Saturday, May 28, 2016

On X-Men: Apocalypse

The always wonderful David Edelstein has a damn good review of X-Men: Apocalypse, which I saw last night. It may have taken several dozen reviews for him to get there, but he's become one of the few film critics who don't read comics who understand the virtues of superhero movies. No, a bad superhero movie isn't bad because it is bloated. Man of Steel sucks because it is a miserable, empty, humorless film, not because of its ridiculous go-for-broke plot. And special effects can be wonderful in and of themselves. X-Men: Apocalypse has a lot going for it. Singer understands the pleasure of dipping into the movie, hanging out in the mythical universe for awhile and meeting some friendly acquaintances. There's nothing all that new here. You don't know anything about the main players you didn't know before. Still there are three separate issues with the movie Edelstein touches on that are worth thinking about.

1. In the action-scene highlight, Evan Peters's Quicksilver saves (spoiler) almost everyone in the Xavier's mansion from an explosion. Apparently it took three and a half months to make this scene work. The filmmakers used a 3100 fps camera which moved at 50 mph in order to get the extreme, meticulous slow-motion. I don't know what else was involved. I'd like to know more, but it's amazing to watch these bodies negotiate their place against the backgrounds.  I noted in my discussion of The Jungle Book, that the multiplanar effects turned the jungle into a space that constantly switched between the 2D and the 3D. Something similar is happening here. It's not clear whether the bodies or the backgrounds are flattened, but the bodies remain frozen as they gently move in space, like still drawings on the page. 

Peters is what Jake Gyllenhaal would be if Gyllenhaal had a little more wit and if his weirdness didn't come across as a put-on.

2. In the emotional high-point of the film, a group of his fellow Polish factory workers, who have just discovered Magneto's identity and his powers, lure him into the woods by taking his daughter hostage. Things go awry. Even after Magneto surrenders, one of the men accidentally shoots a bow-and-arrow and kills Magneto's wife and daughter. Magneto kills the men, not in rage, but in sorrow. And as he holds the corpses of his second family, he wonders at a universe that is forcing him, over and over again, against all his wishes, to turn him into a monster. I've written about Magneto before, and about the problems and virtues of the uses of the Holocaust in Marvel Comics. I don't know what I can say that I haven't already said. I didn't much care for Singer's decision to return to Auschwitz, but the movie reaches its moral high point with this execution. Magneto is the most Shakespearean of the Marvel Comic villains, as well as the most Jewish. 

3. We will always be fascinated by the distance between the wheelchair-bound Christopher Reeve and the soaring, joyful Superman of the 1970s. In a few years, if we aren't already, we may be wondering at the distance between the X-Men movies' coming-out fairy tales populated with post-pubescent bodies, and the pool parties at Bryan Singer's mansion in which the average age lingers around 17.2. I don't think Singer has broken any laws. In fact, I'm pretty sure he hasn't. He seems to be the kind of guy who has read the laws very carefully and knows how much he can and how much he can't get away with. I'm also not sure if everything he's done should be illegal. I'm also not entirely sure he's outright destroyed the lives of every one of these young men he's touched, but I'm sure he's hurt a few of them. There's a long tradition in coming-out stories of young men who look to older mentors for their initiations. Some of these initiations have led to long and happy relationships. Some of these initiations involve exploitation and misery. Hollywood being Hollywood, I imagine there's more exploitation and misery and less healthy mentorship at Singer's mansion. In real life, coming-out and finding a place in the world, whether you are gay or straight, is messier and more miserable and humiliating than it is in the X-Men movies.

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