Who are all these weird-ass people and why should we give a toss anyway?
It was AFL Grand Final day, and a number of my good friends in this area begged for an alternative to hanging around while their parents watched beefy men chase a chunk of leather around the field, so we had a gaming day that finished up with a late viewing of the most recent X-Men outing. Bryan Singer directing, yet again.
Honestly? Boring. Lame. Lots of smashy-splashy sfx. Plenty of punch-em-ups. A Newer Bigger Villain Threatening The World As We Know It. But as for any kind of zip or fun or joy… ha! Forget it.
It made me wonder, watching it, how such a much-loved comic-book franchise could be so badly reconstructed for cinema. How the hell did the film-makers take iconic characters with rich backstories and create a kind of four-colour mishmash without any of the emotional qualities which drove the comics? And indeed, how do they achieve such a thing in the face of recent superhero flicks such as Captain America/Civil War, which are more or less successfully character-driven and emotionally effective despite having at least as many spandex-wearing types leaping athletically about the screen?
The answer — an answer, anyway — occurred to me as I watched the only two segments of X-MA which gave me any pleasure. Both of these featured the mutant Quicksilver with his hyperspeed abilities. In the first segment, he races through an exploding X-men HQ rescuing everybody who is about to die (including a goofy dog and a goldfish). In the second, he gets to punch the crap of the Bad Guy of the Week using his hyperspeed again.
The thing is — particularly with the explosion scene — that it’s not just another superpower on screen. Quicksilver knows he’s gotta do something, so he puts on his goggles, flicks on his personal soundrack/walkman thing (The Eurythmics Sweet Dreams – a classic) and then zips about with the camera following him through a gradually unfolding explosion as he rescues people in his own kind of early-twenties slacker way. It’s a deeply character-driven scene which reveals a great deal about Quicksilver as a person, and it’s also more than a little funny. Sure, it’s utterly dependent upon remarkable SFX and CGI wizardry — but it works.
And that’s what’s missing, by and large, from these X-movies. There’s no personal touches, no little gems of dialogue, no special moments to allow the audience to connect with these larger-than-life characters… and so for most of the movie, all we can do is sit back, munch our popcorn, and watch as the spandex-types alternately smash stuff up or look concerned about whatever they have to smash up next.
Even Fassbender’s Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto… even his return from hiding out feels dreadfully ‘by-the-numbers’. Once again, Magneto has a family. Once again, his family is killed by people suspicious of his mutant nature… and ho hum, yet again Magneto does his nana and butchers a bunch of people in response.
Personally, I think these X-films are the single best argument for the approach taken by Marvel in creating their Avengers cinematic universe. By giving individual characters their own films, and keeping a bit of crossover going, when we get to the films that are full of spandex the writers and directors can load up with references, Easter eggs and “personalized moments” to help the audience continue seeing the characters that are supposed to inhabit those colourful costumes. I think it’s very telling that characters I cared least about in Civil War were relative newcomers Vision and the Scarlet Witch… whose backstories are largely offscreen. (Though they did try with the Vision. I’ll give them that.)
Anyway: you wanna watch X-MA? Go right ahead. But if I were you, I’d have a jug of G&T and a few good friends close by. Otherwise, it’s a great big meh-fest. And yeah, that’s even with the inevitable Huge Ackman Wolverine Cameo…