X-Men: Apocalypse Review: Super-meh


Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Simon Kinberg

Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac

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Release date: May 19th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 144 minutes


3/5

Best part: The stacked cast.

Worst part: The weak villain.

Halfway through the ninth X-Men franchise installment, X-Men: Apocalypse, four characters walk out of a cinema having just seen Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. One character discusses the A New Hope‘s ground-breaking aura. Another praises The Empire Strikes Back‘s darkness and complexity. Finally, another snarkily retorts: “At least we can all agree the third one is always the worst”. Although a throwaway jab at X-Men 3: The Last Stand, the line perfectly sums up my feelings about this latest entry. Sorry Apocalypse, you shot yourself in the foot.

This series, kicking off back in 2000, set the bar for action-adventure storytelling and superhero cinema with a modest and mature first installment. Since then, the genre has launched into the x-men-6-2bc1b619-fbb6-4faf-9a71-45464932d131stratosphere. The franchise has been on a rollercoaster ride of stellar (X-Men 2), unique (The Wolverine), and terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) entries. Following up the kooky X-Men: First Class and exhilarating X-Men: Days of Future Past, Apocalypse dives into the 1980s’ brightly coloured, discomforting void. The world has grown weary of mutantkind, with the events of Days of Future Past now
etched into modern history. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has built his college for gifted students in Westchester County, New York. Meanwhile, Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) learns of old frenemy Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto(Michael Fassbender)’s return to the war between them and humanity.

That synopsis barely scratches the surface regarding Apocalypse‘s multitude of plot-threads and character arcs. All-powerful being En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), inadvertently awoken by CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert(Rose Byrne)’s activities, gathers his ‘Four Horsemen’ – Lehnsherr, Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Hardy), and Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Olivia Munn) – to help obliterate the world. Earth-shattering events draw Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Michael-Fassbender-X-Men-Apocalypse-TrailerTill), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into the battle.

Sadly, X-Men: Apocalypse pales in comparison to trend-setters Days of Future Past and Captain America: Civil War. The movie cherry-picks plot-strands, sociopolitical messages, emotional moments, and memorable sequences directly from earlier X-Men flicks. The overall narrative (end of the world, blah blah blah) is lifted from countless blockbusters before it. Director Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, Days of Future Past) and screenwriter Simon Kinberg, once again, explore Xavier and Lehnsherr’s push-me, pull-you dynamic, Raven’s wavering allegiances, William Stryker(Josh Helman)’s shady dealings, new mutants brought into Xavier’s school, and recurring characters making googly eyes at one another. It’s not bad, just too familiar. In fairness, thin sub-plots including Lehnsherr’s Polish family life torn asunder and younger maxresdefault (1)mutants becoming friends make for several interesting patches.

At an exhaustive 144 minutes, Apocalypse feels overstuffed, underdeveloped, inconsequential and bloated simultaneously. The nihilistic worldview, washed-out colour palette and dreary atmosphere permeate. Worse still, Despite the terrific Quicksilver, nuclear warhead, and Auschwitz set-pieces, the third act becomes a mind-numbing blend of mutant powers and cataclysmic destruction. For all the bluster of exotic locations, pretty performers, Logan/Wolverine(Hugh Jackman) cameos, and millions of dollars, the movie crumbles thanks to its titular villain. After a blistering opening sequence, depicting Apocalypse’s Ancient Egyptian origins, the character is given nothing but cheesy dialogue and vaguely defined abilities. Isaac, one of Hollywood’s most promising talents, is stranded under layers of costuming, prosthetic make-up, and voice modulation.

The low-three-star Apocalypse survives primarily on its cast’s enthusiasm and inherent charisma. Pulling themselves through silly dialogue, McAvoy and Fassbender are compelling leading men. Imbuing Xavier and Magneto with warmth, both thespians treat the material with respect. Dodging the Mystique maxresdefaultmakeup at every turn, Lawrence brings her deer-in-headlights/contractual-obligation facial expression to an underwritten character. Fortunately, Hoult, Peters, Smit-McPhee, Sheridan, and Tuner get just enough screen time to develop chemistry and lasting impact. However, Munn, Shipp and Hardy barely register in glorified henchman roles.

Despite going through sequels, prequels, and reboots, the X-Men franchise needs yet another shake-up. X-Men: Apocalypse, like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, just cannot compete against the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Less really is more, and Deadpool is starting to look a lot better.

Verdict: A middling, overstuffed superhero flick.

Scene Stealer: Quicksilver’s Kitchen Takedown – X-Men: Days of Future Past


quicksilver-steals-hatX-Men: Days of Future Past reinvigorated the beloved superhero franchise after the laughable misfires of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Though X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine did valuable work, Days of Future Past pulled fans back into the franchise and newcomers into its intricate plot and pacy vibe. The movie, described by Honest Trailers as a near carbon copy of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, played on familiar tropes with an effervescent glow. The plot bent and stretched the X-Men franchise’s chronology beyond comprehension. Like the varying mutant powers on display, the story requires a full suspension of disbelief.

Despite the inclusion of a naked Hugh Jackman, the original and First Class X-Men casts, and the bizarre absence of Anna Paquin (you know, the MAIN character of the original 2000 flick?), there was one aspect of Days of Future Past critics and general audiences have refused to shut up about! Quicksilver, played by relative newcomer Evan Peters (Never Back Down, Kick-Ass), is as slick and scintillating as Wolverine and Magneto combined. Despite the surf-brand name, the character was key to the movie’s unbridled efficiency. He, introduced as a kleptomaniac with a desire to escape the basement, is one of the franchise’s more positive and charismatic characters. His existence yields several plot-holes (Why not take him on every mission? Their mission would be wrapped-up before lunch!). Thankfully, the character makes an immediate impact.

x-men-days-of-future-past-quicksilver-kitchen-scene-slow-motionAfter springing Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) out of the Pentagon’s prison headquarters, Quicksilver – along with Erik, Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine, and Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) – is cornered by armed guards in a cramped kitchen space. So begins the movie’s standout, hold-onto-your-butts sequence – it’s up to Quicksilver to take out the guards and stop the bullets before any fly through anyone’s heads. This sequence is just one of many fun action beats this series has conjured up since its early-00s conception.

Like the exhilarating Nightcrawler-White House sequence from X2, the Quicksilver-kitchen sequence is a short, snappy highlight full of neat tricks. This 2-minute set-piece, backed up by Jim Croce’s 1973 folk-pop hit ‘Time in a Bottle’, was the tireless work of director Bryan Singer’s army of special effects crewmen and stunt coordinators. Thanks to the blockbuster filmmaking’s endless developments, Singer and co. reached new nooks and crannies. Whereas The Avengers and Man of Steel aimed for epic scopes and core emotions, Singer’s third X instalment scored visceral thrills and stylistic flourishes. This sequence proves superhero flicks don’t have to stick to a cinematic universe or dark, dreary introspection. Who knew, huh?

x-men-days-of-future-past-hugh-jackman-michael-fassbender-james-mcavoy-evan-peters-600x400Singer’s immaculate direction elevates this sequence from dumb fun to substantial entertainment. The switch between speed-up and slo-mo establishes the character’s greatest feats. He – decked out in a silver jacket, walkman, Pink Floyd shirt, and thick goggles – encapsulates Singer’s pulpy version of the 1970s. His cinematic treatment illuminates Quicksilver’s boisterous sense of humour and uber-slick style. As all manner of plates, food-stuffs, and utensils fly through the air, he uses everything at his disposal. In one fell swoop, he tastes the soup flying through mid air, knocks off people’s hats, steal other people’s caps, watches water droplets bounce off him, and runs across the surrounding spherical walls.

Quicksilver’s core strengths elicit big laughs and hearty surprises. Quicksilver, needing to take out a troop of guards, utilises gravity and brute physical force to save his mutant buddies. He does everything from throwing plates into people’s faces to forcing guards to punch themselves in the face to using gun recoils against one another. Effects including rippling skin and slo-mo bullets build tension before the scene’s spectacular payoff. As the scene switches back to regular motion, we see the full force of Quicksilver’s power. Full-grown guards, pots, pans etc. are sent flying across the room. Logan, Erik, and Charles’ reactions say it all: Quicksilver is not to be crossed!