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Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Why Disney Is Trying to Tank X-Men Apocalypse (A Conspiracy Theory)

Pictured above: Disney

So last night I went to see X-Men Apocalypse. I generally think that Bryan Singer's X-Men films are pretty great, so I was surprised to see plenty of negative advance reviews for Apocalypse, as well as a general sense of negativity in the press. In the weeks leading up to the film's release, the newsfeed under my e-mail seemed to have a negative story on Apocalypse daily. As all of Singer's previous X-Men films have received strong reviews, this seemed quite strange to me. Still, I have seen every X-Men film in theaters, even the mostly bad non-Singer ones, and I decided I wasn't going to sit this one out.
Within the first few minutes of Apocalypse, I found that I was enjoying the film just as much as the other Singer X-Men films. Halfway through, I wondered what all the negative talk was about, and found myself waiting for the film to get bad. By the end, I was grinning, and most of the nearly sold out audience I attended the film with was applauding.
So what gives? Why does this film have a negative aggregation of reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (under 50% of reviews reported as positive), when Captain America: Civil War is at 90% positive?
I've seen Civil War. It is a mess. I don't think it is a bad movie, but the conflict between its two main characters feels forced and unbelievable, the film suffers from a glut of characters that renders its titular protagonist a bystander, and its climax finds Captain America acting wildly out of character (I am referencing an unnecessary and cruel lie that Captain America tells a friend when it is quite clear that such a lie is no longer necessary).
I can see someone objectively enjoying Civil War more than Apocalypse, but 42% more? That's ridiculous. The Cinemascore's for Civil War and Apocalypse are, respectively, A and A-. Cinemascore measures audience reaction to films. It can turn in some head-scratching results at times (the new Alice in Wonderland also has an A-), but it is generally the best unbiased indicator of a film audience's opinion of a particular film's quality.
It is clear that audiences' opinion of Apocalypse far differs from that of the film's early press. Why?
Here's why:
Disney owns Marvel Entertainment, but they don't yet own the film rights to all of Marvel's properties. The most lucrative Marvel franchise Disney lacks the rights to is X-Men. The film rights for X-Men are owned by 20th Century Fox. Every cent that an X-Men film earns is a cent that Disney doesn't get. Disney likes to get cents. They have everything to earn by Fox's X-Men films tanking. Not only does this give more box office priority to Disney's films, but it brings Fox this much closer to selling the film rights to X-Men. And who is waiting there to scoop them up?
That's right. Disney paid to have negative stories and negative early reviews for X-Men Apocalypse planted in the media. Later reviews will generally follow the thread of previous ones.  Before you know it, X-Men: Apocalypse, a comic book film just as good as all the recent Disney-produced comic book films that have received positive reviews, is sitting at 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, and "only" making $80 million over the holiday weekend.
Disney is one step closer to taking over the world.


Neal said...

We haven't seen the latest Captain America, but we want to. He's my favorite out of the current Marvel movie cast, though you're hitting on two things that have consistently bugged me about trailers and the setup for this movie. It sounds like the rationale kind of made sense in the comics for the Civil War arc (though I've only read things from Captain America's POV in that one), but it really never flew for me or Jessica.

Seriously, Tony Stark in the trailers almost sounds a complete 180 from where he was in the second Avengers movie, and how he was in his own movies. He didn't want the government to get his tech! And Cap was all concerned about random types going rogue in the second Avengers (which was Tony), so... yeah. It kind of felt like they had this Civil War storyline that was popular and needed to shoehorn it in, at least what I saw from the trailers.

The trailer that made the most sense was where it seemed more like it was tied in with Cap wanting to help Bucky, but I know that's not the only nuance to the movie. And yeah... ever since Spiderman 3, I've generally been of the opinion that you shouldn't crowd a superhero movie. Joss Whedon somehow has made it work with the Avengers, but those don't seem to be the norm (and they're pretty dependent on the solo movies setting things up well). That made me not so keen on how crowded Cap 3 is... the first 2 really had great focus on him and his journey.

I'll have to check in after we see the third movie, though I doubt we'll see Apocalypse... we're behind on the X-Men movies (I kind of lost track after X-Men 3 sounded so iffy). All the reviews I read thought Apocalypse was a bit run of the mill evil villain, and that there was too many characters and rush from epic fight to epic fight, but I always wonder when there is such a divergence between fan and critic reviews. It's at least a sign that it might just appeal more to some crowds than others (or the critics or fans are all trying to get on a bandwagon of some sort).

Nicholas said...

Man, full disclosure, the X-Men franchise is my favorite series of superhero films. I'll take them over the generally over-serious, visually dull Marvel films any day (...I've seen all of the Marvel films, most in the theater, so take that previous sentence with a grain of salt). I really like Guardians of the Galaxy and the second Captain America, but I could leave the rest. Actually, the 2nd Cap is one of my favorite superhero movies ever, which made this 3rd film such a huge letdown, even if I enjoyed parts (the "everyone's gonna fight each other scene" the trailer teases is indeed awesome).
I get quitting on X-Men with the third one, as that is a MUCH bigger disappointment compared to this last Cap film--I think Cap 2 is incredible and Cap 3 is just okay. Conversely, X-Men 2 is my favorite superhero film behind only The Dark Knight, and X-Men 3 is an atrocity, an awful film, and perhaps the biggest cinematic disappointment I have felt, and hopefully will ever feel in my life (more than the prequels!!!). The departure of X1 and X2's director before filming X3 is the reason that X3 is so awful, and why the soon following Wolverine Origins movie might be even worse. However, that original director, Bryan Singer, has been back for the two most recent X-Men films (Days of Future Past and Apocalypse), and I think they are near the quality of the first two films.
Also full disclosure, Wolverine and the X-Men, along with Batman, have been my favorites since childhood. The first time I saw Wolverine take an absurd beating, heal, and come back, I knew that was my guy, especially factoring in the way the X-Men are marginalized and ostracized from society. I always thought Superman and the Avengers were too square, though I enjoyed the 50's Superman show and Richard Donner's films. If I'm gonna make a completely unasked for Superhero Film Top Five:

1. The Dark Knight
2. X2: X-Men United
3. Tie--Guardians of the Galaxy/First X-Men film
4. Superman ('78)
5. Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier

Neal said...

I'm a big fan of the first Captain America besides the second. I agree with some other comments I've seen around that its montage about 3/4 of the way through is the weakest point. Though this is partially because the WWII setting deserved a whole focused movie before they brought Cap to the modern era... seriously, they just knocked it out of the park. Joe Johnston (sp?) did great with The Rocketeer in that era as well, and that was the huge charm of that film for me. I can definitely acknowledge that the second movie is better, though. Part of what makes those movies great is that they made Steve Rogers likeable--it's easy to make him and Superman seem too square, and I think that's part of the excellence of the first two Captain A movies (and Richard Donner's Superman 1 and 2).

I like The Dark Knight, but it's admittedly grim enough that I haven't seen it more than once... you kind of have to be in the right mood to enjoy it, I think (though it's doing everything quite well, and it's not over the top gruesome, like some seem to want superhero movies to be).

I have a hard time ranking things down to a list, but I'm actually going to put out The Incredibles as my favorite superhero movie. At the very least it's toward the top if I made a Top Five. Jessica reminded me of another one that we both like a lot, Unbreakable. Even more than when it came out, it stands out as quite a bit different than most "superhero" fare, but it definitely is one.

I'm all over with any of the others I'd put in. As kind of suggested earlier, I actually like a lot of 1st and 2nd movies in a series--enough so that I could feel torn about them. I think I equally like Superman 1 and 2 from Donner... they really do work well and I couldn't split them. And even though I can admit The Dark Knight and Winter Soldier are better than the movies that came before them, their predecessors both set up the character well and are good movies in their own right--just not as good. I'm more easy putting X2 ahead of the first X-Men.

We both enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy a lot, though it does suffer from a flat villain (even with Drax's more personal face off against him... and while the way they distract him at the end is technically funny, how it's set up just feels too unrealistic, even for a movie that's tongue in cheek), and it was probably a little harder to connect to the planet that was being threatened at the end. On the page and as a human I should, of course, but the movie didn't give us time to relate to the place as a place, if that makes sense. It's not unlike the mass destruction in the recent first Superman movie (haven't bothered with the more recent one, as it sounded like too much of a mess).

Not to sell Guardians short, of course. The fact that it's making a mashup of sci-fi and Marvel work so well says a lot for it (and Rocket & Groot are definitely some of my new favorite characters). I think it's just outside the top 5 for me, along with The Avengers.

And I am there with you on liking the X-Men. I loved the 90s cartoon (and Spiderman... and Batman, heh) and developed an easy affection for Wolverine and Gambit there. Hugh Jackman makes it easy to love him, too. I still want to see his standalone movie set in Japan: it got good reviews and sounded pretty good. I just spun off of the X-Men movies after X3 and that first Origins movie sounded so bad.

Nicholas said...

Man, I love the Rocketeer. I was actually thinking about it yesterday. I haven't seen that movie in ages. I am pretty sure that Jennifer Connelly in that film was my first crush.
I love Unbreakable. I don't usually think of that as a superhero movie, but it is, and it is excellent. I wish Shyamalan could have had a more consistent career for the last fifteen years, though I did enjoy The Visit (his last film) a lot for what it was. I still think he has another great film in him somewhere.
The 90's X-Men cartoon was so awesome. Batman: The Animated series is incredible. Maybe there is some high quality analogue that the kids today are watching, but I doubt it.
The Wolverine film set in Japan is worth watching. It has a few goofy parts, but the character is served well by the story, and there are a couple of excellent set pieces (particularly one set on a bullet train).

Neal said...

I need to see The Rocketeer again... it's been since high school, I think, and part of me used to be jaded enough that its charm felt... I dunno, lame. I wasn't too much of a hipster doofus, but I could be sometimes. And I remember thinking the Rocketeer should be able to do cool stuff and be competent, but he generally wasn't (there's some cool trailer shot where he picks up a gun and looks really cool before taking off, and he loses the gun like five seconds into the fight!). I liked the feel of it and the era, but I don't think I was in a position to appreciate the rest like I should have. I think I'll like it all this time around since I can better synch up with what a movie is trying to be, rather than what I want it to be. I bet the trailers misled me too, or something, kind of like Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, which is more of a tongue in cheek action/adventure when it was sold as pure, serious action.

I hope Shyamalan can do some more good movies. Unbreakable is my favorite of his, but we actually like ones some others don't, like The Village. To me, that one feels like an interesting examination of humans, our fears, and how we can influence each other so powerfully. I think people got too hung up on how the revelation changed the movie from what they thought it would be (more straight up thriller/horror). And while I get the easy criticism of Signs (one of our favorite shows, Stargate SG-1, had a hinted criticism at it once: "what kind of aliens invade a planet made of 80% water if it's toxic to them?"), we still like it. The draw there is much more the family and its devastation, with the aliens kind of thrown in a bit for revelation and story. Not everyone can roll with it, but I also appreciate it for what it is.

Lady in the Water, however... ugh. That was so bland we can hardly remember it.

That X-Men show's theme music... totally awesome. What did you say about Carmina burana? It could inspire you to roam through dark, Germanic forest, punching dwarves in the face (or something like that)? Totally in the same vein of great. And I think my mind exploded when I found out Mark Hamill was the voice of the Joker in Batman. :) I'm forgetting the name of the sequel to that show (with Bruce Wayne training the new, younger Batman), but that was really good too.