photo: 20th Century Fox

If you live in a big city with lots of billboards, posters, and advertisements all over the place, odds are you've probably seen the above image of Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) choking out Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) to promote the movie "X-Men: Apocalypse." Which, yes, happens in the movie, but maybe isn't the best look as a poster.

Many social media users, critics and celebrities have been publicly calling out the poster since it first started to appear at the beginning of May, but it's only now that mainstream media is starting to notice the problem — mostly because professional Woke Feminist Actress Rose McGowan (“Charmed,” “Planet Terror”) put the billboard on blast last week on her Facebook.

They're all right, of course. It's a terrible poster — but for more many reasons than the exceedingly obvious one you probably expect just from looking at it. Let’s break it down:


All the other posters show superheroes actually using their superpowers, making this one kinda “meh” in comparison.

When you line the poster up with the rest of the key art in this “X-Men: Apocalyse” ad campaign, it’s not just offensive: it’s also exceedingly boring.

On one billboard, Magneto is floating in the air with steel beams whizzing all around him. In another, Jean Grey is helping to guide Cyclops’s eyebeams to explode out the other end of the poster. Storm’s depicts her unleashing the awesome power of lightning, and Psylocke's shows her in mid-flight with a regular katana in one hand and a rad psychic blade in the other — after she’s sliced a car in half. You know. Superpowers!

And in the Apocalypse poster… he’s just manhandling another blue person.

And this is supposed to make us feel like he’s a threat? All it made me feel was that maybe Jennifer Lawrence wanted to get out of the franchise so badly that she’d be fine getting killed in the most un-superheroic way possible.    


It's kind of lazy.

It’s possible that Fox was trying to evoke the longstanding (and also uncomfortable) tradition of women getting abused on the posters of horror movies (see Elisha Cuthbert in all the “Captivity” posters) as a way of raising the stakes for viewers — because as everyone knows, torturing a pretty lady is the best way to get someone’s attention. Or it could also be an example of the Worf Effect, which is when a badass character we already know gets easily taken out by a new villain to prove the villain’s toughness.

But while Mystique is a capable fighter, she isn’t “tough” in the same way that, say, Wolverine is. So even that doesn’t work. It’s much more likely that Fox just assumed that showing a woman getting hurt would be the easiest shorthand for Apocalypse’s villainy, much in the same way that “Game Of Thrones” marks its worst characters. You need to show that someone is bad? Have them hit a lady! Everybody wins! (Except for ladies.)

Nevermind that Apocalypse actually spends most of the movie harassing Charles Xavier, who is the most important parental figure in the entire history of the X-Men franchise and  also disabled on top of that— if anything were going to shock me into realizing Apocalypse was a Big Deal, it's watching Professor X get helplessly knocked out of his wheelchair. Why isn't that the focus of the campaign? Because real villain hit ladies, That's why. 


It’s literally the climax of the movie, so making billboards out of it ruins the impact.

Okay, I know what you’re saying. “Sure, everyone else is using powers, but isn’t showing everyday violence alongside that an interesting subversion of the superhero movie aesthetic?” Yeah, sure — unless you’re literally seeing it in every piece of marketing for the film months before it even comes out.

Within the context of the movie, Apocalypse choking Mystique out is actually a surprisingly emotionally resonant scene. It’s the end of the fight, and everyone’s pretty much exhausted all their cool powers and abilities. Mystique challenges Apocalypse directly, despite knowing that he significantly stronger than her. It’s uncomfortable, and brutal, and it only really works because we know what Apocalypse is capable of at this point.

But that scene doesn’t just exist within the context of the movie — it’s also three different trailers, dozens of TV spots and a bunch of inescapable billboards, and all of those serve to detract from exactly what the scene is trying to accomplish.

I am of the firm belief that a movie should still be engaging even if you know exactly what’s going to happen in it and that our cultural obsession with “spoilers” has gotten more than a little overblown, but let’s be real — when you see the same violent image every single day on your morning commute, by the time you actually witness it on screen the whole thing feels like an afterthought.

It shouldn’t. It should be a big deal, and Fox shouldn’t have made it such an integral part of their marketing campaign if they wanted it to have any kind of effect on their audience. (Or they could have just put out a better movie, but listen, that’s not the marketing department’s fault. Blame where it’s due, guys.)


It's a dude choking a woman, for Christ's sake.

Obviously, this is the concern that’s getting the most attention, and for good reason: advertising might be divorced from the clarify watching the film would provide, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and to most rational people a picture of a dude choking a lady with the words “Only the Strong Will Survive” makes for very uncomfortable viewing.

After all, not a lot of people have had their car slashed in two by a swimsuit wearing ninja, but plenty of people — and plenty of women — have been physically abused in the exact same way that Mystique is in the poster. Why would you risk reminding them of the worst thing that ever happened to them while trying to entice them to see your superhero movie? That’s not going to sell tickets. It’s just going to make everybody feel weird.

"There is a major problem when the men and women at 20th Century Fox think casual violence against women is the way to market a film," Rose McGowan told The Hollywood Reporter. “There is no context in the ad, just a woman getting strangled. The fact that no one flagged this is offensive and, frankly, stupid.”

Yup, it sure is — and considering that "X-Men Apocalypse" fell short of box office predictions, it might have even hurt their bottom line just a little bit. Which is too bad, because it's one of the first modern ensemble superhero movies to really put a female character, namely Mystique, at the center of its narrative. 

Too bad you wouldn't really know that from the posters that show her getting the daylights choked out of her, huh?

Update, 3:20 ET: Fox has officially apologized for the billboard, telling The Hollywood Reporter in a statement, "In our enthusiasm to show the villainy of the character Apocalypse we didn’t immediately recognize the upsetting connotation of this image in print form. Once we realized how insensitive it was, we quickly took steps to remove those materials. We apologize for our actions and would never condone violence against women."