“Apocalypse” Now: Has The “X-Men” Series Reached A Point Of No Return?

“X-Men: Apocalypse,” the ninth “X-Men” movie, opened in theaters last weekend with something between a bang and a thud: its domestic three-day weekend haul of $65.7 million, a steep drop from the $90 million three-day weekend gross of its predecessor, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” two years ago. It was also just the sixth-biggest opening among the nine franchise entries, and seventh with ticket prices adjusted for inflation. Point being — even comic book fans are suffering from “X-Men” fatigue, and keeping their wallets in their pockets for this latest go-round. The apathy of the general populous was shared by muted critical interest in Professor Xavier and Co.’s latest shenanigans: it boasts a mere 48% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (the eighth-lowest score in the franchise) and just a 52% rating on Metacritic (also the eighth-lowest). Filmcore’s Armani Barron sits down with “X-Men” X-pert (sorry, had to) Curtis McDonald to take the temperature of the series’s comic fans, nine movies into the proceedings.

Armani: Which scene did you dig the most?

Curtis: My favorite scene was a young Jean Grey (“Game of Thrones” star Sophie Turner, replacing Famke Janssen) meeting Wolverine (still Hugh Jackman, because Wolverine is supposed to be ageless). I feel like she had a strength about her and she knew she was dealing with a (gratuitous pun alert) caged… animal of a man.

Armani: Okay, so I was actually a little torn about that. Sophie Turner is a great actress and was really able to convey a sense of sympathy that Famke’s Jean Grey flashed in past installments (the first three “X-Men” features, James Mangold’s Jackman spin-off sequel “The Wolverine,” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past”). But then I remembered that they would hook up in future movie installments and it’s kinda weird because she’s just a teenager in that scene. Also I didn’t like how, in the “X-Men” movie universe’s future (i.e. the first three “X-Men” flicks, parts of the time-traveling “Days of Future Past”) both Scott/Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Nightcrawler would act like they had never met Wolverine before. The timeline in these things is getting excessively convoluted, no?

Curtis: Well that’s the thing about this series that can make it so confounding sometimes: the original trilogy’s events are kind of irrelevant because the events of “Days of Future Past” have essentially created (sort of) a new timeline.

Armani: But don’t you think that’s too easy? Like instead of writing screenplays that make sense they can now just say screw it, it’s a different timeline? Also, how then did Storm (Alexandra Shipp, replacing Halle Berry) further develop her powers without Apocalypse (series newcomer Oscar Isaac)?

Haha, now we’re going down the rabbit hole after all. Anyway. What was your least favorite moment?

Curtis: They were not on the ball in terms of consistency. It’s as if Bryan Singer — the director of the first AND latest two “X-Men” movies — isn’t even keeping tabs on the cinematic universe that he created. My least favorite scene… Hmmmm… Okay, there was a part where Storm used her wind powers to throw a car at Beast (Nicholas Hoult, replacing Dr. Frasier Crane) and that made me cringe because the CG looked awful. “The Flash” TV show has a better special effects team.

Armani: Surprisingly, my least favorite scene was when Magneto destroys Auschwitz. I’m all for the retroactive, time-traveling destruction of Auschwitz, but they way they used it in this movie feels somewhat exploitative. The first “X-Men” features an adolescent Magneto telepathically warping a metal fence in Auschwitz; the fact that Singer back in 2000 handled things on more of a restrained, micro level makes it all the more annoying when it’s so over-the-top here. As a comic book reader, how truthful was this whole “move the earth” thing? Also if Magneto can do something that impressive, then how are they supposed to fight him in later movies? They have to make these powers more consistent — define the rules and give them some restrictions, you know?

Curtis: He was a Holocaust survivor in the comics; I think it reads better in splash panels than on a 40-foot screen.

Armani: On second thought, my least favorite moment may be literally ALL of the dialogue. Simon Kinberg doesn’t understand how normal humans hold conversations.

Curtis: A lot of the time, filmmakers choose to do different things with the source material to surprise the audience, which absolutely makes sense. “X-Men” fans appreciate the characters and their narrative arcs as they appear in the comic books, it feels counterintuitive to manipulative that for cheap audience fake-outs. That being said, I didn’t even feel a real sense of surprise from this film when they did enact similarly unfaithful narrative choices, so in that attempt they failed miserably. The original “X-Men” cartoon series, which ran from 1992-1997, was able to capture the social injustice of society against mutants quite effectively, in 22-minute increments, dozens of teams a season. It would be easy to draw parallels between the X-Men mutants and the recent victims championed in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Actually, speaking of timeliness, this brings me to another point. “Apocalypse” was set in 1983 — did it feel particularly 1980’s-ish to you? Besides employing the Eurythmics in another bravura slow-motion Quicksilver-to-the-rescue sequence, I didn’t really register too many period elements. And that Quicksilver scene was just put in there because it worked in the last movie. It just felt like a cheap narrative device, too convenient to even make sense.

Armani: I mean except for a few of the outfits no. Jubilee felt very 80’s, but she never used her powers and was never actually introduced so she doesn’t count lol.

Curtis: Quicksilver isn’t even supposed to be an X-Man.

Armani: Well the audience loved the scene with him in the last movie so I think they wanted to include Evan Peters more in this one too. So although “X-Men: Apocalypse” only had a PG-13 rating (which seems to be a prerequisite for all of these movies not named “Deadpool”), nodded at some pretty dark subject matter (e.g. the death of Magneto’s wife and child, the slaughter of all of those soldiers in the compound, the overall destruction of Egypt), do you think this is a direction that they will continue to go in? Do you think that was a part of the original vision of the comics? You kind of touched on this with your early comment.

Curtis: I think we use media in all of its forms to convey our own feeling about the world and I truly believe that creatives draw parallels with the powerful characters that they make. The impossible circumstances or threats these characters confront are designed to teach people to look for pathways to unanticipated internal solutions, things that can help us overcome anything. The climax in “Apocalypse” at least tried to do that, in showing Magneto resolving to help his friends (which seems to happen in most of these movies) instead of seeking retribution on humanity. I just felt that the Magneto of the previous films was very much his own man, and he wouldn’t be one to follow another mutant. That storytelling choice took away his agency. Also, since he’d just lost his wife and kid, I felt like he wouldn’t have been emotionally capable of trusting anybody.

Armani: True. I feel like they have really steered away from the whole humans-vs.-mutants debate (which was a metaphor for civil rights in the original comics) and pared it down into a mutants-just-wanna-run-shit-vs.the-government dilemma.

Curtis: Exactly. I feel that Singer, Kinberg and the other producers all have a vision for the franchise that’s going to continue to diverge greatly from the source material.

Armani: Probably a mistake. On to the cast — there were a lot of big names in this movie. Who do you think delivered and who do you think phoned it in?

Curtis: Well James McAvoy sounded overly English (he’s Scottish). Michael Fassbender (Irish playing British) just owns everything. Sophie Turner wasn’t bad all and neither was Tye Sheridan (replacing James Marsden as Cyclops), really.

Armani: Outside of McAvoy, though, we Americans can’t tell the difference between fake English accents and real ones, lol.

Curtis: Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse didn’t shine, but he’s a good actor the costume was just awful. It must have been hard to act through something so cumbersome and goofy-looking. Every J-Law scene or pre-transformation Beast scene made me mad.

Armani: Yeah, the Apocalypse make-up was practically indistinguishable from the Ivan Ooze make-up in “Might Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie.” A make-up design that, you know, looked fake in 1995. Another note on the actors — MF was my favorite, and even he had some terrible dialogue to work with. That “WHY GOD WHY???” line in the forest was so cheesy, I was cringing in my seat. Also, J-Law phoned it in and refused to wear the blue suit. That’s why we got so little of actual Mystique. Speaking of big names, let’s talk Hugh. Speaking of actors phoning it in, Wolverine’s guest appearance: hot or no?

Curtis: Wolverine was cool, but his appearance was wholly unnecessary. In fact, none of that whole sequence was. It slowed the pace of the whole flick — our heroes got kidnapped and escaped, end of story.

Armani: Side note — I wish they would have shown how the kids escaped the chopper.

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