THEY keep coming in waves — and the latest superhero movie (Apocalypse for short) will lure all die-hard fans, not quite me among them, to fork out tons of cash to cover budgets. The genre is as much part of the millennial currency as film noir a half-century ago. Those who simply see what’s on are surely by now as accustomed to the vast screens, 3-D and Dolby sound as any tween geek.
Distinguishing between Marvel and DC (and many derivatives) is probably puzzling in telling who is who, and what their back stories, rooted in the graphic art of comics (or comix), reveal about each separately. Apocalypse is the eighth X-Men movie — and they flicker between different eras in the collective life of the featured “mutants” — so some knowledge of recent cinematic history is essential. Some characters here take time off to see a Star Wars diversion, which seems so self-referential as to be inbred.
It’s the computer imagery that stuns: the sensory immersion in catastrophe echoing what could be a social meme in our age of fundamentalism and terror. The title promises that, though we are shown at inception that Apocalypse (Isaac) is the name of a super-being, a deity to ancient Egyptians. After being entombed for thousands of years he wakes in the 1980s to find the world not to his liking and sets about smashing it down to initiate redemption.
To us, a mutant is a physical abnormality, but in X-Men (though many of the specials are women) they are gifted with powers like those of ancient Greek gods and goddesses. One Charles Xavier (McAvoy here, at earlier intervals Patrick Stewart) has founded a School for Gifted Youngsters into which he inducts the socially shunned superbeings to train them to control and deploy their extraordinary forces as perhaps the next phase in human evolution.
They are many, and the average cineaste could well be dazzled by their leaps from the screen into our consciousness. Apocalypse, for example, once had a compliant Four Horsemen (in the Bible: Conquest, War, Famine and Death) and seeks their counterparts among our world’s population. He rounds up Magneto (Fassbender) and three others. Then he engages in vicious conflict with Xavier and his acolytes.
You might recognise Mystique (Lawrence) and Beast (Hoult) and many younger mutants, some of whom are listed on this page. However, I find it impossible and redundant to list each fanciful name and assigned player. It’s best to let events and references flow over and into you without attempting to sift through who is morally good and who devilish.
There are two sides — so that can guide you into the final scenes of a world in ruins, Apocalypse made real and horrible. Many die — though, as usual when the makers want to lure the right-aged audience, there is little actual dismemberment and blood. Magneto is shown to be warped by his experiences in attempting a normal life; and Byrne as the CIA agent Moira can be seen as exemplifying righteous authority, a shaky premise. But in the interludes between violence she is allowed to interact and respond on a human (that is, an actorly) level.
The given budget for Apocalypse is US$234m, which could obviously fund many desperate independent filmmakers’ quest to get their art into cinemas. But as long as the ticket-buyers trample each other to get in, the superhero movie will reign. One thought: a few major failures could see so much money being lost that investors could search for some fresh means of making the cinema bear worthwhile fruit again. The sole alternative seems to be animation.
Directed by Bryan Singer
(In ensemble): James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till