Monday, June 6, 2016
X-Men: Apocalypse Vs The Amazing Spiderman 2
"Everything they've built, will fall!" is the perfect quote to sum up the soft rebooting of the X-Men franchise since First Class introduced us to young Professor X and Magneto and Days of Future Past rewrote their timeline. Despite having a much stronger template to work from, X-Men: Apocalypse does nothing interesting with the characters except jog in place, developing a future brand instead of telling a good story. But at least they didn't go the Terminator Genesys way of convoluting us into the present day with a bunch of nonsense time travel jargon, instead planting their feet in the 80s with big hair and square shouldered jackets.
The biggest hurdle movies like X-Men have to overcome is juggling a large variety of characters each with their own different emotions, objectives, arc, and powers all uniting against a common enemy. Take a look at a movie like Ocean's 11. It's in the title, a group of people who want to rob three casinos on the Vegas strip. Each character is unique and brings some skill to the table that the others don't have, but they all wind up complementing each other. Here, everyone just kind of exists, and moments when characters might have an opportunity to interact and grow with one another are lost in the mayhem of inconsistent action and meandering plot.
Which brings me to the biggest problem in this movie, which is Apocalypse himself. Except for the fact that here, Apocalypse comes across like any other "recreate the world in my image" bad guy. All his big speeches about the arrogance of man and how he will change the world fall flat because as we see him in the movie he never seems fully capable. In every scene with him either his horsemen are doing all the work or he's standing in a cramped quarters using his powers on regular humans. Despite having a power set that allows him to do nearly anything, he's restrained by plot convenience. That's why the billboards promoting the movie are of him choking Mystique. It's the only scene in the movie where he's an active villain that aren't CGI. While I don't necessarily find them offensive, they are hilariously tone deaf. This is a mutant whose entire shtick is being able to make what he wants out of anything, going so far as to alter and improve other mutants, but who never actually imbues himself with any of that creativity. He doesn't need to turn his hand into a power drill, but something besides melting people into the scenery and spraying lots of dust would be nice. Because he's able to so easily alter people's DNA, going far enough to give Angel metal wings, it's hard to discern just what his mind is capable of.
The same can also be said of Jean and Magneto. That they can rebuild the mansion not only undoes any repercussions Apocalypse might have had on the characters, but also continues a very weird display of powers. It seems like Magneto has done some blue collar work in his life, but how does Jean understand architecture and construction enough to rebuild the mansion? More importantly, how is she able to focus enough on the various complicated mechanics of nails, screws, pipes etc. that come with rebuilding at the speed with which they are working?
X-Men: Apocalypse stands as a return to poor form for director Bryan Singer. There's not much chemistry between the cast, the action is dull, dialogue is clunky, and nothing of consequence happens from beginning to end. That this will stand as one of the worst X-Men movies is what makes it worth brawling with The Amazing Spiderman 2. Both are movies made by studios that have no genuine interest in the property, with inconsistent internal logic, and made with the sole intention of vacuuming money out of people's wallets for a pretty label and mediocre product.
1. Blue person with ill-defined motivation
So Apocalypse's gripe with the world is that humans have taken over and they're weak so he's going to supplant them and make the world strong. Except when he originally ruled Egypt it seems like he wants human subjects to treat him as a god. What is his long term plan to rule after he wipes the Earth clean? The systems that he so detests are what allow us to live comfortably? After only the strong are left do they all just become subsistence farmers? Or will Apocalypse take it upon himself to grow all the crops, power all the machines, and basically run every facet of society to the point that he becomes the weak, enslaving himself to the society he wanted to build? The point of being strong is for the sake of either survival or conquest. Humanity has proven it is capable of surviving and if Apocalypse intends to reshape the entire world what is there left to take over?
I'm one to forgive differences in comic book powers versus movie powers because the former tend to get a bit broken, but Apocalypse's mutation is that he can control/alter things at a molecular level. He learns about the modern world after being woken up by connecting himself to the world's technology through a television set. Having just awoken how does he manage to interpret satellite signals so fast that he catches up with the thousands of years he behind on in an instant? Why did he need Oscar Isaac's healing factor when his understanding of physiology means he could just fix himself?
In The Amazing Spiderman 2, Max Dillon is a goofy, nerdy, gawky, clumsy, engineer at Oscorp until he falls into a tank of electric eels and transforms into Electro. Given that there's a guy with the powers of a spider going around its easy to forgive that origin, but the direction he takes with it is completely nonsensical. A guy whose main character trait is being easily taken advantage of getting attacked by the police is a decent enough path to becoming a supervillain, which as an arc was already tackled much better in Dane Dehaan's other movie about superpowers, Chronicle. But after his first run in with Spiderman any sensible arc is thrown out the window for total insanity. More importantly what does he actually want to accomplish and how is that helped by teaming up with Harry? For the guy who was built up in the beginning as the main antagonist, he spends more of his time as a henchman than a nemesis.
The surefire winner of this is X-Men, because at least Apocalypse is a consistent villain. In every scene you know what he wants and how he intends to get it even if those things don't necessarily line up with one another.
2. Hire a Damned Architect
So at the beginning of X-Men, Apocalypse heads inside his great pyramid because he plans to transfer himself into the body of Oscar Isaac because he's got the healing mutation he needs. Why he needs the pyramid to do this I have no idea (unless they plan to later reveal he found alien technology cause that happens in the comics), but the pyramid itself is held up by a single stone pillar. One that is easily brought down when two stones down are dropped into tunnels leading right to it, built in such a way that this could be the only reason they were there in the first place. What possible reason could there be for having what is effectively a self-destruct mechanism in the pyramid that lets you live forever? Why build it on such a flimsy structure? It seems like it was designed this way because they couldn't figure out a realistic way for ordinary humans to beat a guy who can turn them into puddles with his mind.
At the end of The Amazing Spiderman 2, Spiderman fights Harry Osborne in a clock tower that looks like it was designed by the guy who built Edward Scissorhands while on a particularly bad acid trip. Stranger than that, this overly complicated clock tower exists in the middle of a power plant designed by the engineer who would become Electro. Nothing of either of these locations feels slightly realistic and not even in a cartoon-y way where it might be shrugged off as something pulled straight from the comic books because Gwen Stacy doesn't die inside a giant metaphor for her time being up.
While both of these are particularly dumb, I'm more inclined to go with The Amazing Spiderman 2 as the better of the two because at least it didn't turn out that everything was built on top of a giant chasm.
3. Movie-Making is a Business
So part of the reason people were so turned off by The Amazing Spiderman 2 is that so much of the runtime was focused on brand management over good storytelling, starting with the fact that Oscorp has all the equipment to make the Sinister Six sitting in their basement. That is, until they decide to put on a very public display of the technology by handing over their rhino suit to a Russian criminal thinking no one will wonder how he got it. All the while there's the mystery of Peter's parents and the research they were doing at Oscorp which nobody cares about. You can tell there's no sense of planning or direction for these bits of information. The intent was that depending on how the it was received; the next movie could use all the vague nodding to explain whatever it decided the Parkers research would turn out to be. It's not foreshadowing because that implies a knowledge of where the story is going to go. Here, there's no sense that anyone has an idea of what they want to do with this except boast that more movies are waiting in the wings.
X-Men is a reactionary movie, trying to take what people liked from previous entries and fitting that into a story that doesn't necessarily need it. Case in point, that Wolverine shows up for an extended action scene despite having no effect on the plot. Jubilee was promoted in a lot of the advertising but doesn't actually do anything or show off her powers. Characters drift in and out of this movie with signs across their chests saying that they will be back in the next one! And of course, nothing bad can really happen to any of the important mutants anyway because they need them back to make the next movie, up to and including that fact that Magneto nearly destroyed the world and everyone immediately forgives him. Despite the fact that the most powerful mutant decided he wanted to erase the world, nothing changed for anyone.
Spiderman wins this one because even if the consequences were handled in dumb ways, at least there were actual consequences. The biggest thing to change as a result of this movie is that Professor X doesn't have hair now.
4. Unlucky at Love
Between Days of Future Past and Apocalypse, Magneto has settled down into a quiet life in Poland with a wife and kid. How he managed to get a wife, for all intents and purposes a human (because the movie presents so little of her I have no idea if she's actually a mutant) after his whole "I'm about to kill the President episode" is nothing short of incredible. Having used his powers to save someone at the factory he quietly works in, he's confronted by the police with his daughter in custody having disarmed themselves of anything metal, instead wielding bows and arrows. When she's distressed by the idea of the police taking her Daddy away her mutation, which connects her to animals, flares up. The policemen panic causing one to loose an arrow which strikes through Magneto's daughter and his wife. Taken on its head this should be tragic. But we've spent so little time with these people and the scene is framed absolutely terribly. The way their deaths are revealed is confusing at first, and the
way Magneto curses god is all incredibly goofy. And then the scene afterwards where he goes to the steel mill because he wants to kill everyone there holds absolutely no dramatic weight.
And this is his motivation for deciding to kill millions of people. Something that is entirely his fault (edit: okay maybe not entirely his fault) for which he lashes out at a world which is totally justified in trying to bring him in.
Through the entire movie, Peter Parker's having trouble holding onto his relationship with Gwen Stacy because she wants to go to Oxford and he made a promise to her father that he would stay away from her because being Spiderman is dangerous. Of course he listens to neither of them, continuing to pursue Gwen while he's a superhero despite the increasing danger. It all culminates in Gwen bizarrely and explicitly telling him that she's making her own decision to jump into the fray, helping to defeat Electro at the power plant. But that also puts her in the crosshairs of Harry, now transformed into the Green Goblin. After he drops her from the top of the clock tower, Spiderman shoots a web to catch her which incredibly takes the shape of a hand reaching out but the force with which she's yanked back kills her.
And then after a brief montage of changing seasons Peter's over it, ready to come back into the world and fight the Rhino. It's as ridiculous and shallow as it sounds, that he just decides one day to get over it because character development is for weenies. And her death isn't his responsibility because she explicitly stated that it was her choice to be there.
X-Men: Apocalypse wins because at least we got to see Magneto get over his issues even if it was a really sloppy means of doing so.
5. Too Much and Not Enough
Both of these movies are really busy, but neither ever make time for what made people interested in the properties in the first place.
In X-Men, how much time is devoted to Apocalypse either restating his goal of "cleansing" the world or explaining to someone else how they're broken and he can fix them. Rarely do we get to see his power manifest as anything besides manipulating dust and the final climactic plan he should be able to accomplish himself he needlessly puts into the hands of Magneto. As a result, one the X-Men's most dangerous enemies becomes less of an all-powerful demi-god and more Jonestown cult leader. Meanwhile, the teenage mutants get to have their own problems but none of them hold any weight or have any lasting impact on the narrative. In order to have the Quicksilver scene play out the young Jean, Scott, Jubilee, and Nightcrawler all decide to leave the movie, returning just in time for the story to continue. This all before they have a neat little run in with Wolverine while he was Weapon X, a plot thread connected to an entirely different unraveling sweater (in that Stryker's base has now been shown to be three different places).
The Amazing SpiderMan 2 has a whole lot of ideas and places it wants to explore and spreads itself so thin we only get a vague understanding of what any of it actually means. Peter's Dad worked for Oscorp doing something with spiders to cure Norman Osborne of a disease that Harry now has, yet there's machinery in the basement that can help. Apparently Oscorp is just waiting for the right subjects to hand out their supervillain abilities which they keep in the room next to Harry's medicine. Gwen wants to go to Oxford, but after she's graduated she spends the summer going after a scholarship which would somehow still let her attend in the Fall? Peter's relationship with his Aunt is getting strained by his superhero antics and she's gotten a job as a nurse to pay the bills. The movie throws all this stuff at the wall hoping it will stick, but none of it has any payoff or lasting effect on Peter himself, who glides through the movie on a wave of shirked responsibility only to discover at the end that he really does need to put his needs before everyone else's. What a drag.
The winner here is X-Men, handily.
With 3 to 2, X-Men: Apocalypse is the strongest, but that isn't saying much. Of course, The Amazing Spiderman movies were already phased out by natural selection when Sony decided to share the property with Marvel. I'm still on the fence about whether or not it would be a good idea for the X-Men to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On their own each one has quickly become weighed down by internal logic and a certain lack of consistency (to different degrees), and combined I can only imagine what kind of problems would come up. That said, if the X-Men were ported over, it would be interesting to see a select group of characters join the Avengers. Professor X, Jean Grey, Magneto, Wolverine, Gambit, Rogue and others would be a joy to have, but the existence of mutant kind at this point would run at odds with the weirdness that has already taken over the MCU.
What did we learn from this? Marvel movies are only good when they're being made by Kevin Feige. Also that trying to weave together too many plot threads will leave you with a very unsatisfying sweater.