Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse
Directed by: Bryan Singer.
Written by: Simon Kinberg and Bryan Singer & Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris.
Starring: James McAvoy (Professor Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven / Mystique), Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy / Beast), Oscar Isaac (En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse), Rose Byrne (Moira Mactaggert), Evan Peters (Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver), Josh Helman (Col. William Stryker), Sophie Turner (Jean Grey), Tye Sheridan (Scott Summers / Cyclops), Lucas Till (Alex Summers / Havok), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler), Ben Hardy (Angel), Alexandra Shipp (Ororo Munroe / Storm), Lana Condor (Jubilee), Olivia Munn (Psylocke), Tómas Lemarquis (Caliban), Hugh Jackman (Logan).

The X-Men movies have come along at a fairly steady pace of about one every other year for 16 years now – X-Men: Apocalypse marks the ninth film in the series (yes, Deadpool counts), and as the series has progressed, it has become more and more clear that in terms of continuity, this series is simply flying by the seat of its pants. This puts a film like X-Men: Apocalypse in a weird situation, because if you haven’t seen the other films, than so much of the film’s most likely won’t work at all – like seemingly every comic book movie right now, this was is ridiculously overstuffed with characters, many of whom don’t get much of a chance to do anything in the film, but because we know them from other films, it still works. And yet, because we know them from other movies, a lot of what they do in this movie doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. Sure, it makes sense in the context of this movie by itself – but not the larger picture the series is painting. Character ages are one thing you can play with a little bit, and you have to play along (none of the characters who were in X-Men: First Class and this film look 20 years older than they did in that film – and I have no idea what kind of life choices William Stryker is going to make to age him into Brian Cox in a mere 20 years), etc. But it’s more than that – its character relationships that don’t make a lot sense in future films because of things that happen this time around. In general, I have a fairly high tolerance for this type of thing – I’m like Bruce Willis in Looper, deploring Joseph Gordon-Levitt not to try and deconstruct the timeline too much, so they don’t spend hours in that diner diagramming everything with straws. But it really has become a distraction here – and it’s enough to really make me appreciate just how thought out the Marvel movies are – where film to film, everything makes sense.

Anyway – leaving aside the continuity questions for now - X-Men: Apocalypse opens in 1983. The title villain (played by Oscar Isaac) is an agent mutant – the world’s first – who has been asleep under his tomb in Egypt since 3600 B.C., but is brought back to life by a cult that worships him. Apocalypse is an all-powerful villain – who can transfer his consciousness from one body to another, and pick up powers along the way. For some reason, this all powerful being still needs to have four underlines to do his bidding for him. The first mutant he meets upon waking is a young Storm (Alexandrea Shipp), who he enlists as his first “Horsemen”. He will eventually add other “new” additions Psylocke (Olivia Munn) – who is stuck with a rather silly bathing suit costume throughout, Angel (Ben Hardy), as well as Magneto (Michael Fassbender) – whose decade in seclusion following the events of Days of Future Past, which made him the world’s most wanted mutant, ends in tragedy – and his renewed commitment to destroy anyone who isn’t a mutant.

The movie also re-introduces some younger versions of characters who were in the original film – Scott Summers aka Cyclops, Jean Grey aka Jean Grey (seriously, why doesn’t she get a cool name) and Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler, who all find their way to Xavier’s School of the Gifted – where they will eventually team up with Charles Xavier, Mystique, Quicksilver and Hank McCoy to be the ones who have to stop Apocalypse and his minions.

X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t a disaster like Batman v. Superman earlier this year. The movie is entertaining, for the most part, and even if the talented cast is either asked to do the same things they have done before, or nothing much at all, they are for the most part still quite good. I do wish that the films would either find something new to do with Magneto – who once again suffers loss, and wants vengeance, until he decides not to, again (not to mention that the film indulges in more fridging of female characters, just to motivate a male character). Fassbender is more than capable of doing this role in his sleep – and it’s to his credit that he doesn’t, although it’s still far from the best use of his skills. Jennifer Lawrence’s ark as Mystique has been strange – she has become a much larger character than Mystique has ever been before, and that’s clearly to take advantage of Lawrence’s increased star power since she was originally cast. Yet it must be said that Lawrence, more often than not, seems bored by the role. But even that is preferable to the films treatment of Oscar Isaac. Isaac is one of the very best actors in the world right now – a character actor capable of movie star performances as well (or vice versa), the film smothers him in makeup and CGI, and then digitally alters his voice often throughout the film. Apocalypse is given to speechifying throughout the film – which wouldn’t be so bad if he something more to say.

It is admittedly cool to see some of the powers on display in the film. Nightcrawlers teleportation is put to great use her, and Quicksilver has an amazing showcase sequence saving many of Xavier’s students for example. The only problem is that Nightcrawlers powers were already brilliantly showcased in the opening scene of X2, and Quicksilver had a very similar showcase in the last movie as well. It isn’t that they aren’t handled well – it’s that it’s slightly disappointed that they decided to do the same thing again.

I also don’t think that the movie earns its more serious moments either – in particular, a visit to Auschwitz seems like it’s in bad taste – especially since they don’t actually deal with the implications of the site, but instead just use it for another special effects set piece (it may not be as bad as the stars of The Fault in Our Stars making out – to applause no less - Anne Frank’s house, but is not that far off either).

Overall, X-Men: Apocalypse works well enough, often enough that even as it clocks in at nearly two and half hours, it’s still a relevantly interesting way to spend an evening at the movies. But it does seem like the film spends a lot of time setting up future installments, and not enough on the story and characters in this installment. It isn’t as bad as X-Men: The Last Stand (which this movie takes an obvious, if still funny, shot at). But given the heights this series has hit before, it still ranks as a disappointment.

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