X-Men: Apocalypse review

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I watched X-Men: Apocalypse last night. My first reaction was, “Well, that was a solid addition to the absolute mess that is the X-Men movie franchise.” Now before we get too far, let me say that I have been reading X-Men comics since I was twelve years old and have read literally every issue with ‘X-Men’ in the title that has come out since 1962. When it comes to the X-Men, I know what I am talking about. Also, from here on out, spoiler alert.

Of course the movies deviate substantially from the source material and I am not going to fault them for that too much. What I want to talk about here involves time travel and timelines and what appears to be a complete lack of understanding of these things on the part of the creators of the X-Men movies. In order to get into this properly I need to talk about all of the other X-Men movies before I start talking about X-Men: Apocalypse.

The first X-Men movie came out in the year 2000. The fact that it existed at all was impressive at the time. Growing up in the 1990s, an actual live action X-Men movie seemed impossible. X-Men began the franchise and while it had its faults, I liked it. X2 was even more to my liking. Wolverine finally got to cut loose and we learn about his time at Alkali Lake as a government experiment on the part of William Stryker.

Then came the disaster that was X-Men 3. Up until X-Men 3, Bryan Singer was the director. But Singer decided to go do Superman Returns and out of what appears to be sheer spite, the studio got Brett Ratner to replace him. Brett’s X-Men 3 was terrible. They killed a bunch of characters. They botched the introduction of new characters. They essentially ignored the idea of anyone being able to do a competent sequel by giving later creators nothing to work with.

It was no surprise that the next X-Men movie wasn’t even an X-Men movie. It was Wolverine: Origins which smartly decided to be a prequel to avoid the mess that was X-Men 3. Unfortunately this was the only thing they did that was smart. Wolverine: Origins was so bad it almost makes X-Men 3 look good. It also introduced all sorts of screwy continuity that has for the most part been entirely ignored by every X-Men movie before or since. They treat it like it doesn’t exist and really, you should too.

At this point it seemed that the X-Men movie series had gone the way of the Batman series after Batman & Robin. A once promising franchise that crashed and burned after a couple of terrible movies. This is why X-Men: First Class was such a breath of fresh air. Young Xavier and Magneto is incredibly compelling. It’s kind of weird that Marvel has never had a whole series about these two in their younger days. X-Men First Class shows us how the X-Men first formed and integrates their world into ours including a starring role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. We also get the briefest of cameos of Wolverine. By the end of the movie Xavier is in a wheelchair, Magneto is known as a bad guy, and the X-Men have been formed. As far as continuity is concerned, there were a few hiccups including the part where Xavier and Mystique had never previously behaved like lifelong friends in any of the other movies, but for the most part it worked.

There was another Wolverine movie called The Wolverine that took place after X-Men 3 and included flashbacks to WWII but for the most part didn’t really add anything except some more Wolverine stuff unless you count the post-credit scene where Magneto and Xavier show up asking for help.

And then we get to X-Men: Days of Future Past. This movie tries to take everything that has come before it and have it all make sense. Unfortunately it fails spectacularly and has created what I consider a fatal problem for the franchise. For starters, the part at the end of The Wolverine does not take place in the distant future but that’s where they need his help. But let’s just skip right by there. In Days of Future Past the X-Men from the distant future are being hunted to extinction by giant robots called Sentinels. So Kitty Pryde uses a power they never explain and she’s never had before to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time to 1973 to stop an assassination that will lead to their terrible future. They succeed and Wolverine wakes up in the future and everything is fine and everyone is alive again and they aren’t being hunted. That is where X-Men: Days of Future Past leaves things with the exception of a post-credit sequence involving Apocalypse messing with pyramids.

However, there is a larger problem in Days of Future Past that is not immediately apparent. When Wolverine’s consciousness is sent back in time into his younger body he has to search out Xavier who it turns out is taking medication that allows him to walk but kills his mental powers. He’s also a drunk who is uninterested in saving himself let alone the world. The time traveling Wolverine literally shows up at his doorstep and changes all that. This is important. It is what allows Charles Xavier to become Professor X. The problem is that if Wolverine did this while time traveling, then how did Xavier ever get out of this funk in the original timeline? How did the X-Men form when Wolverine had not traveled back in time? How did Magneto escape his cell in the original since Quicksilver was only recruited after the time traveling Wolverine suggested it?

At the end of Days of the Future Past, Wolverine is badly injured and found by Mystique pretending to be William Stryker. The next time we see Wolverine he is at Alkali Lake under the supervision of the real William Stryker with no explanation at all as to how that happened. That’s all well and good except for the part where Days of Future Past changed the timeline. In the original timeline, Magneto didn’t put a stadium around the White House and fill Wolverine full of rebar before tossing him into the water and so Stryker/Mystique would not have found him there.

This brings us to X-Men: Apocalypse*. There is a lot to like this in this movie. Magneto’s story of trying to live a normal life and not being allowed to, finally watching Xavier fight a battle in his mind, and a near-perfect Wolverine cameo appearance immediately come to mind. But the problem that started in Days of Future Past and gets worse in Apocalypse. Since Magneto never did what he did in Days of Future Past in the original timeline, we do not know if Magneto ever tried to settle down before or if this is new. We also do not know if the X-Men fought Apocalypse in the 1980s in the original timeline. If they did, it could not have possibly happened the way it does in Apocalypse because both Magneto and Mystique are in very different places then they seem to be in 2000’s X-Men. Mystique was not known to the world in the original. Nightcrawler had never been to the X-Mansion in the original timeline. There are dozens of these kinds of problems that all make it very difficult to pay attention to the rest of the movie for me because the creators never bothered to make sure their continuity was solid. Instead the creators want to have their cake and eat it too, essentially allowing the new timeline to lead up to 2000’s X-Men with no explanation as to why or how that makes any sense.

One could argue that this timeline and the original timeline are one and the same and that Wolverine always traveled back in time, but the problem with this is the scene where Wolverine wakes up and everything is okay. If that’s what they’re leading up to, they’ve failed to do the groundwork.

I realize that for many, none of this matters. For many all they want is some reasonable special effects, a bunch of fighting, and a loose plot to hang that on. As a life-long fan of the X-Men and someone sees bad continuity as bad storytelling, it bugs the hell out of me.

That said, X-Men: Apocalypse is on par with the rest of the X-Men movies. Good characters. Decent acting. Some great sequences. But a fundamental flaw in their continuity and plotting.

– Jack Cameron

 

*Yes, I know that Deadpool is technically an X-Men movie and it’s a great movie but it does very little when it comes to overall X-Men continuity and so isn’t relevant for this article.

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How The X-Men And Matthew McConaughey Helped Me Accept My Mortality

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I’ve been an atheist for about five years. It didn’t happen all at once. I spent years being unsure. I spent many years searching, reading, researching, and thinking before I came to the conclusion that there is absolutely no evidence of an omnipotent God and plenty to contradict the existence or divinity of Jesus Christ. I won’t get into what all went into that because that’s not what this post is about. What I want to do with this post is give an answer to a question that has bugged me for most of my life:

If there is God and no afterlife, what comfort can be found in knowing that you and I only get 80 years of life (give or take a decode or three) no matter what?

I tried thinking that the best we can do is do good and be good to ourselves and others and enjoy what we have. That’s a nice thought, but it’s really not all that comforting. It’s like decorating tips for a house that’s on fire. I’m all for being good and doing good and being an all-around nice person to other people, but that’s not helping me get over this thing where one day I die and cease to exist. I like existing.

I tried thinking of technological answers to our mortality problem. Cryonics offers hope that they might be able to freeze you and bring you back in a cloned body. The problem with this is that it requires that your current body (or at least head) are in good enough shape when you die that cryonics is even an option and even assuming everything works right, you’re still trapped in a human body which can be destroyed any number of ways, many of which are simply unavoidable. One day you might be able to upload your consciousness into a computer, but is that really you or just an artificial intelligence that thinks it’s you? I’m thinking it’s the latter. If you uploaded your consciousness into a computer, but you were still walking around after that, you wouldn’t say that computer was you would you?

I was stuck. Without God, no theological answer was likely to help. Philosophy on being a good person wasn’t helping. Technology isn’t there yet for serious life extension and even when it is, it’s only life extension, not something more. For a while, I stopped searching and did my best to accept the words of Jackie Greene, “We walk through life and we live and die/We do our best to not ask why.” I listened to music. I read books and comic books. I watched television and movies. And recently, the confluence of my media consumption resulted in a slight epiphany.

Sam Harris is a noted atheist and one of the faces of the so-called ‘New Atheist Movement’, a term that even Harris dislikes. I’ve read most of his books and attended one of his lectures. I’ve written about his books on this site before. While The End of Faith helped inform my already atheist views, his books Free Will and Waking Up have had significant impact on my life and the way I think about some things.

In Free Will Harris argues that free will is an illusion. He argues that our every decision is a result of our genetics, our past experiences, and luck. I approached the book disagreeing with the premise, but the more I read, the more it made sense. And then there was the following passage from the book:

“Take a moment to think about the context in which your next decision will occur: You did not pick your parents or the time and place of your birth. You didn’t choose your gender or most of your life experiences. You had no control whatsoever over your genome or the development of your brain. And now your brain is making choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime – by your genes, your physical development since the moment you were conceived, and the interactions you have had with other people, events, and ideas. Where is the freedom in this? Yes, you are free to do what you want even now. But where did your desires come from?”

As a writer of fiction, this passage entirely freaked me out. When I’m creating a character for a screenplay or a novel, I figure out who she is by making up her family, her upbringing, and her past experiences. Each of these informs me as to what sort of character I’m working with and results in my often knowing what a given character is going to do simply because of who they are. The way he’s talking about how we humans operate is the same way three-dimensional characters operate. This was one piece of the puzzle.

I also recently watched the first season of the HBO crime drama, True Detective. One of the main characters played by Matthew McConaughey is a burned out detective with a penchant for nihilistic atheist monologues. Among many of the great scenes in the show is this:

In the above clip he talks about M-Theory, which I knew (and still know) almost nothing about. The important part for the purposes of this article is that while you and I experience reality as linear time, that’s not all there is to reality. What we experience as time is just one big thing if viewed from beyond our third dimension. This is a difficult thing to fully grasp, but it’s nearly impossible to comprehend if free will exists. How can it all be seen from another dimension if we all can choose to do anything we want? Without free will, this makes a bit more sense.

This was the second piece of the puzzle.

The latest piece was the Christopher Nolan movie Interstellar (also starring Matthew McConaughey). There is a lot that happens in Interstellar, but the relevant part for my purposes is that they attempt to show the universe outside the third dimension in one particular bedroom. It looked like this.

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The room had many books in it. So it’s not an accident that it looks like a bunch of books. I don’t know the reasoning behind this particular plot device, but it helped me visualize the concept of being outside of time and brought me back again to fictional storytelling.

With these pieces I added one final piece. I’ve been collecting Marvel Comics since I was twelve. I have thousands of comics starring the X-Men. I often reread them. From the perspective of the X-Men if they were real, they’d be experiencing time linearly. The X-Men of 1963 would have no knowledge that Magneto would one day be an ally. Of course, I can read their entire history at any point that I like. In this way I stand outside of time when it comes to the Marvel Universe. The X-Men are not dead or alive. They are both and neither because it depends on what point in time I choose to focus.

All of this led to a dream I had recently. In the dream, the technology to upload your consciousness into a computer had been achieved. Not only that, but when you upload your consciousness into the computer, the memories that are in your mind are hazy are crystal clear in the computer. In fact, they are so full of sensory input that accessing a memory would feel exactly like you were experiencing it. I awoke briefly wondering if that were exactly what was happening.

If there is God and no afterlife, what comfort can be found in knowing that you and I only get 80 years give or take a decade or three of life no matter what?

The comfort I’ve found is in knowing that everything I’ve done, everything I’m doing, and everything I will do is all happening at once and will always happen. Every loved one exists forever living, loving, and feeling every bit of life. The comfort is in knowing that we’re an eternal part of a picture that is reality.

– Jack Cameron

Marvel Movies Cinematic Universe FAQ

Marvel-Movie-Montage-smallX-Men: Days of Future Past comes out this weekend. It’s the third movie in two months based on a Marvel Comic. Those who watched Amazing Spider-Man 2 saw a preview for the new X-Men movie. Meanwhile over in Captain America: Winter Soldier, viewers saw a glimpse of a disturbed and speedy character comic book fans know as Quicksilver along with his sister, the Scarlet Witch. However, if you watch X-Men: Days of Future Past, you’ll find Quicksilver running around in the 1970s.

I know this is likely confusing for people who aren’t aware of comic books in general and the movie rights of comic book properties in particular. So I’m writing this to explain things in a way that hopefully will make sense. So here are some FAQs when it comes to Marvel Movies.

Do all these Marvel movies take place in the same ‘universe’ like in the comic books?
No. It wasn’t until 2008’s Iron Man that Marvel started making and financing their own movies and integrating different Marvel movies into one cohesive cinematic world. Before that they would sell movie rights to different movie studios.

Why would they do that?
In the late 1990s Marvel was on the verge of bankruptcy. They were too busy trying to stay in business to even think about spending hundreds of millions of dollars on movies. This was especially true because at the time, comic book movies were far from a sure thing. The Batman franchise had fizzled out. It wasn’t until 1998’s Blade (and then X-Men in 2000 and Spider-Man in 2001) that comic book movies really took off.

Isn’t Marvel owned by Disney?
Yes. Disney bought Marvel in 2009.

So when it comes to Marvel movies who owns what?
Sony owns the movie rights to Spider-Man.

Fox owns the movies rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four.

Marvel owns pretty much everything else.

What about Daredevil, Punisher, Blade, and Ghost Rider?
All of these characters had movies made by other studios. However, the rights to these characters have all reverted back to Marvel.

If Spider-Man movies are done by Sony and X-Men movies are done by Fox what was that X-Men preview doing at the end of Spider-Man?
Amazing Spider-Man 2 director Marc Webb was supposed to do a movie for Fox as a follow up to his 500 Days of Summer. Instead Fox made a deal where Sony got Marc Webb but they had to put a preview of X-Men at the end of Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Why don’t all the studios get together and merge everything?
Because it would take a level of collaboration these studios are not comfortable with. Fox has even gone on record as saying they don’t even want to crossover X-Men and Fantastic Four despite owning the movie rights to both.

Okay. So Marvel movie characters owned by different studios shall never meet. Then what’s up with this Quicksilver character being in X-Men Days of Future Past AND the upcoming Avengers Age of Ultron?
In Marvel Comics, Quicksilver is the son of Magneto and started out as a member of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. He soon defected from that group and joined the Avengers along with his sister, the Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye. All of these were former villains turned heroes. So due to Quicksilver’s history he is both an X-Men character and an Avengers character. Both studios are using the character but the character is being played by two different characters and have no connection to each other except that they are based on the same Marvel character.

And for the simpler version:
Marvel Movies and TV shows all taking place in the same shared ‘cinematic universe’
Iron Man
Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Thor
Captain America
Avengers
Iron Man 3
Agents of SHIELD (TV show)
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ant-Man
Agent Carter (TV show)
Daredevil (Netflix TV show)
Luke Cage (Netflix TV show)
Iron Fist (Netflix TV show)
Jessica Jones (Netflix TV show)

X-Men Movies all taking place in the same shared ‘cinematic universe’
X-Men
X2: X-Men United
X-Men: The Last Stand
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
X-Men: First Class
The Wolverine
X-Men: Days of Future Past
X-Men: Apocalypse

Every other movie based on a Marvel character unless it’s a specific sequel (such as Amazing Spider-Man 2) is entirely in its own little world. The short version is that in the movies, Spider-Man will not be swinging by Avengers Tower any time soon.
– Jack Cameron