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Friday, May 27, 2016

'X-Men: Apocalypse' Is A Stealth Remake of 'X-Men: The Last Stand'

I don't think that X-Men: Apocalypse is a good movie. That said, this isn't a review of the film. Kyle did a very fine review of the film already and you can read that. But part of what makes X-Men: Apocalypse interesting, if not good, to me is that it seems to be trying to remake 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, the film that very nearly killed the entire franchise after Bryan Singer left the first time. But instead of improving upon Brett Ratner's deeply-flawed entry into the series, Singer fell into all the same holes Ratner did.

My case:

The Characters

Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand was full of cameos. The Morlocks played a small part in the film, particularly Psylocke and Callisto, a mutant who used, in part, the powers of another mutant named Caliban. In X-Men: Apocalypse, Caliban is here instead of Callisto, but Psylocke - a character never particularly associated with the Morlocks in the comics - remains as his ally. She doesn't have much to do in the movie, but her powers and her costume are both more comics-accurate, so she feels like she exists largely to set the record straight.

Angel, Warren Worthington III, doesn't really make any sense in the film's timeline. If he was a teenager in the third X-Men film, he would be... -9 years old in this one, most likely? In the previous film, he was a bit of a wimp, a soft-spoken rich kid who never really did much fighting. Here, he's a head-banging metal punk introduced as a cage-fighting bad-ass who is eventually given an even more bad-ass powers upgrade. Hilariously, though, he loses literally every fight we see him in, so while Singer knew he wanted to 'fix' the character, he clearly didn't know how.

Speaking of characters who are jammed in regardless of the timeline issues: Jubilee returns! Instead of having no lines, as she did in Ratner's film, she has two lines here. She looks more comics-accurate, as did Psylocke and Caliban and Angel... but that's really all there is to her. Partway through the film, she disappears from the story completely for no reason, never to be seen or mentioned again.

Finally, and this one is a big spoiler, sort of, so if you don't want to be spoiled, skip this paragraph, but... Jean Grey is back, as we all knew, and Singer has expressed an interest in doing the Dark Phoenix saga. Here, we get the first iterations of that, as Singer does his interpretation of the Phoenix, which Ratner ran with in X-Men: The Last Stand. There aren't that many other stories to tell with Jean Grey, honestly, so it's not surprising, but taken alongside the return of Angel, Jubilee, Psylocke, and the Morlocks, it certainly suggests a pattern.

The Reversals

But Singer doesn't just want to remake this old, little-loved movie - he wants to fix it. So, there are a number of plot elements that take moments from X-Men: The Last Stand and reverse them. This, obviously, will have heavy spoilers too, so, be forewarned. For instance...

The film has an X-traordinarily X-traneous Wolverine cameo, in which the X-Men who Singer likes - there's literally no other rationale for who gets taken - get kidnapped by Stryker - despite him being replaced by Mystique in Days of Future Past; no, Singer doesn't even try to make sense of this - and taken to the Weapon X facility. Nightcrawler, Jean, and Cyclops tag along, and go looking for a power source so they can cut off whatever is keeping the X-Men trapped. But once they find Wolverine (in a cage next to the power source for some reason), they decide to free him instead and let him kill literally everyone in the base.

The important part comes at the end of his rampage, however, when he first meets Jean Grey. Wolverine, half-feral, could attack them or anyone. Instead, Jean reaches out to him and psychically soothes him, giving him the gift of peace by restoring some of the fragments of his memory. This is a mirror to their climactic moments in X-Men: The Last Stand, when Jean's Phoenix is raging out of control, and the only one who can reach her is Wolverine. The two share a tender moment before Wolverine gives her peace by killing her gently. A first meeting and a last meeting.

It's not the only one. X-Men: The Last Stand ends with Storm as the newly minted leader of the X-Men. In X-Men: Apocalypse, the movie ends in the same place in a similar scene, but here, Storm is instead joining the X-Men for the first time (after trying to commit genocide with Apocalypse; everyone is chill about that). Again, leadership became apprenticeship.

Why was Storm leading the X-Men in The Last Stand? Because earlier in the film, Xavier was killed by Jean Grey when her powers got out of control. But, as anyone who stuck around for the post-credits sequence knew, Xavier wasn't dead, just gone - he had transferred his consciousness into the body of a brain dead, comatose man in Scotland. The villainous Apocalypse in the new X-Men movie apparently liked this plan, because the core of his evil scheme? You guessed it: To transfer his consciousness into Charles Xavier's body.

That would give Apocalypse power, but that wasn't 'enough' for the movie I guess. Apocalypse also had... like, forty different powers, really, but one core power was this: He could amplify the powers of any other mutants. Angel's wimpy wings became bad-ass sleek metallic ones capable of flinging feathers like daggers; Psylocke's psychic sword became... I don't know, a mildly more powerful psychic sword, I guess, she has two lines so it is hard to tell. Apocalypse wants to create a paradise for mutants, and part of that involves amplifying the powers of any mutants who swear loyalty to him, or who are around him for more than one scene. What was the evil plot in X-Men: The Last Stand? Someone had created a 'cure' for mutants, one that could seemingly-permanently suppress their powers and turn them mortal.


There are, frankly, even more parallels we could draw between the two films, but overall, Singer's movie feels like an active critique of Ratner's. It's understandable - Singer built the franchise, and Ratner nearly tore it apart, so I get why Singer would want to set the record straight, as it were. But in doing so, he and his writers - including X-Men: The Last Stand writer Simon Kinberg - apparently forgot to actually include a story or character beats here. They were so concerned with mirroring the events of the previous film that X-Men: Apocalypse never really finds a strong identity of its own.
As another once-beloved nerd icon once said upon producing a very bad movie: "It's like poetry. It rhymes."
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