X-Men: the prequels

This past weekend, I had a bit of an X-Men-fest, as I watched the new X-Men trilogy, having finally picked up Apocalypse on DVD. So thought I’d come here and ramble on a bit about my thoughts on the trilogy, because why not!

X-Men First Class

First Class kicked off the new trilogy in 2011, and was classed more as a prequel than a reboot of the film series that had begun back in 2000. I’ll get to that series in due course, as some of those films are just awesome! First Class is, without a doubt, an amazing movie. It’s set during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and absolutely nails the 1960s setting no end. The backdrop of fear of a possible third world war is particularly apt for the fear of mutants in the real world, and some really interesting moments come out in these themes.

We essentially get the origin story of Professor X and Magneto, as we see the supervillain Sebastian Shaw and his attempts to incite the nuclear war. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto here deserves particular note as, of all the mutants, I find his to be the most compelling performance. Whether it’s because he has the most grueling of the character arcs here, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I just think his commitment to the role is fantastic.

Indeed, there’s a certain commitment to the storyline that really makes this movie something special so far as superhero films are concerned. Of course, there’s the usual plot of a supervillain trying to destroy the world – in this case, Shaw wants to bring about the nuclear apocalypse to rid the world of humans, leaving only mutants behind. But the way in which the Cuban Missile Crisis is woven into the storyline makes you feel like this is a much more serious film than folks in fancy costumes doing crazy stunts. It has that, don’t get me wrong, but it really does stand apart from a lot of the other things on offer.

X-Men Days of Future Past

Days of Future Past followed in 2014, and is a sequel to both First Class and the original trilogy’s The Last Stand, as we see the terrifying future of the Sentinel programme unleashed on mutants across the globe. The original cast is back to reprise their roles, right down to the tiny cameo of Anna Paquin’s Rogue, and we even get Rebecca Romijn as Mystique briefly.

Days of Future Past is, of course, one of the iconic X-Men comic book stories. Published in 1981, it deals with Kitty Pryde being sent back in time (to 1981, from the dystopian future of 2013) to prevent Mystique’s assassination of Senator Robert Kelly, which has caused that future. In the movie, Wolverine takes that central role, and is tasked with preventing the assassination of Dr Bolivar Trask, who originally created the mutant-hunting Sentinel robots in the comics. Following on from First Class, Days of Future Past is set in 1973, and the pivotal moment around the assassination takes place at the Paris Peace Accords. However, unlike its predecessor, the time period in this movie really feels pasted-on, and there’s no real reason for the movie to be set here. I mean, it could have just as easily been set in the 1960s like the first, or the 1980s like its source material. At any rate, there are some interesting twists of time along the way as Magneto, learning from Wolverine that Mystique dooms mutant-kind to pursuit by the Sentinels, decides to kill his erstwhile Brotherhood of Mutants colleague before she can kill Trask. It is then Magneto that almost turns the world against mutants, but Mystique, by saving President Nixon from Magneto, brings about some degree of mutant toleration. Wolverine is captured in 1973 by Colonel Stryker, who takes him for his infamous Weapon X project, while miraculously Wolverine manages to return to a present-day that has managed to avert the crisis of X3, and both Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey and James Marsden’s Scott Summers are alive and well.

For me, while this is still an enjoyable-enough movie, I thought the time period issue was a little unnecessary – although I did love the fact that Magneto was held responsible for the JFK assassination. I found the more interesting parts to be the “present day” Sentinels storyline, and thought it was really cool to see the X-Men band together for survival. Of course, anytime we get Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan in a story together is to be cherished! Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask was a surprise to me, but he played the part so well, I have to mention it.

Annoyingly, we only learn that some of the mutants from First Class, such as Azazel and Angel, were evidently captured by Trask and experimented upon in order to create his Sentinels project, but we don’t hear anything about folks such as Emma Frost, who had a significant role in the earlier film. It’s probably too much to hope that we’ll get another movie, too, so, um… yeah…

X-Men Apocalypse

Last summer, we had the third movie in the prequel trilogy, Apocalypse. Following the brief post-credits scene in Days of Future Past, we start in ancient Egypt with the first mutant, En Sabah Nur, as he attempts to transfer his consciousness into another victim in order to stay alive, but the ritual is interrupted and he is entombed for centuries. Cults around the world have been dedicated to him, however, and in 1983, he reawakens, and determines to rule the world. As one does.

He first begins to gather followers to him – his four lieutenants. First to be gifted with power from him is the Cairo pickpocket Ororo Munroe, followed by Psylocke, who is working for the black marketeer Caliban, and finally Angel, who is an underground brawler in East Berlin. Mystique, having rescued Nightcrawler from a fight with Angel, learns of what’s happening and decides to go to Professor X for help. Recently arrived at the mansion is Scott Summers, who has manifested his powers of shooting lasers from his eyes and needs help to control it. There, he gets off to an initially frosty start with the telepath Jean Grey…

Meanwhile in Poland, Magneto has been working in some kind of generic industrial environment, and exposes his powers to save a coworker from harm. The local law enforcement catches up to him, and kills his family by accident. In Magneto’s devastation, En Sabah Nur comes to him and offers him untold power at his side. With his four horsemen around him, En Sabah Nur learns of Cerebro as a way of tracking mutants, and infiltrates the Xavier Mansion to capture Professor X. Attempting to fight them off, Havok causes a massive explosion that implodes the mansion, though the arrival of Quicksilver means that everyone is saved unharmed – everyone, that is, apart from Havok himself.

Colonel Stryker arrives at the mansion and captures Beast, Quicksilver, Mystique and Moira, with Jean, Cyclops and Nightcrawler managing to smuggle themselves along for the ride to Alkali Lake. Jean, Cyclops and Nightcrawler manage to free Mystique and co, after a gratuitous Wolverine cameo, and they head off to stop En Sabah Nur from destroying the world. Nur is using Magneto’s power to basically rip apart the world from its metallic core, and he plans to transfer his consciousness into Professor X’s body in order to gain his mind control powers and thus enslave the human race. As one does. Mystique and the others show up, and after a climactic battle that involves all of the X-Men coming together, including turning both Magneto and Storm from Nur’s side, they manage to destroy him and end the threat.

I don’t know what it is about the third movie of an X-Men film trilogy, but they always attempt to go huge, and they always seem to fall flat. I say “always” like we’ve got trilogies coming out of our ears, but hopefully you know what I mean. Again, the 80s style is just “there”, and we get an almost-totally pointless scene where Jean, Scott, Jubilee and Nightcrawler (somehow) go to see Return of the Jedi, where Jean makes a comment about the third movie always being bad – an apparent dig at The Last Stand, but I think it could be equally true of this movie, as well.

Quicksilver is back, and while he says he knows Magneto is his father, there isn’t any on-screen connection between the two, which kinda made me mad when I watched it. I mean, we can’t get Magneto in an Avengers movie because of this? The character was vaguely annoying in Days of Future Past, but didn’t really have a significant part to cause me much angst. Here, however, he’s pushed forward in a manner that almost seems overly-deliberate. I’d read something a couple of years ago that said Fox deliberately used him in order to cause Marvel/Disney problems with the Avengers and, honestly, it feels about that level of spite. Hopefully someone will do a House of M movie and just wipe the slate clean…

While I’m on the subject of annoying characters, Nightcrawler was similarly a let-down. The son of Azazel and Mystique in the comics, I’d hoped we’d see something of this broached in the movie when Mystique rescues him early on, but nothing. He turns out to be some kind of attempt at comic relief, but again, it’s pie-in-face level of annoying and I’d rather not have him in the movie if this is what we’re getting. Which is a shame, because Alan Cumming did such a good job with the character in X2.

I really liked Magneto’s character arc in First Class, and while it confused me a little in Days of Future Past, I could still kinda see where he was coming from. In Apocalypse, however, it was kinda sad to see him function merely as a henchman of the big bad guy. His storyline was also a little silly, though more because the film‘s storyline is silly. I mean, sure, I get that En Sabah Nur wants to rule the world because he has a massive ego or whatever, and I get that he thinks humanity relies too much on technology and so forth, but why does that need Magneto to literally destroy the earth? Doesn’t he think that might lead to him having no humanity to rule? Hm. As with a lot of these things, the villain plot just seems kinda stupid and not very well thought-out. At least Shaw’s plan for nuclear apocalypse had some sense to it…


For me, then, the prequel trilogy of X-Men just seems to get progressively worse, starting with a really strong movie that was a credit to its genre, and moving to just some mindless action-movie stuff that has some good and interesting moments, but otherwise just falls flat. I mean, the third movie has the core of something resembling Fall of the Mutants, but that storyline feels grafted on to the pre-existing characters from the film’s own universe, which has its own agenda with the Magneto-Mystique-Professor X triad, that we end up with this weird issue of the movie’s plot somehow taking a back seat. It’s this problem of constantly wanting to go bigger, without realising that the first movie was so good because it was pretty well-contained. The second movie went wider but, because it featured mutants in two pretty self-contained time periods, managed to keep things under some degree of control. The third, however, just feels like a mess, ironically similar to The Last Stand, which tried to bring in so much more of the lore of the comics and so many more characters, and ended up with a bit of a hash. Seems that any X-Men movie that features both Angel and Pyslocke together is doomed…

Recent reports seem to indicate that the X-Men series is due for another relaunch in the future, so who knows where we’ll be headed next!

1 thought on “X-Men: the prequels”

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