Sunday, May 29, 2016

Movie Review: "X-Men: Apocalypse" (2016)

© 20th Century Fox

It never hurts to preface that I'm clueless when it comes to the convoluted comic history of Marvel's X-Men. I can't knowingly comment on how the studio changed this character this way or that character that way, much less the accuracy of the plot itself, so those choices have no barring on my thoughts below. That being said, it doesn't stop me from having an opinion about original X-Men director, Bryan Singer's, latest foray into the mutant world with X-Men: Apocalypse. He just can't quite figure out how to make this movie work.

Kitschy and playful ribbing of eighties culture and the franchise itself is counteracted by its characters taking themselves far too seriously to be in on the fun. Newly introduced mutants were split down the middle between exciting new additions and cumbersome baggage—the latter of which was usually accompanied by an inability to act with an accent not their own.

In a continuation of the events of 70s-set Days of Future Past, our mutant friends have come together behind Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) at his newly founded school for Gifted Youngsters. There we meet a whole slew of unfamiliar faces with very familiar names. Noticeably absent from teaching duties, however, is Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), now working to rescue tormented mutants across the globe, and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), in hiding after becoming the most wanted mutant in the world.

But like all superhero flicks, there must be a supervillain, and there may be none more unstoppable than the powerful Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), awoken after nearly 3000 years underneath an Egyptian pyramid with a serious case of the Mondays. After he recruits a collection of power-hungry sidekicks, Xavier's team must band together to stop him from having a tantrum and destroying the world—which means it may be time to train a new generation of X-Men.

Sophie Turner's young Jean Grey is perhaps the most exciting prospect in the bunch, but it takes her easily three-quarters of the movie to shed her awkward navigation of the role. Her delivery is far too stale (blame the writers, if you want), but there is an underlying self-consciousness to her performance that can only be attributed to teenage-hood. A silver lining. Young Grey is hardly defined, nor has she come into her own, and Singer manages, albeit two hours too late, to find her a path to growth. Lots of potential for Turner as the powerful Phoenix, but you won't fully get what you're looking for in this.

The Best Character Award is a split between Days of Future Past scene-stealer, Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and newbie Kodi Smit-Mcphee's youthfully naive, Nightcrawler. Both are given clearly defined direction which allows them to work within this world without being dragged down by the slogging plot trajectory. Quicksilver's personal mission to find Magneto leads him to join up with the virtuous X-Men, but he has his own objective separate from standard world-saving, which allows him more material to work with.

Likewise, Nightcrawler is a tragic character in awe of not only mutants, but American culture and the mere concept of freedom. There's comedy there, to be sure, but his wonderment is laced throughout the entire story, and you just want to give him a hug. Smit-Mcphee brought out a childishness in the teleporting mutant that was hopeful and curious, a stark contrast to his teen counterparts who were already too jaded for their own good.

Bryan Singer's detached narrative fights to hold onto the expertly executed energy of Future Past, but fails to incorporate the gripping nature of villainy that made its predecessor so great. Magneto is the most consistently conflicted character the franchise has developed over the past 16 years (!!), and yet Singer manhandles him in an attempt to breath life into the lifeless motivations of Apocalypse. Because the sad truth was, we don't know anything about Apocalypse, our titular character.

Even after a way-too-long movie (seriously, this could have been 40 minutes shorter), his motivations were hollow, at best. For such a powerful guy, you'd think he'd have refined his interview process for selecting henchmen (kind of a risky move to assume emotional wildcards would stick by you in a fight). Apocalypse is an ancient, god-like mutant who aided in forming and destroying civilizations, introduced straight out of the opening of The Mummy. Got it. After being re-awoken from... an ancient slumber?... he experiences a Fifth Element/Leeloo moment and learns everything about human history from a television set. Angry and annoyed, he determines humans must be stopped.

And that's it! Throw a bit of ethnic-cleansing in there in order to spare mutants extinction, and there's your movie. Basically, he's established terribly, and watching his team stand stiffly on an old, plastic Star Trek mountain set for 20 minutes mid-climax doesn't move things along much, either. None of it is enough to make anyone care. Way over here is a story developing that will actually carry into the future of the franchise, and despite its languid flaws, it's certainly where we'd rather be, watching Mystique train these n00bs so Jennifer Lawrence doesn't have to do this shit anymore.

It wasn't all dire straits (though Magneto's storyline certainly weighed the movie down); I have a soft-spot for this epic series, even the questionable ones (Last Stand), because at the very least, the relationships between the X-Men are tension-filled and dynamic. Even that isn't lost here, despite Singer losing sight of the finish line. This feels like the necessary end to a trilogy that had successfully breathed youthful life into aging characters—and it's continuing to do so as we venture into the world of new mutants.

Rating: ★★½ / 5 stars


  1. Yeah, this movie seemed dot be just running through the motions. Definitely a step down from Days of Future Past.

    - Zach

    1. Agreed. It even tried to recycle some of FUTURE PAST's best moments, with Quicksilver and even with the team in general. It just wasn't right. That being said, I am looking forward to THE NEW MUTANTS.


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