Temporary Apocalypse (X-Men: Apocalypse, 2016)

X-Men-Apocalypse-IMAX-posterThere is a scene in X-Men Apocalypse where, as a group of students are leaving Return of the Jedi, Jean Grey states “But we can all agree the third movie is always the worst.”  It is a pretty clear shot at X-Men: The Last Stand.  That was the movie Apocalypse Director Bryan Singer skipped and is pretty widely seen as a disappointment after X2.  Except, whether they realized it or not, the joke is kind of a jinx.

See, X-Men: First Class and X-Men:Days of Future Past?  They were quite good.  They are entertaining and filled with terrific performances and nice use of characters from the vast history of the X-Men Comics.  After the Last stand and the damage done by X-Men Origins: Wolverine the series went back to the beginning.  Introducing us to Young Charles Xavier and Magneto.  McAvoy and Fassbender brought characters we knew as aging leaders to young men trying to make the world a better play, but always coming to odds with how to do that.  Then, in Days of Futures Past, they brought the past and future together, to try and fix the timeline, fixing the flaws of Last Stand and Wolverine.

And this brings us to X-Men Apocalypse.  I was looking forward to it, as it was most of the team that brought us the last two installments.  Yet again, the central focus is the relationship between Xavier (McAvoy), Magneto (Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).  Beast (Nicholas Hoult) retuns, as does Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne).  We are also introduced to a younger Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), young Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Jubilee (Lana Condor).  Of course, smartly, the film brings back Evan Peters as Quicksilver…and he steals the show a lot…again.

First, the good.  Again, as I said, Quicksilver is just fantastic.  Yeah, he is not really like his counterpart from the comics.  In the comics, he is arrogant, impatient and snippy. This is explained in the comics by Quicksilver essentially seeing life as being a continuous wait at the DMV, at least when he has to move at the rest of the worlds pace.  Evans approach is more of a lighthearted goofball who enjoys and savors his speed.  And it really works.

The performers are good choices.  I like that they kept the faith element for Nightcrawler.  I know his creator never cared for that addition…but I always liked the combo of swashbuckler swordsman Christian who happens to look like a demon.  Setting young Storm in Cairo was a nice touch, acknowledging her history from the comics.  There are a lot of great visuals. And yet…

The story is just a mess.  There is so much going on, so many introductions, characters get lost.  Jubliee, who was a pretty big character in the comics for over a decade is barely a side character.  We never even see her mutant powers in action.   Angel is just a random passerby in the film, for all intents and purposes.  Both he and Psylock (Olivia Munn) get precious little to do and zero character development.  The film routinely feels like it is advertising “There will be a deleted scene on the blu-ray fans!” as it transitions from moment to moment.  Maybe those deleted scenes will make Apocalypse feel threatening.  When some of us expressed concern about the pictures of Apocalypse on Entertainment Weekly’s cover last year, we were told to not assume this was the final look, they will Fix It In Post, so to speak.They did not.  Or at least not enough.  In spite of hiring a terrific actor (Oscar Isaac), Apocalypse just never feels as frightening as the film keeps telling us he is.

And it is clear the film is going for epic.  But it just never feels that way…because the film takes forever to get through it’s big dramatic moments.  There is a sequence that is supposed to be the big Jean Grey moment.  She walks dramatically into battle towards Apocalypse.  There is a standoff going on the mental plane involving the psychic characters…and the film spends a ridiculous amount of time on dramatic shots of Jean Grey walking.  And walking.  And walking.  Instead of being thrilled by a big moment, I was just wanting them to get to the moment.

And there is a dramatic image from the trailers…that turns out to be the filmmakers taking a cue from Superman IV: the Quest for Peace.  The film just shambles along from scene to scene, never feeling coherent or particularly great.  And after the last two films?  A pretty big disappointment.  I mean, it is okay, but it was a real drop after the last two films.  And Deadpool.  It is okay for an X-Men movie means it might be slightly better than the Last Stand.

The Danger of Deadpool’s Victory

So, since the last time I talked about Deadpool, I was proven very wrong.  Deadpool was a hit with critics and audiences, receiving a lot of praise.  There are people who did not care for it, but the movie broke records nobody expected.

I am happy to be wrong here.  I am glad it has succeeded.  And I think there is room for both family friendly super hero films and ‘R-Rated’ super-hero films.

On Twitter a week or so back, I got involved briefly in a discussion that was inspired by a tweet that stated that “Nothing Good Can Come From Deadpool’s Success.”  I took the opposite side, arguing I do not think it means all super-hero films are suddenly going to go hard ‘R’.

Then in a couple days time, we saw announcements of the next Wolverine film will be ‘R’ and there will be an ‘R’ rated “super cut” of Superman vs Batman.  And I do get the concern, though I am not ready to admit defeat.  The Wolverine is not surprising, and they have skirted the violence of the character for over a decade.

Going back to X-2 we were being given pitches that we were about to see the Wolverine the last film did not deliver.  We got a more violent cut of the second Wolverine film.  At best, the success of Deadpool let them know that the ‘R’ is not the kiss of death.

In regards to Superman and Batman…Warner Brothers has always seen dark and gritty as the key to success.  When Superman Returns did not succeed quite as big as the WB had hoped?  They cited that it was not Dark Enough.  When the Dark Knight succeeded they felt vindicated and even suggested that this is how they would fix Superman.  When Green Lantern failed Warner Brothers blamed the film for not being dark enough.

Yet Man of Steel was dark and grim.  And it seems the DC Universe was already on this path, well before Deadpool.

What is sad, is there is a lesson to be learned from Deadpool’s success.  Deadpool was not a dark and grim take on super-heroes.  It was a fun and bizarre ride.  It had dark humor, and lot of it.  But it was funny and intentionally so.  The creators (from the writers to the director to the stars on) got the character.  They knew and were faithful to their source.

Deadpool proves taking a big risk is worth doing.  Films that know who they are? They are what studios should take a chance on.  Truth their creatives, don’t micro manage.  Letting the creators be free often produces positive results.  Micro-Managing everything gives us studio vision and less interesting films.

Four or Five Moments (Deadpool, 2016)

deadpool_imax_posterTim Miller’s Deadpool is hilarious and fun.  A darkly comic take that brings the pages to life by simply understanding the character.  The movie is also extremely crass, full of over the top cartoonish violence, raunchy humor, some nudity and plenty of profanity.  This is not for everyone, and if you find those things hard to get past, I would recommend skipping this one.  It is also not for your kids.  This film earns it’s ‘R’ rating.

Honestly, it is a bit amazing this film got made.  While attempt to parody and mock super-hero film have been attempted, they are really never successful.  They never seem to understand the thing they are lampooning.  Miller, Ryan Reynolds and the writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have given us a surprisingly clever film.  It is a bit amazing that they even got the opportunity to make it.  After the disaster of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (The first attempt at playing the character by Reynolds), the idea of a Deadpool movie was shelved by the studio.

Then, somebody leaked test footage of a sequence that was created to pitch the shelved film.  The response was so overwhelmingly positive the film got greenlit and Miller and Reynolds went to work.

And what they gave us is one of the most unique super-hero movies we have seen, while still fitting into that world.  Reynolds bring snarky charm to Deadpool, also known as Wade Wilson.  Wilson has been experimented on and his latent mutant genes activated.  He takes damage, but due to a healing factor, all his wounds fix themselves.  So, like a real life Wile E. Coyote, he gets abused relentlessly, but keeps coming back.  A lot of the film’s humor comes from this.

There is a running gag that Colossus is always trying to get Deadpool to change his ways and join the X-Men.  And along with the sullen Teenage Negasonic Warhead, he spends the film trying to get Deadpool on that path.  And these two characters are great additions.  They fit into the world well.

Deadpool_trio

The real success is pulling off the character of Deadpool.  Constantly cracking wise, he spends the film talking to the audience.  In one scene Colossus is startled by a comment from Deadpool, not understand why he made his comment.  Deadpool explains that he is not talking to Colossus…he is talking to “Them”.  Them is the audience.  Wilson is constantly breaking the fourth wall.  Instead of narrating the film, he just turns and talks to the audience.  He is fully aware he is in a movie universe.

One of the other fun aspects is that Reynolds is merciless to himself.  There are numerous slams of his previous film outings and even a slam on himself as a talent.  And the film’s opening credits (which kept me laughing even after I got the gag, it just stayed funny) effectively let you know the film’s sarcastic attitude.  This is not your regular X-Men movie.

Of course, the movie is definitely set in the Fox Marvel X-Men Universe.  This has caused some consternation among some geek sites, as they cannot reconcile the difference between Daniel Cudmore’s Colossus in the previous X-Men films and the version we see in this film, who appears older and is voiced by Stefan Kapicic with a thick Russian accent.  This is pretty easy to reconcile, as the Days of Future past altered the timeline.  It is entirely possible Colossus came from Russia when he was older.

I found myself liking all the characters in Wilson’s circle.  There was an oddball charm in his relationship with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin).  His roomate Blind Al (Leslie Uggams) is a riot.  T.J. Miller’s bartender (he runs a bar for mercenaries) Weasel is a fun character (his best line comes right before Deadpool goes to take out his villain, Francis (Ed Skrein).  Francis really hates Deadpool because he is so mouthy…and Deadpool refuses to call him by his chosen villain codename… Ajax.

Anyways, while I have repeatedly expressed concern that the film will not be successful for precisely the reasons I enjoyed it, I am more than pleased if it succeeds, as it could open the doors to more creative takes in superhero films.  There are a lot of them on the slate, and it would be great if they all sought to set themselves apart from the crowd.

Early Reports of Death

deadpool-movie-poster-2016

The early reports from folks who have seen Deadpool are coming in, and they are quite positive.  Deadpool is a film that exists predominantly due to the fact that fans (and that includes Ryan Reynolds) want it really bad, like really bad.

And yet, part of me suspects it may be an overall flop, even if it is loved by critics.  Right now?  It is the fan community getting to see it.  Of course, Fox wants that positive word of mouth.  And it is encouraging to hear that the filmmakers really get what makes the comics and character so entertaining.

The ad campaign is very tongue in cheek and funny.

And yet, I wonder…will that all translate to success with a wider audience?  Is the Deadpool fanbase enough to make this film a hit?  Will the dark and violent humor translate outside that target market?  It make, but I suspect that right now, this film may not be the success some are anticipating, precisely because it appears to be very reverent to it’s source material.

The Argh of Apocalypse

The X-Men films started off strongly (X-Men was decent, X2 was very strong) faltered in the middle (X3 and X-Men Origins Wolverine were big stumbles),  X-Men:First Class started the films back to a solid footing that X-Men: Days of Future Past continued with.  The Setting in the past helped give the films a sense of purpose.  And as they go into the 80’s with the X-Men: Apocalypse, introducing Apocalypse makes a lot of sense.

In the Marvel comics world, Apocalypse was the first mutant.  He is ancient.  And he looks like this:

x-men-apocalypse-coming-in-2016Entertainment Weekly recently revealed the look of Apocalypse for the film:

ew-x-men-leg-05ApocalypseHeaderAnd it just feels…off.  People slammed it quite harshly.  My own reaction was that it looks like a lame Doctor Who villain or a rejected idea from the Wishmaster franchise.  I mean, maybe there is going to be a barrage of digital yet.  But some folks quickly jumped up to point out that folks complained about Quicksilver and look how that turned out.

And, this is fairly true.  People howled loudly about how awful Quicksilver’s outfit looked.  And yet, Quicksilver was one of the most engaging characters in the film.  His sequence in Days of Future Past was a real standout.

And so, folks are understandably saying, the character could still be awesome.  And true, the performance may turn out to be awesome.  I am not expressing a dissatisfaction with the performer.  But I am rather unexcited about the characters look…and no performance is going to suddenly make it look cool.  I may like the performance and character, but unless there is a lot of post production touch up, I cannot see the character looking less comedic.

As an aside, the inclusion of Jubilee feels odd… Jubilee is really very much an element of the 90s X-Men comics. Yes, she technically first appeared in the 80s.  May of 1989.  The actress seems like a good choice and they do seem to have hit her style near perfectly.

Oh yeah, Moira McTaggert is in this one…if it’s not archival, there is a 20 year jump in time since we last saw her…are they aging Rose Byrne (the character would be pushing 50, if not older)?  And really Entertainment Weekly and Filmmakers…if Scott Summers is a “bad boy” in your film…crap, that is a big misunderstanding of the character.

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