So anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been a MASSIVE X-Men fan since I could barely walk and talk. So naturally, many of them are asking my thoughts on the latest film adaptation in the franchise. So I thought I might give a little X-Men: Apocalypse review…
But first, a little background. I grew up “reading” X-Men comics before I could actually read. My uncle (a homophobic uncle at that, which makes this story more than just a little ironic) made it a point to share his love of comic books with me since I was extremely young. He even gave me the greatest gift one comic book fan could give to another: he gave me his stash. I gravitated towards them right away, mainly because the pictures in these books were much more dynamic and interesting than the ones in Dr. Seuss. My mom was a little bit worried about some of the graphic and violent content, the way any new mom would, but then she saw just how much I was mesmerized by them. That worry was quickly overcome by happiness, since she wanted me to start reading and absorbing stories as early as possible. I also grew up watching the X-Men animated series, as did a lot of people in my generation. But while I was absorbing all the colorful characters and the action-packed story lines, unbeknownst to me, I was learning something extremely important.
It’s no secret that so much of X-Men’s conflict is a thinly-veiled parable about LGBT people. These mutants, who were born with their “gifts”, have to face so much discrimination and animosity simply because of who and what they are. All to many of us know what that feels like. And while it’s unclear as to whether X-Men’s creators intended for the franchise to symbolically address the struggles of LGBT people, they’ve since embraced that symbolism whole-heartedly. As a young person watching and reading these stories, this was absolutely huge for me, since they were teaching me about what I was before I even knew what I was. Granted, I knew that I was different from a very early age, but it wouldn’t become clear to me exactly why I was different until much later. Meanwhile, I was watching a cartoon Storm on my TV say such things as “people fear what they do not understand”. Better yet, I was watching a group of people who had been cast out for being different, and I was watching them turn their differences into assets rather than liabilities. By channeling their gifts and by working as a team, they were able to overcome virtually any obstacle. And as I came to discover more and more about myself and what made be different, it’s no wonder why I clung to this as a source of hope and inspiration.
Thus, it’s no wonder why I stayed faithful to the franchise as it moved to the big screen. As a lover of both comics and film, it was a chance to combine by two passions into one. And with an out gay man at the helm, the first two X-Men films did not disappoint, likely because he of all people understood the importance of this central allegory. If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to watch one of the first scenes where Jean Grey addresses congress. Watch Senator Kelly give his speech about how “the American people deserve to know if their children are at school with mutants,” and tell me that that isn’t about LGBT people. Plus it was really interesting to see these characters that I knew and loved in a completely new environment, one that was much more grounded and bound to the constraints of the real world. But since then, there’s been an avalanche of superhero adaptations to the screen. Some of them were equally great. Others (including ones from my favorite comic franchise) were not so good. But all of them were participating in a sort of action and special effects arms race. Each of them was trying to ramp up the scale of the action and one-up all of the others in one way or another. And it’s after 16 years of this that we finally arrive at X-Men: Apocalypse.
This probably explains why Apocalypse could not be more different than the first X-Men film. Sure we’ve traveled back and forth in time and watched characters die and be recast, but that’s still not what makes this film different. While the first film felt extremely grounded and realistic, this film goes for broke with its action and special effects. While the first one took time to give sufficient exposition and flesh out its central characters, this one blazes through its storytelling and wastes no time hitting you with action sequences from the very beginning. Since the previous film, Days of Future Past essentially (spoiler alert) erased the events of the first four films, we’re revisiting characters and locations and events that we’ve already seen before. That’s likely why the filmmakers didn’t bother letting the story get bogged down revisiting old territory. I feel like the film’s director, Bryan Singer (the guy responsible for the two films that started it all), spent his first several X-Men films being bogged down by the limitations of the technology and budget he was given. And I feel like Apocalypse was his first chance to really let loose and go balls-to-the-wall.
When I first saw the reviews of X-Men: Apocalypse, I started to get really nervous, since not a lot of critics had very nice things to say. But after watching the film, I know exactly why that’s the case. If you look at Apocalypse as its own stand alone film, then you’re obviously going to see it as a film that’s all over the place with its storytelling and that’s not at all grounded with its action or its effects. But that’s the thing: we’re not in the real world with this story. We’re in a world where people can fly and control the weather and shapeshift and shoot lasers from their freaking eyes. In a way, watching Apocalypse doesn’t feel like watching a film. It feels like you’re back watching the old 90’s cartoon again. Thus, it’s extremely clear that this isn’t a movie that’s made for critics, it’s made for people like me who already know and love the stories well.
I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t moments when my inner film snob didn’t take over and scoff once or twice. I found Oscar Isaac’s performance as Apocalypse to be less-than-intimidating. Magneto’s motivations as a character seem to shift with the wind. One scene towards the beginning of the film where Professor X, Havok, and Moira McTaggert were discussing the origins of En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse contained handful of cringe-worthy lines. But all in all, I still found myself enjoying the film, not just as an action-packed summer popcorn flick, but as a nostalgic revisit to stories and characters that used to thrill and entertain me as a kid. So if you’re already an aficionado of superhero and comic lore, rest a assured that X-Men: Apocalypse was made for you. But if you’re one of those people who likes their movies to be dense, nuanced, and realistic, then you might want to sit this one out.