X-Men: Apocalypse – Does What It Says On The Tin

Found my seat in the dark, cracked open my gluten-free snacks and prepared myself for two hours of explosive, crass and unsubtle storytelling. Yup, X-Men: Apocalypse, part 3 in the latest outing of the mutant franchise. A few genetic alterations and people are freezing time, firing lightning bolts and flying. I shan’t bore you with the plot as it’s basically X-Men 2 (2003) all over again but rebooted for the current generation of teens. Onto the highs and lows. Spoilers.

Highs: En Sabah Nur (the main baddy). Marvel is not renowned for doing interesting baddies. Asides Loki, The Avengers series has been plagued by an underwhelming line of talking robots, aliens and cardboard cut-out evil human stereotypes. However, the latest X-Men series can boast Kevin Bacon and Tyrion Lannister as some half-decent snarling villains. But when X-Men: Apocalypse begins in ancient Egypt at a huge ceremony for the all-powerful mutant En Sabah Nur you know things are going to be epic. He’s betrayed by some of his worshippers and trapped underground for a couple thousand of years until he’s reawakened in the 80s, and boy, are his motivations simple: power and destruction. He pursues these with ruthlessness and sure, whilst there isn’t much more depth to him, I felt his power was genuinely menacing. Unlike Bacon and Lannister I genuinely thought he might beat the X-Men. Of course, I knew he wouldn’t because I understand how these films work but he put up a damn good fight. Hats off to En Sabah Nur. Although one problem: when it came to dressing his henchmen in cool, new body armour he did have a habit for covering the guys up but keeping the women largely exposed. So nothing like the below…

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BxVcDvFIQAAGXOw.jpg
If superheroes were dressed like superheroines

Low: Character Development. Ok, so the main baddy is just a really powerful psychopath hellbent on world destruction/domination and it doesn’t fare much better for the other characters. Since the last movie Magneto has retired from evil-doing to go live in the woods with his wife and daughter. Yup, as soon as we see those two innocent, female clich├ęs we know they’re going to die. And they do. Cue Magneto’s motivation to turn bad again and join En Sabah Nur. Xavier is still irritatingly smug and morally righteous. Meanwhile, Alexandra Shipp plays Storm (the weather controlling one) and starts life as an Egyptian street orphan living with a gang of thieves getting chased by Egyptian male stereotypes. Yup, non-American cultures don’t come off too well in this movie and just when I thought there was going to be a female Muslim character she rips off her veil to reveal she’s actually Moira MacTaggart, the white, CIA agent. And she’s also the one that accidentally causes En Sabah Nur to wake up. Yup, just like in the last movie we have a woman to blame for all the world’s problems.

High: Quicksilver. Let’s face it, the five minutes of Quicksilver larking about listening to ace music whilst the rest of the world moves in slow motion are some of the highlights of these movies (see below). This one doesn’t disappoint as he rescues all the mutant kids from Xavier’s school as it blows up – serves Xavier right for allowing a highly explosive war plane to be built-in his basement. What I also like about Quicksilver is that because he hasn’t studied at Xavier’s school yet he hasn’t become a self-righteous, entitled doofus. Sure, he’s one of the good guys but he gets the job done without fuss and no pompous speeches. And he lives at home with his Mom and likes playing video games yet is happy to stand up to world-destroying megalomaniacs. He’s also great at saving people rather than killing them. A true hero.

Low: Mass Destruction. Sometimes all it takes is a shadow on a floor to create suspense and other times real drama can come from such seemingly mundane events like a row over breakfast or being late for a meeting. Of course, none of this applies when the word Apocalypse is in your movie title. We have crazed demi-gods building pyramids out of modern-day Egypt, we’ve got Magneto tearing Auschwitz to pieces (I really don’t think unsubtle superhero movies should tread into sensitive terrain like this, mainly because they don’t tread, they stampede) and we’ve got Magneto basically destroying the entire world by ripping up all its metal. The sheer number of people killed in all this would be astronomical. Yet come the end of the film Magneto casually goes home and Storm, who also assisted En Sabah Nur in trashing loads of stuff, just joins Xavier’s school as if she’s not a mass murderer. I know we want to watch cool graphics and special effects but bigger really doesn’t always equal better, especially when the actual amount of damage caused, not to mention the death toll, would take decades to mend. Maybe just a tiny bit of realism please in and amongst the flying and mind control.

So, providing you can turn off your feminism, racial-sensitivity, snobby-Charles-Xavier-hating and general-common-decency filters then you’ll love this. Lots of things blowing up, Quicksilver doing his hypersonic speed thing and even the odd joke. One pack of gluten-free chocolate biscuits later and I was suitably entertained.

Captain America v. Iron Man: Humans Amongst Gods

Gods have been and continue to be a big deal. For millenia many people have worshipped one god or many gods. Whole cities have been built in honour of the gods and many a war has been fought over whose god is better. Much good has been done in the name of gods as well. Unsurprisingly, gods play a big role in culture too – in the Ancient Greek theatrical classics that still get performed today, in iconic imagery from Botticelli’s Venus to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and in cinema. And if ever there was a modern film about decidedly modern gods it’s Captain America: Civil War.

The trailer speaks for itself but to give a brief summary: basically the United Nations want to pass a new law that would ensure the Avengers (Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Man, the bird guy, the big green guy etc) cease being a private entity and come under the remit of the UN. They want to do this because humanity is fed up of the amount of collateral damage the Avengers cause. Sure, they destroy nasty baddies hellbent on bringing about the apocalypse but they also cause a fair amount of unnecessary death and destruction. Iron Man thinks this is a good idea because he’s getting a bit jaded and all the civilian deaths are making him feel a bit guilty. Captain America disagrees – what if the UN have their own agenda? Bureaucracy takes too long, what if they have to respond quickly to a some mad, killer robot – they can’t wait around until the UN ratifies it? Naturally, a disagreement between the Avengers isn’t settled at a table – unless that table is a death match arena rammed fulled of explosives. Yup, lots of fighting ensues, and that’s basically the film.

Between the falling buildings, metal suits and impressive gymnastics there is actually quite an interesting underlying philosophical question at the heart of Civil War – who are the powerful responsible to? If we zoom back to Ancient Greece we’ll remember the stories of the gods on Mount Olympus – vain and selfish superhumans who argue a lot. There was Zeus with his homing lightning bolt, Hermes with his flying shoes and Poseidon with his tidal waves. Civil War takes a similar stance: the gods (aka the Avengers) tend to be vain and selfish and they do argue a lot. They also have extremely advanced weapons with rocket launchers big enough to match the size of their egos. And the question remains – who are the powerful responsible to? Should they be answerable to the UN, a decidedly mortal organisation, or to themselves? The answer kinda depends on whether you prefer Captain American with his funny, spandex suit and bouncy shield or Iron Man with his metal armour and power punch.

Of course, fictional superheroes aside, we must ask this question of ourselves to. The power of our technology and weaponry is immense. We have surpassed the Greek gods – homing missiles instead of lightning bolts, fighter jets and drones instead of flying boots, and atomic bombs to create our own tidal waves. And it won’t be long till our soldiers wear flying metal suits. We are humans amongst gods. And who do we answer to? The obvious answer is the people – the ‘demos’ of democracy. But the powerful have a habit of overlooking the lowly civilian, just like the Greek gods and the Avengers – when their petty rivalries get out of hand it’s the human world that suffers as a consequence. So, let Civil War be another warning to us – that the power of the powerful needs to be curbed because they really can’t be trusted. They’re basically just adult sized toddlers with a-bombs.