|Genre:||Action, Sci-Fi, Superhero|
|Runtime:||2 Hours 24 mins|
|Studio:||20th Century Fox|
|Release Date:||US: May 27 2016
UK: May 18 2016
|See If You Like:||Batman v Superman,
X-Men: The Last Stand,
Unoriginal X-Men Issue 6
It’s intriguing to see how far the comic book movie landscape has come since Bryan Singer first unleashed the X-Men in the original movie 16 years ago. Whilst we’re undoubtedly in a golden age of such films, it’s staggering to see the many highs and lows we’ve been treated to and how director Singer has at least a good level of quality in his comic movie part of his filmography. Curious then to see how the godfather of this century’s superhero boom has given us a rather duff entry in his fourth X-outing; X-Men: Apocalypse.
In Egyptian times, the world’s first mutant En Sabah Nur gathered a great deal of power as a demi-god and gained new abilities by transferring his consciousness into new mutant bodies. Betrayed by some of his followers, En Sabah Nur was buried and placed into a deep sleep for thousands of years by his four horsemen elite. Disturbed, he rises again in 1983 to find that humanity and his mutant brethren have lost their way without his tutelage. The rechristened Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) seeks to gather powerful mutants of the day to destroy the world and rebuild it to his liking.
Elsewhere, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, Joy) is helping out underground mutants get to safety as mutantkind is accepted but still feared after the events of the last film, Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy, Victor Frankenstein) mutant school is flourishing as he takes on more powerful students to tutor and Magneto (Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs) is retired, enjoying a quiet family life. With the arrival of Apocalypse, mutants new and old must take sides as they fight to bring about or stop the end times of humanity.
The oddest thing to hit you straight away is the noticeable lack of polish behind the direction. Singer can craft a superhero film rich in thematic depth and characterisation with stellar action set pieces & smart CGI… and he whipped one up two years ago in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. But the overall product here is substandard. The look of the film is lifeless with CGI bombarding the screen most of the time that does not create any awe. Dialogue fails to inspire with a face-inducing exchange when the rest of our heroes realise what Apocy’s big plan is. It wouldn’t have killed to have a few takes of “…to CONNECT!” because it’s doubtful that was the best one that the cast or Singer are capable of evoking. The on the nose “Oh everyone knows the third film isn’t as good” line meant to be tongue-in-cheek actually ends up allowing expectations to be lowered in a must be tacked on late addition. The 1980’s setting is baffling since there’s not a great deal used to suggest it’s worth, aside from a solo song choice and a set of culture references. Most of the cast have not been appropriately aged to play these older versions of their characters with Fassbender still looking in his 30’s and not the 50-something Magneto would be if he was a child in the holocaust.
The most ridiculous aspect to the whole film is that you will have scenes of Apocalypse giving powerful, despot monologues in the centre of the screen up-close, yet he’s not the main focus as just off in the corner, outrageously skimpy-outfit wearing, Olivia Munn (Ride Along 2) as Psylocke diverts your attention in a tight latex purple bikini suit thing. It’s very nice to look at sure, but not when your big bad is trying to give exposition or reasoning. Throughout the runtime, you’re waiting – expecting perhaps unfairly – for Singer’s spark to ignite on screen but it just never comes leading to a dreary drudge of an unexciting experience. Simply astonishing given his track record.
Plot-wise, there’s not a great deal to get invested in. There is a baddie who wants to destroy the world or remake it in his image and it’s up to the X-Men to stop them – again. We’re on the fourth time of that particular card. In fact, it makes you wonder if there are any more options in the deck Fox and series producer Simon Kinberg (2015’s Fantastic Four) play at all. It’s high stakes all over again but you can’t really be that invested in saving the world from an unrealistic threat when diminishing returns sets in. There’s nothing behind the plot in terms of themes, save the usual “oh bugger, I’m a downtrodden mutant that humans love to hate. Woe is me” thread that mutantkind never really seems to stop sulking over. Whilst it is engaging and sympathetic to see a metaphor for down trodden minorities, there’s been no evolution or revolution for the mutant race in 16 years whilst the world has moved onwards. A stagnant battle that claims will never end and yet you look at the more receiving acceptance of something like homosexuality to realise that the X-Men themselves don’t exactly fight for their right of being in their own movies.
Handling of the comic book characters is a mixed bag. Magneto seems to have just given up his battle for mutant rights by force and is happy to lead a normal life away from being a leader to his people with a family. How… unpassionate of Erik. It feels tacked on just to get a heartbroken and corruptible Magneto to side with Apocalypse more easily, when in essence they have the same methodology to get what they want. Magneto in the X-Men franchise has been an engrossing villain/anti-hero who wants the best for mutantkind but is willing to use force and murderous methods to get there; getting a family and singing nursery rhymes kills off any interest in the man. Apocalypse himself had a decent portrayal from Isaac yet there wasn’t a great deal to him apart from ‘ruthless despot type’. Whilst it was enjoyable to see Apocy rant on and on about changing the world for the better, it’s like watching WWE’s Bray Wyatt – a man who goes forever talking about the end of days and such until you realise there isn’t any teeth behind his talk. Angel/Archangel’s look from the comics and the 90’s animated show is a favourite, yet he is completely neutered as a nothing member of Apocy’s four horsemen. Apocalypse is supposedly looking for the most powerful in his disciples and the best he can do is find a guy with wings (Ben Hardy, Eastenders) who can “fight”? A few fan favourite characters like Nicholas Hoult’s (Kill Your Friends) Beast & Kodi Smit-McPhee (Slow West) as Nightcrawler get lost in the shuffle or could have done with a little more presence but spare a though for newcomer Lana Condor’s Jubilee who I don’t think we get to see use her firework powers once in the whole film!
Considering the disappointing use of Lawrence’s Mystique in DoFP, the set up of the blue shapeshiftress here is far better. Positioned more as an inspirational mutant icon – who showed not all of mutantkind are murderous a-holes to the world – even an on auto-pilot J-Law can’t dent the draw of a reluctant leader figure when the chips are down. Game Of Thrones‘ Sophie Turner ends up being the star of the show as a young Jean Grey who is coming to terms with the extent of her telekinesis mind powers. Tye Sheridan (Last Days in the Desert) as a youthful Scott Summers / Cyclops who has literally just unleashed his first uncontrollable laser blast is a welcome departure from the stoic leader type he grows up to be. Weird to see him be the teen rebel, wanting to go hang out at the mall, but still welcome. Heck, it’s nice to see most of the mutants being played by actual teenagers or young adults rather than parts of a slightly older generation for once. When you throw in the fact that there is a boatload of nice nods to the comic book and strong characterisation, a certain level of enjoyable can be gained from those in the know about their X-Men.
Coming off the mental but encapsulating time travelling glory of Days Of Future Past, there’s no big gimmicks, spectacle or set-piece to really woo you. A reasonably smart choice was to revisit a Quicksilver (an entertaining as always Evan Peters, Elvis & Nixon) super speed, slowed down time sequence after his debut in the last X-entry but it doesn’t match up to the hype. Whilst grander in scale, it labours at almost double the length of his introductory power display, and lacks any real coolness, in a case of trying too hard. Elsewhere, the action scenes fail to really inspire anything other than malaise. The Wolverine sequence was nifty – although it was clearly edited to appear holding back on purpose, similar to X-Men 2 – but what would have been a strong and exciting surprise in Hugh Jackman’s (Eddie The Eagle) inclusion had already been spoiled by the marketing department. The opening and closing Egyptian themed city wide rebuilding/destruction sequences are all CGI with not an once of grounding humanity to latch on to.
Having thought alot since I’ve seen the film, X-Men: Apocalypse has only continued to scale further downwards. Whilst not being the worst X-Men franchise film – that honour can still go to Origins: Wolverine – there is a case for this definitely being the worst mainline one, over even the panned X-Men 3: The Last Stand. There, you can argue the stakes are more realistic and interesting with a more impressive sense of scale and spectacle amidst some intentional or not great humour; Apocalypse has none of that. Given the talent and creators involved, this should have been an easy home run even with a reasonably short turn around time for a sequel but Singer comes up with something akin to an A-Level C grade project – pedestrian, lacking any real thought and goes nowhere.
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