Stories influence and reflect our world. It’s been that way since ancient mythology and prehistoric cave paintings— we try to understand ourselves and our place in the universe through the interpretive prism of fiction. That’s one of the reasons why inclusive, diverse representation in media is so vitally important — seeing yourself onscreen is unfathomably powerful. That identification, the acknowledgment that you exist, that you can accomplish wonders, that the worlds of movies and TV aren’t exclusive to just the nauseatingly overrepresented white male, is precious and desperately needed. Doctor Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, become an astronaut after seeing Nichelle Nichols’s Nyota Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise in Star Trek.
Onscreen inclusivity leads to richer storytelling landscapes with a wider range of perspectives, ones that disprove dangerous stereotypes and hopefully lead to better understanding. It’s never “just a movie”; we’re shaped by what stories tell us, just as we shape the stories told.
Luke Cage is more than another successful Marvel venture in a string of solid, formula-aligning Netflix efforts. It’s undeniably urgent, undeniably relevant, and undeniably black. A thrilling, genre-bending hybrid, its hero a bulletproof black man in a hoodie walking unafraid into a barrage of gun fire and emerging unscathed, an image the power of which can’t possibly be overstated. It’s a love letter to Harlem — its history, its culture, and the community living within it. Conversations meditating about the legacies of sports figures, hip hop artists, authors, and war heroes are as important as outwitting a villain’s schemes. The visual choices and music cues are steeped in layers of black history, the latter especially woven throughout the series as its beating lifeblood (every episode is titled after a Gang Starr song). The subjects of police brutality, systematic racism, economic inequality, the criminal justice system, and politics are combined into a nuanced, seamless whole. There are no deplorable stereotypes or cheap caricatures but a rich, complex, multifaceted, stunning cast of characters with histories, dreams, goals, motives, perspectives, and experiences, both shared and different; heroes, villains, and the spaces in between, with a cast made up almost entirely of people of color. Trust, legacy, dignity, respect, and responsibility are all reexamined. It gets inside your favorite superhero genre cliches and tears them apart from the inside out; reinvents them through the perspective of a black man’s life in modern America.
Eight years before Iron Man, when Marvel’s interconnected movie universe was just a studio’s daydream, there was X-Men. In many ways we have Bryan Singer to thank for establishing the success of today’s superhero blockbusters. Singer grounded his mutant world in realism and heart, proving that movies based on crime-fighting, cape-wearing people with funky abilities can have social, political, and emotional relevance; something fans have known for decades, but the general public remained mostly unaware of. (Ew, comics? Comics are for nerds!)
Singer also proved these movies have staying power. Sixteen years and nine films later, the X-Men franchise is still chugging along, except they’re no longer the biggest superheroes on the block.
So, after all that time and competing against countless other caped crusaders, does X-Men: Apocalypse have anything worthwhile left to say? Kinda.
Part of it depends on your point of view. Given the staggering 48% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the critics sure don’t think so. (For reference, previous films Days of Future Past, First Class, and X2: X-Men United scored a respective 91%, 87%, and 86% with critics. Yeouch.)
Audience scores are better — a respectable, if not stellar, 74%, certainly enough of a difference to highlight the viewing priorities between both camps. Having said that, it’s still less than Future Past (92%), First Class(87%), and X2 (85%).
Me? It’s no miracle of cinema on its own standing, it doesn’t match the heights of creative ingenuity and thematic pathos we’ve come to associate with Singer’s entries in the franchise, but it’s fine. Good, in fact! Nothing revolutionary, but a solid, enjoyable, smart middle ground that presents its ideas and characters clearly.
If Civil War is the masterpiece and Batman v Superman the godawful mess, then Apocalypse is the perfectly okay one.
So why did critics and some fans hate it so? Where’d this apathy, even vitriol, come from?