X-Men: Apocalypse

Bryan Singer’s X-Men series is the longest line of superhero films by a single director, and while they’ve been consistently popular over the years they’ve been frequently criticised for not keeping up with the times, stuck in an early 2000’s mindset of being ashamed of their comic book origins and refusing to embrace their source material’s often campy nature. But I can happily confirm that this era is finally over, as Singer has managed to make a film perfectly in tune with the age we now live in, with a dour, joyless, extremely violent superhero tale to fit in right alongside Batman v Superman and Civil War.

This time our heroes are confronted by an ancient Egyptian mutant played by Oscar Isaac, looking uncannily like Ivan Ooze from Power Rangers, who is resurrected from the ruins of a destroyed pyramid and wants to take over and destroy the world because… I really don’t know, he’s just evil and rambles about false gods a lot like he was accidentally given Jessie Eisenberg’s script notes for BvS. After gathering a deeply silly looking group of followers, who join him in his genocidal quest for no discernible reason besides him being able to make them more powerful, he sets about razing the world’s cities to the ground to build a pyramid because… I have no fucking idea. He just does things because the script needs a villain.

Meanwhile Magneto watches his latest family being shot dead in front of him because he just can’t catch a break, and joins Oscar Isaac for the exact same reasons he was the villain in the last two films, while Mystique, played by an utterly not giving a shit Jennifer Lawrence, also has her character arc reset to the beginning of First Class because the writer can’t come up with a new plot for her besides ‘gets over not looking normal’. Meanwhile baby versions of the cast from the first three films get together at Xavier’s incredibly inconspicuous school for people with superpowers and go off on a quest to rescue him when he gets kidnapped by Apocalypse. Oh, and Wolverine’s in it for a minute, because of course he is.

To describe this movie as ‘going through the motions’ is extremely generous; it’s basically just a checklist of X-Men movie tropes: Magneto decides humans are worthless, Mystique gets over body image problems, vague allegories to real life persecution are made, Professor X gives humanist speeches, the cast is way too large for everyone to be developed properly etc. The whole affair is so mind-numbingly generic I found myself heavily referring to the Wikipedia plot summary to remind myself what happened the day after seeing it. It’s ostensibly set in the eighties, but it doesn’t matter and once Apocalypse starts getting demolishing cities like a bored Roland Emmerich you’ll have forgotten the few nods made to the period. I don’t know if Singer’s just given up trying, but his direction has regressed drastically since (the legitimately good) Days of Future Past. There are direct to video Seagal films with more compelling direction.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, this film is absurdly violent. People are crushed, impaled, decapitated, shot, stabbed, flayed in slow motion and in one case telekinetically folded up like human origami. None of it fits the film’s overall tone and it feels like the director just got bored and decided to see what he could get away with. All of it ends up building to a punishingly long and literally headache-inducing climax in which characters we don’t know very well hit other characters we don’t know very well repeatedly with dodgy CGI, and I found myself zoning out to the point where I can’t quite remember how it resolved.

This is quite possibly the worst X-Men film to date, even worse than the legendarily bad Origins: Wolverine. It’s an agonizing slog that only avoids being the worst superhero movie of the year because Batman v Superman exists, and I can only hope that another director is hastily brought in to right the series because otherwise it will soon go down in flames.

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Game of Thrones, Heart of Trash

“Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armour, and it can never be used to hurt you.” – Tyrion Lannister

Game of Thrones has become something of a cause célèbre in recent months, in large part due to its depictions of sexual assault. I personally gave up on the series with the Sansa incident (a line I drew in the sand several series back in an attempt to convince myself to keep watching), but what’s really began to irk me over the past few years is this series’ complete and total denial of its own identity.

At its core Game of Thrones is an exploitation soap opera, Dallas with dragons and softcore porn, but it’s so determined to be high art it can’t admit this to itself. The endless random prostitutes and rape victims used as window dressing clash violently with the show’s prestige aspirations, all of which get phenomenally boring very quickly as the show has no idea how to use them any more artistically than a cheap porno.

The real problem though is that as the show has become more and more obsessed with being taken seriously it’s proven it has no idea how to do that beside becoming more violent and miserable. It visits horror upon horror onto its cast without having any idea why besides ‘we got good reviews for Baelor and the Red Wedding, so misery’s artistic right?’, but all this does is sharply contrast with the unceasing softcore porn and make the violence unbelievably dull (I almost fell asleep during the umpteenth Theon torture scene). Whatever point the story originally had has been lost beneath the piles of tragedy it thinks makes a point in and of itself.

Part of this problem is inherited from the source material. A Song of Ice and Fire labours under the delusion that it is the great American novel or that it bears much resemblance to medieval European life*, and George RR Martin has a terrible habit of confusing randomness and misery for realism. This tends to kick the legs out from under his drama but the show takes it to a whole new level.

I think the best example of this problem with the show is its depiction of Ramsay Bolton. Villains who are completely and irredeemably horrible can work brilliantly in fiction (I hold that Amon Goeth is cinema’s greatest bad guy) but they need depth beyond their desire to cause misery. Joffrey may not have been the most complex character but he had the depth of being an entitled little shit given a position of power and influence far beyond his comprehension (like an evil Justin Bieber). Ramsay in the show however is just Joffrey 2.0, an attempt to recapture past success by creating someone even nastier, but the result is a one-note caricature who might just work in an exploitation piece but who falls completely flat in serious drama, and becomes incredibly boring.

Were Game of Thrones to embrace its nature and become full-on exploitation it would probably be quite fun. The first series’ sex scenes were so ridiculous and out of nowhere they had a certain charm the way good exploitation does, and that whole series’ embrace of its pulpy origins fitted the source material far better than the current deathly serious approach.

So in conclusion I implore Benioff and Weiss to just accept their show for what it is. Drop the pretensions to high artistry, let their twelve-year-old ids run rampant and let Game of Thrones flourish into the wilfully sleazy splatterfest it was always meant to be.

 

*http://www.livescience.com/44599-medieval-reality-game-of-thrones.html