The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Magneto... Again?

Magneto... again? That's what I've heard from people who are upset that the X-Men movie franchise has yet to feature villains like Apocalypse or Mr. Sinister. As for myself, I don't mind the continued use of Magneto. I would be very happy if Apocalypse and Sinister never appeared on the silver screen, and if they faded into character limbo.

I know I'm in the minority on this, but I think characters like Apocalypse and Mr. Sinister are really, really lame villains. It took over a decade for either of them to be defined at all. Apocalypse was a great big powerful uber mutant who had this ill defined survival of the fittest thing going. Sinister, we didn't know what he was about for over a decade, then they connected him with Apocalypse, which came out of no where. The problem was, they were both introduced as "mysterious" villains, and nothing was revealed about them, hints that went no where, it was dragged out, creative teams changed, new ideas were added, and what we got was a jumbled mess.

I think the X-Men films did the right thing by sticking with Magneto for all three films. He is a compelling character, and he's not wrong. In fact, I've often argued that Magneto is right and Xavier and his merry band of mutants are hippy morons.

And you know what, it has always made for fascinating debates on morality and ethics when one is discussing Xavier and Magneto. Personally, I think making nice with those who are trying to kill you is stupid at best. If I were a mutant, I'd join Magneto's Brotherhood before I joined the X-Men. Which is why I thought Colonel Stryker was a great choice for the villain in X2. He represented what the worst of human kind would do to mutants. He was the face of human bigotry. Which is really what these movies, and what X-Men are about. Mutants and humans. Bigotry, tolerance and understanding. X-Men is not about cosmic entities, aliens, and ancient Egyptian all powerful beings.

So, yeah, keep the big, convoluted "OMG! KEWL MYSTERIOUS!" characters away from the movies. The long dragged out, often changing the mind mystery didn't make them cool, it made them dull.

The thing about Apocalypse is, pretty much every plan he's ever tried to enact (with the possible exception of his first appearance) has been complete crap. He's got a killer rep, but you have to look beneath the surface: is he actually an interesting character? Has he really done anything too villainous? His greatest success has been in an alternate reality, for crying out loud... what's our Poccy ever done? And sadly the answer is: not much. We're told frequently that his power is immense... but again, when is that evidenced? He doesn't fight hand-to-hand too often. His powers are entirely generic: shape-changing, getting bigger, super-strong, fire energy blasts.

Just as an exercise, stack Apocalypse up against Magneto: Mags has interesting, innovative powers; a deep, nuanced backstory; a philosophical stance that you can actually relate to, even support; and actual character development on his side. Poccy has none of those things, with the arguable exception of a mildly interesting back story. It's just not enough. When Apocalypse is due to appear, I roll my eyes and think, "Oh crap, three months of bellowing about 'Survival of the fittest!' and world-shattering events, at the end of which absolutely nothing will be different."

Which, frankly, is Apocalypse's other problem as a character- his rep is such that every appearance has to be a MEGA HUGE EVENT, after which the X-Men's lives "will never be the same!" And then the story comes and goes, and the status quo is exactly the same, except Cyclops is dead for three months or Wolverine is evil but will probably be good again in the other five books he appears in this month. You can do a one-off issue with Magneto, you can do a story investigating Mystique's past, or Sebastian Shaw's motivations for what he does. You try to do anything less than an ultra-big life-altering story with Apocalypse, it ain't happening. He's the summer blockbuster of X-Men villains... and like most summer blockbusters, the first one was pretty fun but most of the sequels have sucked, and sucked hard.

But why are Apocalypse and Sinister in such demand for the movies? I blame the X-Men cartoon from the early 1990s. That series, like the Batman series of the 60s, put the X-Men on the pop culture map. Apocalypse became the de facto main villain of the series because he happened to be the big thing in the comics at the time. Mr. Sinister had an entire season arc centered around him in the second season before returning as a minion of Apocalypse later on. And while Magneto appeared in the series, he did not take center stage as their primary antagonist and Xavier's philosophical opposite. They disagreed, but he helped them more often and was only in direct opposition to them in his first appearance. And later on, he too served briefly as a henchman for Apocalypse before again allying with the X-Men.

Before "Batman Begins" came out, a few years prior, there was a poll done in a magazine asking readers who they wanted the next villain to be. By now the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face, Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane had all been featured. The next obvious two villains were Scarecrow and Ra's al Ghul. Needless to say, they didn't win the poll. King Tut won the poll. That's right, King Tut. From the Adam West Batman show.

To me, that's what Apocalypse and Sinister have always been... King Tut and Louie the Lilac. Okay, that's an exaggeration since they've been in the comics, but for the most part Apocalypse and Sinister haven't factored into things much since the 90s... they were products of their era, and they need to go away.


  1. Didn't you do a post like this before?

    Apocalypse, de facto main villain in TAS? I always thought it was Sinister. Personally I never had a problem with how Magneto was portrayed in TAS.

    Apocalypse, the summer blockbuster of villains? I agree but you could level that criticism to Darkseid (to a certain degree) in the DC as well (was that crap with him "killing Batman" really necessary?) only Darkseid has been handled a little better.

    Yeah Apocalypse and Sinister's portrayal in the comics have been less than stellar. But you know what else has been portrayed as less than stellar in the comics? Magneto's powers. Seriously, creating a hole in another dimension, what does that have to do with Magnetism? Personally I think the way his powers were portrayed in the movies and Evolution/WatX were the right way to go.

    And don't even get me started on Magneto's lame ass alternate costumes.

    Also remember how lame Magneto started out as in the comics?

    The point is, any idea/story/character can potentially be good. It just depends on how it's told (Venom in Spectacular says hi) Though whether there are people out there who know how to make them good (I think there are) is another.

    Personally I always felt Apocalypse should have been the Adolf Hitler of the X-Men Villains, the guy who's trying to create the master mutant race, but that's just me.

    But who are these people groaning about Magneto again? I haven't seen them in large numbers.
    Personally the villains I always wanted to see portrayed on the big screen were the Sentinels, the closest we got was X3. Yeah they could come across as awful CGI if done improperly, but I always wanted to see someone try.

    Well I don't have any problem with Magneto at all, as long as it's Sir Ian McKellen.

  2. First of all, as far as Magneto's powers go, he's always been able to manipulate the electro-magnetic spectrum. That is one of the four forces of creation, and that goes far beyond just magnetism. And yes, opening a worm hole (he didn't open a portal to another dimension) is possible considering the potential of what he can theoretically do.

    Apocalypse is just dull, and if all he needs is an interesting story, then he hasn't gotten it yet. And I'm not holding my breath that it will ever happen... not that I want it to.

    And I would hardly compare Darkseid to Apocalypse. Darkseid has much more in common with Dr. Doom than he does with Apocalypse. Darkseid has an interesting back story, interesting relationships with characters such as Orion, Superman, Mr. Miracle and others. Apocalypse has none of these things.

    And as for the Hitler of the X-Men universe, you have better characters for that such as Col. Stryker, the Sentinels, and yes, even Magneto... now, he's not but that's part of the fascination with Magneto is that he walks that line and he could become the very thing he hates. That's far, far more interesting than Apocalypse.

    I will agree with you that the Sentinels should be portrayed on the big screen some time.

    I will also agree that Silver Age Magneto was pretty lame, but most villains in the Silver Age were lame. It was later on when comic book writing got more sophisticated that they became the classic characters that we all know. Apocalypse first appeared when the writing was supposed to be more sophisticated, what's his excuse?

    And what do Magneto's alternate costumes have to do with any of this? Even in a lame costume with a big M on his shirt, he's still a better character than Apocalypse.

  3. Yes that's perhaps true, but even then there are other questionable powers he's shown like telepathy which could be argued.

    The second about being dull is subjective so I won't go in to that much. Personally his comics incarnation was always soured by me by his dull survival of the fittest rants that always made him come off as a pompous windbag. But I thought his animation incarnations were okay. Also keep in mind that unlike the comics. Animation and the movies are not constantly on going.

    Keep in mind when I made the comparison to Darkseid I said "to a certain degree", not point by point. And the comparison was more based on the summer blockbuster feel of basing certain events around him (like "killing Batman") not based on him 100%. I agree that he has more interesting relationships with characters but those relationships didn't write themselves.

    Col. Stryker's motivation has always been (to my knowledge) to wipe out mutants; not create stronger ones (ditto for the sentinels). And I feel anything that pits Magneto's motivation in him destroying his fellow mutants (unless they oppose him accomplishing his goal) to make greater ones is out of character for me. To me Magneto's prime motivation has been seeking peace for his fellow mutants (though through radical ways), not to destroy them.

    I'll admit to reaching on the costume comparison.

    Anyways you never answered where most of these people who said they groaned over Magneto again (or that wanted Sinister or Apocalypse), were from?

    And they really voted on King Tut over the other Batman villains, WTF were they on?

    Look for what it's worth I'm not one of those people who are waiting for Apocalypse to appear on the big screen, I'm indifferent (leaning towards no). With those 2 characters I think there's potential to work with in translating them (unlike some comic book characters *cough* Morlun *cough*), but I don't think they're anywhere near as interesting as Magneto, I agree they never have been.

    And I can understand why you would feel this way, on facebook I debated with someone on why Venom and Carnage appearing in the new Spider-Man movie was dumb.

    Also I found out that Magneto is going to be younger, and not Sir Ian McKellen, so never mind. But I'm not terribly big on Sebastian Shaw, and to me Emma Frost became more interesting once she became an X-Men and had a relationship with Scott. But I'll hold off on judgment till I see what happens.

  4. the only time apocalypse was genuinely scary was in xmen evolution.

    He had the raw power to back up his rep (when he is first awakened he utterly bitchslaps the entire team) and transforming Xavier, Mystique, Magneto and Storm into Apocalypse was a pretty shocking moment. He also got some pretty good dialogue (and David Kaye's voice work was brilliant, capturing the arrogance and ruthlessness needed perfectly.) He had an excuse to be out of action (he's been imprisoned for thousands of years and once he's out he needs to set up his devices) and the way he was taken down was sort of believable (at the end of the day he's still a mutant so rogue's powers hurting him through absorbing leech's powers would still work. and Rogue taking him down was deliciously ironic considering that he exploited HER to escape in the first place.)

    His plan was kind of a ripoff of the first xmen film, but the stakes where still high, and the sense of danger still very real.