Updated: Oct 13, 2019
I recently stumbled on a scene from an X-men movie captioned “The only scene in this movie that mattered”. Intrigued, I clicked on it. Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams started up to punctuate a scene of a young man freezing time and pulling everyone out of an exploding building. This fascinated me, and I delved into Youtube to find more scenes with this character. Thus, I discovered a whole line of X-men movies I was unaware of. As someone only a couple years returned to Western fandoms after a long sojourn among manga and anime, that I didn’t know about these movies isn’t much of a surprise. Now I have set out to explore this line of movies.
The first movie I acquired from my local library was X-men Apocalypse, the movie with the scene that started this. I desperately wanted the context for that scene and to know more about the character. I’ve watched it one and a half times now and can’t help but analyze the writing. For those who haven’t seen it, this is going to be filled with spoilers. I give it three stars and would compare it to a classic sci-fi from the 90s, but with modern special effects. Read the rest of this at your own risk of having the plot fully spoiled.
I have so much to unpack here, so I’ll start at the beginning and go through it to the end. The movie starts out introducing the antagonist, an ancient mutant who used his powers to make himself immortal and ruled over ancient Egypt before being betrayed and buried. He’s a classic over-the-top villain, with a look reminiscent of a character from The Fifth Element. He considers himself a god and is always served by four powerful mutants. Once he’s awakened, he sets out to choose four retainers, and to start a purge of the earth. World domination is a trope almost as odd as this desiccated mutant. The repeated tie ins with this man being the Old Testament god was a little irksome, but I let that pass.
Kurt Wager (Nightcrawler) is introduced as a reluctant cage fighter in East Berlin. He’s tossed into a fight with a mutant named Angel. Angel displays a brash confidence as a fighter, but suggests he’s not especially eager, pointing out the gunmen that will shoot them both if Kurt doesn’t fight him. Mystique, another mutant, stops the fight and saves Kurt.
Angel breaks out of the cage and flies off. This character is one of the ones I would’ve liked to see have more characterization. He’s recruited by the villain. Despite initially wanting nothing to do with him, after his wings are restored, he does an about-face and serves blindly. He’s a throw away character, with zero depth and few lines. The little bit of personality he showed in the cage fight evaporates. The plot needed four villains to serve the god-mutant and he’s shoved into that mold. I do appreciate the attempt at character growth for Kurt having to face Angel again at the end, but it could’ve been done with more finesse for both characters.
That said, Kurt is one of my favorite characters in the movie. He stays consistently awkward and cute throughout, providing a few comic relief lines that got a laugh out of me. His struggle to stretch the limits of his ability is believable, and as heavy handed as it was, the parallels between the cage fight and his later confrontation with Angel did accomplish showing Kurt’s growing confidence.
The character I found the most well written was Magneto. He is a consistent reluctant villain throughout the movie. I haven’t seen the earlier movies, but I gathered that after those events he changed his name and went into hiding in Poland. He married and had a daughter. When he slips up and reveals his ability, the police come to his home. His family are killed in the ensuing struggle and Magneto gives up trying to have a normal life. In the midst of his sorrow and rage, the god-mutant recruits him. Magneto is in too much pain to resist and agrees that the world needs to be cleansed and begun anew. He remains conflicted, however, and finally joins the X-men in their struggle to stop the god-mutant.
Scott Summers (Cyclops) comes into his mutant ability at his high school and his brother brings him to the school. He’s immediately rude to Jean Grey after bumping into her due to his blindfold. After he gets his special glasses and sees her, his tone changes and he quickly adapts to life at the school. The decision to lead a group of teens to the mall seemed a little nonsensical, and irrelevant to the plot other than to make it so they were absent from the events at the mansion. They stumble in after the explosion and Scott’s true character growth begins with the loss of his brother, the only one that Quicksilver arrived too late to save.
Jean Grey is a consistent, if rather quiet character, through most of the movie. That very unobtrusive introduction to her made her later character development more powerful. She did have a couple beautiful moments: first, when she quietly restores Wolverine’s memory, putting a stop to his rampage; second when she stops restraining her powers and steps out into the open air like an avenging goddess to take down the god-mutant. The power of that moment as a climax for both the movie and Jean’s character arc was one of the highlights, despite the overdramatized and corny lines of encouragement Professor Xavier throws her way.
Now for Quicksilver, who fascinated me enough to seek this movie out. I would’ve liked to see more of him, but the appearances he put in were all wonderfully done. He’s a powerful force, as shown in the explosion scene. No words are spoken but his brash confidence is displayed as he messes around and takes his time getting everyone out of the school. He confronts the god-mutant with nothing more than his fists and gets beaten down as a consequence. That said, his interpersonal struggle about whether to reveal himself as Magneto’s son shows an uncertain side to his character. He’s not scared to face down the villain, but he flinches away from looking his dad in the eye and announcing himself.
All in all, I’ve enjoyed this as my reintroduction to the X-men world. I paused my writing to finish watching the movie a second time. It’s dramatic; it’s flashy; it has costumes reminiscent of classic sci-fi. I loved it. I already have requested another movie from the library. I want more Quicksilver and Magneto, and definitely more Wolverine. He only had the one bloody rampage in this movie. Days of Future Past comes next!