You will have to forgive informality in this latest Retrobacktive post. We live in a fast world and there is barely enough time to climb atop the soapbox, let alone proselytize.
Summer is upon us, and hence the season of the blockbuster. But we are a far cry from Jaws and Star Wars. Today, May 27, marks the release of the ninth installment in the X-Men film series. And what 20th Century Fox seems to be bating audiences with is star power and little more.
X-Men: Apocalypse features on ensemble cast of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and Olivia Munn. For the most part these are all reprisals for actors who have appeared in one, if not multiple, X-Men films already. So there isn’t much here to tempt your average movie-goer.
Oscar Issac joins the franchise as the titular villain Apocalypse. This acts as the movie’s lure. Apocalypse has been a prominent nemesis in the X-Men comics for 30 years. And we finally get to see him on the big screen!
That ought to be exciting for about 20 seconds. Then we get to go back to watching McAvoy and Fassbender ham-handily deliver their best Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen impressions, and see Jennifer Lawrence emerge as the new de facto leader of a young X-Men team. Why is Lawrence the new de facto leader of the team? Because of her star power. There is no other reason to explain it. Her character Mystique was never anything more than a secondary villain in the comics, but why relegate an Academy Award-winning actor to a bit part? That would requiring lending the audience respect.
Despite the fact that Bryan Singer has returned to the director’s chair, it seems the film studio and the writers, perhaps in tandem, have forgotten what made the first film in the series, 2000’s X-Men, a hit. With the exception of Stewart and McKellen – who still weren’t considered bankable actors at the time – the film was a collection of lesser-known players. James Marsden was up-and-coming; Famke Janssen was still known mostly for her Bond-girl status, and Hugh Jackman was virtually unheard of stateside. Halle Berry was the film’s only bona fide movie star, yet she graciously down-played her performance to give ample room to her teammates. Fortunately the acting trumped any grandeur and character development was allowed to flourish.
Now admittedly, this judgment is based on this movie’s cover, but it appears all 2oth Century Fox is giving us is a flashy new villain. It represents a bigger problem endemic in today’s cinematic culture: the bottle-feeding of American audiences. Major movie studios seem to have no faith in audiences’ ability to perceive thematic interpretation, that we may be able to comprehend allegory, mythology, metaphor, and god forbid, complex characterization.
No, instead it is simply more lasers, more explosions, more costumes, and more Wolverine.
It ought to be clear, however, that audiences want more than re-purposed junk. Two of the most successful action films of the last year have been Mad Max: Fury Road and Deadpool. Both rated “R,” both considerate of the audience’s intelligence. These were not perfect films, but breathed hope of life in the movie industry’s atrophied lungs.
Just as this summer’s new Ghostbusters film…(shutter)…panders to the lowest common denominator of attendance, so shall the latest installment in the X-Men franchise. Unless of course the sight of a bald Professor X is enough to push film-goers over their collective edge of excitement. Who needs a story – or brain activity for that matter – when you have the guy playing the guy from the comics looking like the guy in the comics?