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“X-men: Apocalypse” explores personal power management

“X-men: Apocalypse” (2016). Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Lucas Till, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, Olivia Munn, Caroline Bartczak, T.J. McGibbon, Hugh Jackman. Director: Bryan Singer. Screenplay: Simon Kinberg. Story: Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris. Web site. Trailer.

What does it mean to wield unchecked power? How do we control it? And what responsibility comes with that? Those are the considerations raised in the latest offering in one of the movie industry’s most storied action-adventure franchises, “X-men: Apocalypse.”

Set in 1983, 10 years after the series’ previous installment, “X-men: Days of Future Past” (2014), the film follows a band of mutant beings who possess special powers (and who are often discriminated against for being different, viewed by many as a threat to public safety). While the plot is too complicated to detail here, it essentially follows the X-men in their battle against a resurrected being, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), who draws upon an array of special abilities that he has amassed through multiple incarnations to fulfill his personal agenda.

Led by the mutants’ mentor, Prof. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), the X-men (Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee) and a courageous CIA agent (Rose Byrne) match wits with their nemesis, who literally looks to bring about what his new name embodies – the Apocalypse. And, to ensure that he succeeds in this nefarious quest, Apocalypse recruits the assistance of four jaded, impressionable mutants (Michael Fassbender, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, Olivia Munn) who possess powers comparable to their heroic counterparts, setting up an epic battle for the fate of the world.

As in many action-adventure offerings, themes of facing fears, living heroically and tapping into our innate courage permeate the narrative, principles that are integral to the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. But, in this film, the story also delves deeply into another crucial concept – the management of our personal power and the responsibility that comes with it.

Personal power is by no means unfamiliar turf for the “X-men” franchise. In this film’s predecessor, for example, the narrative plumbed the notion of claiming our personal power. In this release, that idea is carried further, following the exploits of characters who have claimed their power but now face the challenge of managing it (and doing so responsibly).

In this regard, the film is thus a metaphor for a fundamental challenge we all face. Power is something we each possess and in vast, untapped reserves. Indeed, as author Marianne Williamson observed in A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” What matters, however, is what we do with our power, something that becomes readily apparent in the film – and in the actions of both the heroes and the villains.

Apocalypse, for instance, believes that mankind has poisoned the planet and needs to be eliminated. Wiping the slate clean, he contends, will offer an opportunity for a fresh start, one that he asserts will bring about a glorious new future. However, while it may be true that humanity has done its share of despoiling the earth, and no matter how appealing a new beginning might seem, does that mean we should necessarily scrap what we’ve got? That’s particularly important to consider when we realize we have it within us to bring about such a sweeping outcome. (If you doubt we possess such power, think about what we’d reap if we allowed ourselves to engage in a nuclear exchange.)

As Apocalypse wreaks his havoc, the X-men wrestle with how to respond. Given the strength of their adversary’s will (and the beliefs and power that back it up), a formidable response is obviously called for. But how far should the mutants go? How much of their own power should they exercise in thwarting his efforts? If they hold back, they run the risk of letting Apocalypse succeed. However, if they unleash everything they have, they come perilously close to matching the unchecked actions of their opponent, moves that, at best, could be viewed as hypocritical or, at worst, could result in devastation equal to or worse than that inflicted by their foe. These are thorny questions, to be sure, yet they’re considerations the X-men ultimately must address – just as we’re all likely to have to do at some point in our lives.

This naturally raises the question, “So what are we to do in circumstances like this?” For starters, we must consider the responsibility that comes with our power. As recent films like “The Lobster” and “Money Monster” illustrate, just because we have the power to accomplish a particular objective doesn’t mean we necessarily should seek to manifest it. Apocalypse obviously needs to address this, but so do the X-men – including those on both sides of the duel in this film. This is especially true for Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), one of the good guys, a psychic gifted with incomparable creative powers that are equally capable of materializing glorious outcomes or unspeakable destruction.

In managing her power, Jean (like all of us) must ask herself how far should she go. But how much is too much (or too little)? That’s where she (and we) must look inward to assess our beliefs and intents, a process in which we should employ honesty and integrity. If we do that (and follow through accordingly), the answers (and results) will come to us. However, we must be careful to avoid the pitfalls of allowing fear, doubt or contradiction to come into play; if we do, we may well be disappointed with what we get.

If examining our personal beliefs doesn’t provide the answer we’re looking for, then perhaps we should consider expanding the scope of our analysis, especially when dealing with big issues like the fate of the world. In situations such as this, we should bear in mind that large-scale manifestations are co-creations, materializations that we bring forth with the assistance of others. Taking it upon ourselves to decide the destiny of our peers can be problematic (especially if it results in their annihilation), so, under these circumstances, we should be willing to take a step back and consider the ramifications of our beliefs and their manifested progeny. Our future – and that of the planet we call home – might depend on it.

Those who might be tempted to dismiss “X-men: Apocalypse” as little more than just a piece of summer fluff need to take a closer look; they’ll find there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface of its dazzling special effects. This flat-out winner features an engaging narrative, a thoughtful, well-executed script, terrific action sequences and enough overall variety to keep it interesting without becoming overburdened or unduly convoluted. It’s truly refreshing to see a sci-fi adventure that actually packs some meaningful meat into its plot instead of relying on things just blowing up for two hours (though the visuals are outstanding, especially the 3-D effects, which are some of the best I’ve seen using this cinematic technology). Fans of the franchise will definitely love it, and viewers who fancy their blockbusters with some depth will likely find it worthwhile, too.

For those in need of an excellent example of “Think before you act,” then this is the movie to see. Its exploration of the respect we must have for the power each of us possesses is crucial to avoid falling into the trap of allowing ourselves to be governed by our heads rather than our hearts, a pitfall that, if not heeded, could trigger our own personal Apocalypse.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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