X-Men: Apocalypse & Mother's Day

In their own way, they're both caricatures. One seeks a target audience of men and teenage boys, and the other tries to interest the females. Both have lots of characters with a complex plot, but each reduces to a simple, “Can't we all just get along?” And for all the firepower and all the stars and all the time spent in production, both are disappointing, but for different reasons.

In “X-Men,” we begin in Egypt, 'way before written records of Pharaohs and their dynasties. It seems there was one particular mutant who became so powerful that he sought to rule the known world. His particular power was being able to harness the sun's energy in such a way as to acquire the superpowers of other mutants, so he became so strong---and evil-- that seemingly nobody could stop him. Except there was a palace revolt, anyway, which resulted in his being sealed up in some kind of protective sarcophagus, awaiting somebody's inadvertent rescue.

Fast-foward to today, when a government-sponsored archaeologist stumbles upon the ancient crypt, and unleashes a fury that threatens to destroy the whole world. Now we focus on Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), the mind-control mutant who has begun a school for “gifted” children, meaning those who suddenly discover they have a superpower, but need help learning to control and manage it. (And yes, the moral to the story is at the end of the day, we all have to figure out how to use whatever gifts we possess, and oftentimes we need help harnessing & focusing.) All the CGI doomsday stuff is kind of fun, including the shape-shifting Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), but it all boils down to a simple morality tale of the good guys winning because they co-operate with each other, and the bad guy loses because he has no friends.

Nobody in “Mother's Day” has any superpowers, but all are skilled people who learn to get by with a little help from their friends. There's the divorced Mom (Jennifer Anniston) who's fine until she finds out her ex has taken up with a much younger woman (who's also very pretty), but eventually they all discover they need each other for the sake of the kids. Two sisters live next door to each other happily, while their redneck parents are blissfully unaware that one has married a “towelhead” and the other is with another woman. Of course, when the parents do come roaring up in their big RV, the sparks fly, but they all, too, learn that they need each other. A young single woman has a steady boyfriend who wants to get married, but she has commitment issues because she's adopted and never knew her real Mom, and that revelation changes the perspective of all of them. And a single-parent widower tries to ignore Mother's Day altogether, until his young daughters make him realize that they need to grieve in their own way, as well.

Corny? Sure. Cheesy, even. Despite the star-studded lineup, it's about as soap-opera-ish as the comic book superheroes, who at least never intend any emotional complexity. “X-Men” is so stuffed with action sequences that we hardly bother developing any characters. It even shamelessly borrows from the old Star Wars ploy of pleading with the bad guy, “I can sense the good in you.” And “Mother's Day” is so stuffed with cliché that there are no real surprises there, either; even the changes in attitude are totally predictable and tirelessly foreshadowed.

Lots of production effort represented in the making of the two of these, but unfortunately, neither is much worth the bother to go see it.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Have you ever been afraid that your parents would not approve something you were doing? Were your fears justified?

  2. How well does the principle of co-operative alliances work against a dangerous and determined adversary, from passionate terrorists to undercutting in-laws?

  3. How is the struggle for control both individual and cosmic?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association