The Hubris of X-Men: Apocalypse
Comic book movies have reached a point in our culture where a filmmaker like Bryan Singer (directing his fourth X-Men movie) thinks he’s untouchable enough with the material to feature a scene where characters strut through the ruins of Auschwitz in spandex—one character, Psylocke (Olivia Munn) wearing knee-high boots and high-cut swimwear with heaving cleavage—and then reduce the place to rubble without flinching. While the outrage culture of 2016 dictates for us to be offended by this, the more offensive element is that Singer, his crew and the studio thought it was a good idea. And this is no joke, this is a scene from X-Men: Apocalypse, and it becomes symbolic of how misguided the film is as goes through an identity crisis while suffering the hubris of assuming superhero movies are too big to fail.
X-Men: Apocalypse shifts from the tone deafness of the Auschwitz sequence to a scene where Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) stabs his way through a military facility with blood spraying across the walls in an attempt at something ‘adult’, no doubt, a result of the success of Deadpool. There are then scenes where teenage mutants debate the merits of the Star Wars movies like 43 year-old men wearing ‘Bazinga!’ t-shirts, and later, Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) shoots laser beams out of his eyeballs while crushing hard on the telepathic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) like a piss-weak John Hughes movie (there’s even an Ally Sheedy cameo). And it’s all centred on the villain, an ancient mutant (Oscar Isaac buried under heavy makeup and prosthetics to make him look like a sex toy left in the sun for too long) who is planning a genocide—which explains why they’re piggybacking the Holocaust for lazy pathos—to rebuild a new world. X-Men: Apocalypse even struggles to explain the intention of its phallic villain and it’s most evident when screenwriter, Simon Kinberg, has characters discussing the dire outcome and one of them says, ‘the apocalypse’, which is followed by another character saying, ‘the end of the world’; surely, just out of frame there is a thesaurus lying open to show a complete lack of faith in an audience when the objective is also in the title of the movie. And that’s what happens for a bulk of X-Men: Apocalypse, everything is stated, and then restated. Even the introduction of younger versions of characters established in the previous X-Men films is laboured as this franchise goes around in circles rebooting and retconning every element until someone at 20th Century Fox feels confident enough to move this story forward in its current form because it moves in millimetres; it’s only in the final 10 minutes that anything really happens. But as it goes with these comic book movies, the whole thing was just a set-up to tease the next movie which is why these final moments make an impact because we’re starved for something (anything!) to happen.
And plenty happens in X-Men: Apocalypse, technically, it’s just of zero significance to moving a story forward with desensitising action sequences where chunks of cities float around in the sky and flimsy characters, designed only to look cool, crash into each other. The only element that jumps out of the nonsense is the doses of body horror reminiscent of Temple of Doom with unexpected amounts of ick. One of the villain’s powers are to meld people with objects and there’s shiver inducing scenes of men being trapped in walls with only their eyeballs and mouths exposed. In another scene, a mutant with large wings made of feathers has them replaced by a metallic set and the process is shown to be agonising with Singer focusing on bones cracking and flesh tearing from the character’s back. Again, this is at odds with what the rest of the film tonally, but it’s something that works within the context of people coming to terms with their mutant powers having a devastating effect on their bodies and it stands apart from the lethargy of the devastation. To focus on the theme of bodies and identity seems like a no-brainer for an X-Men film in 2016, especially when you consider the wider conversation about gender in our society and the mutants status as a minority in the comic book universe, but Singer and Kinberg can’t even fathom the mutants for this metaphor and would rather turn another building into threatening dust; it sums up the nearsightedness of this endeavour. Still, we now have a comic book movie where Auschwitz is fair game for CGI destruction and that’s a depressing new low no matter how you swing it.