in X-Men: Apocalypse. What can be dull and anti-climactic to one person can be exciting and entertaining to another. While some hyper-critical reviewers call the finale with Phoenix anti-climactic, it is not in the context of the fullness of the X-Men story (Mendelson).
The fire which burns in Jean’s eyes expresses all that is known and the potential of what could be in her character, and in the very nature of such limitless power. The finale may be understated, but no less powerful for its lack of showiness. For the diehard fan feels the burn of Jean’s power and passion in her eyes and in the revelation that she is which is the only force that could stop Apocalypse (Holmes).
The development of X-Men and new characters
The revolutionary power of the Internet to give voices to many is not always a good thing. In the case of many collective opinions, everything is better in hindsight’s nostalgia than the blasé present in which it has been made available. And remember, X-Men Apocalypse was competing with summer blockbusters like The Revenant and was still wildly successful. With that in mind, X-Men: Apocalypse will have its day in the sun in about ten years when enough crap has flown past it for it to be appreciated for the work of art the X-Men franchise is, but for now, that is a totally uncool opinion.
A keen example of this is the character of Quicksilver, who when first released was met with disdain and disenchantment from the web public. In hindsight Quicksilver has become one of the most exciting new aspects of the franchise. Understanding this, Singer expanded his key scene in the new film, making it one of the most fun moments of the story (Dickens).
Conclusion: X-Men: Apocalypse is Good!
Do yourself a favor and seen X-Men: Apocalypse in the best quality theaters you can find while you can. Cultivate the playful childlike spirit. No matter the blazing opening weekend success, or the passion that goes into the production, the online ribbing is likely to kick it out of theaters prematurely. However, diehard fans know not to listen to the haters, and remember the quintessential catchphrase “Hate us cause they anus.”
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Dickens, Donna. “‘X-Men’ fans flip out over Apocalypse’s look, learned nothing from Quicksilver debacle.” Hifix.com, 17 July 2015.
Goldberg, Matt. “‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: What Did You Think?” Collider.com, 27 May 2016.
Guerrero, Agustin. “X-Men Apocalypse Official Synopsis: God Versus Mutants.” Screenrant.com, 8 Oct. 2015.
Lang, Brent. “‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ Tops Foreign Box Office Thanks to China Debut.” Variety, 5 June, 2016.
Mendelson, Scott. “’X-Men: Apocalypse’ Review: It’s A Franchise-Killing Disaster.” Forbes, 9 May 2016.
Robinson, Tasha, and Bryan Bishop. “X-Men: Apocalypse — a spoiler-filled post-film chat.” The Verge, 31 May 2016.