In today’s world it’s not enough to simply be a hero. Now you must be a superhero. Unlike the old days when square-jawed movie stars rescued damsels in distress or battled cold-hearted landlords, today’s champions won’t get out of bed for anything less than the threat of complete world annihilation. Liberating a cat from a tree or performing the Heimlich Maneuver is considered HeroLite™, the work of lesser lifesavers.
Today it’s all about averting the apocalypse. In Captain America: Civil War the idea of how to police and ultimately save the world is at the heart of the action and X-Men: Apocalypse’s bad guy has grandiose plans to “cleanse mankind and create a new world order.”
This weekend the heroes of Independence Day: Resurgence join Mystique, Quicksilver, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, Captain America and legendary do-gooders Batman and Superman in some good, old fashioned world saving.
The twenty-years-in-the-making sequel to Will Smith’s mega-hit sees aliens from outside the Solar System attack our planet. It’s life and death on a planetary scale, a premise that has become increasingly popular in recent years.
It’s not a surprise the stories are getting larger and louder. Audiences want a big bang for their buck and Hollywood is pleased to oblige with high stakes situations that provide frenetic action and happy endings (unless, of course you’re rooting for the bad guy). These days Hollywood also looks to overseas markets for mega-revenue and presenting globe-spanning stories helps to attract crowds in other countries.
Business aside, why have audiences embraced world-on-the-brink movies?
Films, says Dr. Norman Holland, Marston-Milbauer Eminent Scholar Emeritus at the University of Florida, work on different parts of your brain.
“The parts that turn off are the parts that plan action because you’re not going to act on what you see on the screen in front of you,” he says. “You turn off the systems that plan, that look ahead that evaluate futures. That explains the phenomenon of the willing suspension of disbelief. You accept the most improbable things, like Stars Wars or Spider-Man or whatever. At the same time the lower centres of your brain are generating emotions like mad in response to what you’re seeing. This is the peculiar phenomenon that you can feel and care about these people on the screen while at the same time knowing they are nothing but a fiction.”
In other words, it’s what legendary purveyor of thrills Alfred Hitchcock said. “People like to be scared when they feel safe.”
We live in unsettling and troubled times and going to the movies can provide an escape. In these heroic tales good almost always wins out, a comforting antidote to the nightly news where stories often don’t have happy endings. It makes us feel good, but, as Dr. Holland notes, it’s also restful.
“As you know they are redesigning movie theatres with recliner chairs so you can sleep through the movie,” he says. “Yes, it is relaxing. This is the part of your brain that worries, that plans for the future, that is concerned about the state of your body. All that shuts down. It’s restful, no question.”
Going to the movies is restful? Good for us? Seems like in our busy, stressful world it’s the films that are the heroes, not the characters.
Richard and CP24 anchor Nneka Elliot talk about the weekend’s big releases, “X-Men Apocalypse,” starring Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence, Johnny Depp in “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “Mr. Right,” starring Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell.
“Hope for the best,” says Hank McCoy a.k.a. Beast (Nicholas Hoult) midway through “X-Men: Apocalypse,“ “but prepare for the worst.”
That’s the way I approach the X-Men movies. When a movie series spans a universe of stories—in addition to five X-Men flicks, this is the third “First Class” movie—caution is advised. The general rule of thumb is one of diminishing returns: the further away from the source, the weaker the story.
“Apocalypse” isn’t exactly the best of the X-Men movies, but it’s hardly the worst either. What it lacks in surprises, it makes up for in bombast.
“A gift can often be a curse,” we’re told in the opening narration. “Give them the greatest gift of all, power beyond imagination and they think they should rule the world.” Such is the case with En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) an immortal Egyptian pharaoh betrayed a millennium or two ago, left in a fitful slumber under the rubble of a collapsed pyramid.
Cut to the early 1980s. Series regulars Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) are going about life as usual… or as usual as they can while shape shifting and instantly transporting from place to place.
Their lives intersect again when En Sabah Nur, now nicknamed Apocalypse (no foreshadowing there) emerges from his sleep, eager to take his place as king of the world. The mutant god absorbs television news to learn about the modern world before assembling his disciples—his four horsemen—and unlocking the one last power he needs to control the planet. With the world’s fate resting in his hands Professor X (James McAvoy) brings a team of X-Men to do battle.
The first X-Men movies were allegories for all manner of twentieth century intolerance but gradually over time the civil rights elements of the story have become more lip service than social comment. “Apocalypse” distances itself even further from the core of what made the originals interesting, leaving behind a serviceable action movie that plays more like a Successories unleash-your-power platitude than a cry for universal liberties.
Instead we are given a villain who melodramatically says things like, “Come! Rescue your weakling!” and a CGI climax that feels lifted from “Batman v. Superman” or “Age of Ultron.” The dumbed down story of friendship and teamwork may not engage the brain but it does, however, have outlandish visuals to dazzle the eye. A show stopping Quicksilver (Evan Peters) scene has the faster-than-light mutant rescue a dozen people from a bombed out building, frozen in time by his supersonic speed. It’s cool and like the movie’s best images has the verve and invention the script lacks.
When the film’s biggest reveal is James McAvoy’s bald Professor X head you know the movie is light on new ideas but “X-Men: Apocalypse“ transcends the law of diminishing rewards by upping the action.