The X-Men film franchise in general has been a mixed affair, with some truly wonderful films and some very lackluster offerings, some mind-blowing sequences or scenes and lots of very underwhelming ones.
Even so, there are so many moments across these films that truly hit the mark for any number of reasons – sheer spectacle, cinematography, emotion, thematic undercurrent, etc. From Nightcrawler’s assault on the White House in X2 to the stunning battle with the Sentinels in DOFP, the franchise has managed to carve out some stunning moments or set pieces, which we can expect to see added to in X-Men: Apocalypse.
I’ve talked about some of my personal favorite X-Men movie moments before, but one that really sticks out is another from (probably) my favorite X-Men film, 2014’s Days of Future Past. And it isn’t the Quicksilver bullet-time sequence – although that was insanely good too of course.
Anyone who’s been reading this blog since the old days (when I used to post much more about comics and happy things) will know that I’ve had a pretty hefty Magneto obsession since I was a little kid reading the Claremont/Lee classics. So it won’t be surprising that some of my favorite moments from any of the X-Men movies have been the Magneto moments (notwithstanding the best-forgotten X3). And one Magneto moment that truly raised the bar for me occured in Days of Future Past.
I refer to the stunning ‘stadium lift’ sequence. It’s one of the great ‘fuck, yeah’ moments of all these films.
That’s it, that’s the moment right there – the moment, more than anything in any of the X-Men films, that felt like the Magneto I know and love from his golden era in the comics had arrived. Much as I love Ian McKellin and the older, greyer Magneto of the earlier films, this here was the moment where I felt cinema had finally captured the full essence of the Master of Magnetism that had previously only really been possible in the comic books.
Watching that sequence, as he raises the enormous stadium and flies with it, his face the epitome of unwavering intent and righteous purpose, reminded me of a dozen glorious Magneto moments in the comic books from the Claremont era, the late 80s and early 90s (back when Magneto was *the* greatest ‘villain’ that existed on the printed page). It’s an incredible display of power, but it’s not comic-book villainy, rather it’s power with purpose, power with pathos. It’s Magneto. It’s really Magneto. Forget that Golden Gate bridge sequence in X3, which was all spectacle and no heart – this was the kind of moment I’ve been waiting for since the very first X-Men film. The scene where he claims back his helmet is also pretty kick-arse, particularly the way he takes out the guards, which nicely echoes the older Magneto’s prison escape in X2. Fassbender always makes it look so damn cool and effortless.
I love also that every time in these films – in X1, in X3 and now in DOFP – that Wolverine tries to take on Magneto he is just tossed aside like an amateur. Not to play favorites; I mean I like Wolverine of course, but I love watching Magneto handle him like an annoying flea. I mean it’s hardly X-Men #25 (1993) and Erik ripping the adamantium from Logan’s body, but it’s still fun to watch.
But speaking of the Magneto stadium lift and his attack on the White House, I have to say the bit that prodded at my emotions more than anything else in the film is when Magneto is making his speech to President Nixon and the Cabinet (and yes, that little touch of Eric turning the TV cameras in his direction was a brilliant little detail); as he condemns the creation and legitimization of Trask’s Sentinels and the persecution of Mutantkind, Erik’s words are inter-cut with the scenes in the future of the fully-realised Sentinel killing machines slaughtering the last surviving X-Men, Blink, Sunspot and all.
That juxtaposition of Erik/Magneto on the one hand and his impassioned, righteous indignation, and on the other hand the footage of his ‘fellow mutants’ in the future making their desperate last stand is extremely powerful, much the same way as ROTS‘s “Order 66” is.
That juxtaposition was beautifully conceived, effectively pulling upon the heart-strings, with its depiction of soulless brutality, cold injustice and tragic heroism, with Magneto prophesying what will happen in the future as a result of what these suited, executive men are doing in the present and with us as viewers seeing that horrific future play out for real at the same time.
Fantasy or comic-book cinema seldom if ever gets as powerful as this; but the X-Men world has always had the relevant societal and political themes that help create this kind of resonance – a resonance often tied to its permanent relevance. It is what, in my view, elevates the X-Men film franchise that little bit above other superhero franchises, because it has such heart and is so grounded in meaningful societal, cultural issues rather than just being pure entertainment or spectacle.
I hope X-Men: Apocalypse manages to do the same, instead of pandering to mere big-budget spectacle. I suspect it won’t disappoint.