This year is very special when it comes to movies – there is almost no franchise which has no new movie or a first movie in the cinemas and almost anything that exists as a franchise and you can remember it – all of that’s probably got a movie coming out this year – from Deadpool, to the Ninja Turtles, to Trolls, the little fuzzy-haired dolls. Yes, Trolls are hitting the cinemas this year.
But May was very special because of a cinema-smashdown and the fact that in a space of two to three weeks we had the Avengers (in Captain America: Civil War) and the X-Men (in X-Men: Apocalypse) on the big screen… but alas, not in the same movie. And that’s the biggest tragedy of this story. Back in the 90s, Marvel had to – if it wanted to avoid bankruptcy – sell the film rights to a lot of characters to different studios. That’s how Spider-Man went to Sony (which now shares the responsibility with Marvel Studios, but later on that), the Fantastic Four and the X-Men are at Fox, etc. Fox had two more or less financially (I repeat: financially) successful movies about the Fantastic Four and a reboot which buried the franchise, as well as nine X-Men movies, out of which only two (the first solo Wolverine movie and X-Men 3) were absolutely panned by critics. The movies are considered so bad that Bryan Singer decided to devise a whole plot in Days of Future Past to annul everything that happened in those two movies. In the meantime, Marvel started its own studio and movie universe (starting with 2008’s Iron Man), with movies that are connected like a huge cinematic TV-show, and the latest Captain America movie is the crown of it. For now. To sum it up: not everything labeled “Marvel” is really a Marvel movie. It’s easy to tell them apart: “real” Marvel movies have the “Marvel studios” logo, and the rest has just the “Marvel” logo.
So why do we review these two movies (Civil War and Apocalypse) together, you may ask? Well first of all, we’re geeks, and we’ve been fantasizing about a movie-showdown between Marvel’s two biggest and most popular teams – the Avengers and the X-Men, as seen in the comics numerous times. Sadly, as long as Fox makes any money with their X-Men movies, which some of us fans don’t even deem worthy of the name X-Men, that won’t be possible. Except if Fox understands that it’s better to release the creative decisions to the house that invented the characters in the first place and just take your cut of the profit cake in the end, without doing much. Just like Sony did with Spider-Man, whose new incarnation in Civil War collected far more praise than any Spider-Man movie before (and he has only a cameo here in comparison to whole five solo movies that came before), though those movies made solid money. So Fox could learn a thing or two from Sony. It seems though that they did learn something, since it has been announced that they will work with Marvel in the television-area and create two X-Men related shows, but unrelated to the movie-universe. We’ll see.
But let’s analyze them side by side.
Fox hired a man, Bryan Singer, to adapt the comics for the silver screen. The man comes to the set and bans comic books from the set (says Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman). He misses the marks on the tone of the comics, many of the characters, he wastes a huge pile of characters and basically creates a movie universe in which we watch Magneto for 15 years not being able to decide whether he’s a hero or a villain.
Marvel hires people who actually care about the source material and who despite a bunch of necessary (or maybe unnecessary) changes manage to project the spirit of the source material onto the big screen.
Fox hires a man who doesn’t even care about the source material, who creates stories and characters seemingly just based on some comic book covers he once saw. They give him the A-team, put together by the most diverse characters in any comic book series, which represent all parts of society and he turns them into a black-and-grey team of depressed characters who can’t even smile.
Marvel takes 3rd class teams and makes stars out of them, since they hire directors who 1. understand the source material, 2. respect it and 3. don’t act as if they were more creative, smarter and bigger than the creators of the source material (and without them they wouldn’t even have the job in the first place).
While Apocalypse is – solo movies and parallel movies like Deadpool not counting – just the „sixth“ movie in the franchise, and we don’t know where the timeline begins and where it ends, Civil War is the thirteenth movie in a series of more or less connected movies and it connects perfectly all the dots put along the way since 2008.
While the X-Men introduce new characters, iconic characters, and treat them like toilet-paper, Marvel gives every character all the attention they need. Ok, almost every character. It’s not like they didn’t miss one or two. But with X-Men movies, that’s the rule: Angel one, Angel two, Psylocke one, Pylocke two, Jubilee one, Jubilee two, Colossus one, Colossus two, Havok, Blob, Toad… this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you ask yourselves about the „ones“ and the „two’s“… yes, amongst thousands upon thousands of smaller characters they could have used to be background noise in the movies and/or die without one spoken line, Fox was adamant in making new versions of iconic characters just to waste them.
Apocalypse is a tricky character in the comics, too, since he is literally a deus-ex-machina, that he’s all powerfull, that no one can harm him, that his motivation is meh… the movie presented him just in the worst possible light. A boring character who gives big speeches, destroys weapons because they’re ew, and then plans to destroy the world with Magneto pulling all the metal out of the Earth… or something like that. Helmut Zemo from Civil War is a human villain, with a very personal, relatable motivation, and he pulls the strings very carefully and is in control every step of the way. He doesn’t stand around on a pyramid for half an hour, thinking of how to force a telepath to send the whole world something that amounts to a larger text message.
While in Civil War, every character has their moment to shine (and we love the new Spidey and Black Panther so much, we want their solo movies IMMEDIATELY), Apocalypse, again, has a whole line of characters just passing by, standing around, not doing anything, looking grim, have nothing to do with what they’re supposed to be (yes, Horsemen, I’m looking at you), they die, vanish… Since the first movie, we’ve actually been watching the relationship between Magneto and Charles, and in the new trilogy Mystique/Raven has been added to that mix, mostly because of JLaw’s star potential. I mustn’t forget Wolverine, but we’ll talk about him later.
While Marvel never allows the actors to be bigger than the characters they play, no matter how legendary they are or how many Oscars or nominations for the little statuette they have, over at X-Men that’s a default now (with the honorary exception of the truly legendary actors McKellen and Stewart). So it happens regularly that a role is tailored for an actor – Halle Barry, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac… in the end, it’s no wonder the characters turn out so bad.
While in Civil War, every cameo (Spider-Man, Ant-Man and Black Panther, who are barely cameos, but let’s call them that, for argument’s sake) has their reason for the further development of the overall story, Apocalypse (and other X-movies) give us cameos for no reason at all (except fan-service, but I don’t know any fans who really like them). We do love Jackman, but good riddance.
While in Civil War, the emotions among the characters and the emotions of the audience for the characters are a culmination of 12 movies, most of the characters in Apocalypse are just cardboard cutouts, replaceable by anyone, and we don’t care about anything happening to them.
Do we still have to ask ourselves why Marvel makes much more money than Fox, even though Fox doesn’t earn little? Isn’t it logical that a house that created something knows better how to treat something than a studio which just wants to fulfill a contract and make as many movies as necessary, just not to lose the rights to the golden goose? How come Marvel can dress their characters in colorful costumes from the comics and they work on-screen, while Fox dresses theirs in boring grey-black costumes and drains in postproduction even the little color they might have, similar to what Snyder did to Superman in Man of Steel?
So, what is necessary for the X-Men movies to become as satisfying as Marvel movies? For starters, hire people who love the genre, who respect the source material, who don’t want to come across as smarter than they are and people who care about making a good adaptation. If you’re smart enough to change other people’s ideas, ideas that actually provide your paycheck, then you must be smart enough not to touch other people’s work unnecessarily, but instead have your own ideas and make your own, “original” movies. Fair, isn’t it?
Last but not least, critics on Rotten Tomatoes still give Civil War 90 % freshness, while Apocalypse has almost only half of that – 48 %.