On my way to the cinema to watch X-men: Apocalypse, I spent some time quizzing myself on what happened in the first two installments of the Fox franchise of the movie. Was the last one where Mystique shot a plastic gun? What was it called again, X-men: Back to the Future? Was X-men: First Class the one where Professor X got paralysed? Unsatisfied with my own answers, I Googled “Things I need to know before watching X-men: Apocalypse.”
Going to the movies these days needs as much preparation as going to a history class. You need to do more than just buy a ticket and some popcorn. As more and more movies are remakes and sequels, the more you need to know the movies’ backstories to enjoy the full experience. This is especially true for adaptations of comic book superheroes that already have well-established character histories and story arcs.
Quick. Off the top of your head, what are some of the biggest summer movies this year? See if these sequels are on your list: Captain America: Civil War, Kungfu Panda 3, X-men: Apocalypse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the shadows.
According to this article, this year, six of the top 10 films are sequels, while in 1996, none of the 10 biggest films were sequels or superhero movies. There are many arguments on why this is the case – from it being the biggest magnet for movie-goers, to ease of creating merch – but I’m not here to discuss this. Additionally, it seems this strategy doesn’t seem to be working any longer.
With the last minute cramming on Charles Xavier, Magneto and Wolverine in the cab, I felt ready for my eXam Apocalypse. However, at the end I was again unprepared – the post-credit scene stumped me and I had to reach for my phone and type “Xmen Apocalypse post-credit scene explained”.
There’s a great video on Youtube about another phenomenon closely related to the matter: Hollywood’s obsession with intertextuality – referencing things that the audience is assumed to already be familiar with to evoke an emotional response.
This just adds on to the pressure to “get” references in the movies. Watching a movie in 2016 is more like watching a TV series – you have to watch the first five seasons to understand what’s happening in the sixth*.
As to what I think about X-men: Apocalypse, Rottentomatoes’ critics consensus captures my sentiments succinctly: “Overloaded action and a cliched villain take the focus away from otherwise strong performers and resonant themes, making X-Men: Apocalypse a middling chapter of the venerable superhero franchise.”
It had great visuals and action (although they verged on a little too much) along with solid actors who were perfectly cast but unfortunately not complemented by similarly good writing and directing.
I didn’t read any review of Apocalypse before I went to watch it, but if I did I would still go if only to gain a sense of closure to the story established in First Class and Days of Future Past. For now, I’m back on Wikipedia and Youtube, learning more about the X-men so that I will be well prepared for the next installment.
*I watched the first few episodes of Game of Thrones Season 6 without having watched any GoT except for a few episodes from the first season.