After seeing some three dozen superhero movies these last two decades, I think I like the X-Men movies the most. I’m sure many will disagree with me here, but I’ll try to explain why. Marvel and DC Comics seem to brand themselves differently to distinguish themselves from each other, and both grasp on to certain themes. The Batman and Superman movies clothe themselves in themes of light and darkness, of purity of heart and the dark abyss of trauma and insanity. The Marvel movies are instead more about politics, about factions that fight for power, like SHIELD and HYDRA, or superhero against superhero. And 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise chooses a third path, that of emotional disturbance, growing up and personal potential. The Avengers are an alliance, while the X-Men are graduates from the school of self-development. Of course, things are not this clear-cut but I think the franchises generally approach these themes.
Looking at the past three movies, Batman v Superman, Captain America: Civil War and X-Men Apocalypse, you see the differences in style. Batman and Superman are brooding and silent. The Marvel heroes make quips and speak about friendships and power blocs, and the X-Men cry. The X-Men are the only ones that touch me. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) had the only scene of all the superhero movies that actually touched me personally (the Xavier meets Xavier scene).
On top of that, the X-Men have the best actors. In the past it was Patrick Steward and Ian McKellen, but now too James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, some of the finest actors working today, and I think when it comes to superhero movies, only Robert Downey Jr. and the casts of the Nolan batman movies reach the same level of acting. The rest is all terribly shallow.
But here we have X-Men Apocalypse. I thought it was quite alright. There are some good touching moments, especially with Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, but the franchise is running into problems. The movies keep repeating the same scenes, the same dialogues over and over again. How often have Xavier and Magneto had the same conversations? How often has Magneto wallowed in his sorrow and cynicism? How often has Mystique exclaimed that people don’t accept mutants? How often has Wolverine been troubled and confused, and how often has Xavier told new students that they will develop their skills and be safe at his school?
In Apocalypse, we once again go back to the early days of the X-Men, as a continuation of Days of Future Past. But I had no patience for it. Apocalypse starts out with some spectacular opening scenes in ancient Egypt and a beautiful title scroll and I was totally into it. The tension was rising nicely when Apocalypse the character came alive again and there was this anticipation of kick-ass stuff to come. But the story hit the brakes when young Mystique started gathering some mutants and young Scott learns about his powers and so on, and after an hour I started looking at my watch. This is regurgitating old themes. Get on with it already. Show something new and exciting.
I felt like this movie too was preoccupied with surface level appearance, and this affected both the long introduction of Xavier’s school for mutants and the eventual action. The film felt very interested in showing the old mansion of Xavier. It felt very interested in throwing in sporty suits and fighter jets for the X-Men and in destroying cities. But the story was rather shallow. Apocalypse, like Ultron, was the monster of the week. Comparing the two, Apocalypse felt stronger and more dangerous and I appreciated that, but he wasn’t that interesting. He felt a bit stiff and awkward. Some of the humor also didn’t land well. Compared to earlier X-Men films, especially to Days of Future Past, this one seemed a bit simplistic and superficial. An example is how Xavier lost his hair, which reminded me of Star Wars III The Revenge of the Sith. Couldn’t it just have been hair loss?
I’d still recommend this movie, but I hope that the next X-Men film will have a better screenplay. Or at least one that leaves the introductions and origins of the mutants behind and focuses on later storylines. Hopefully this will stop the repetition and inject new life.