Wednesday, June 8, 2016

'X-Men: Apocalypse' review

I've written at length before about how the X-Men franchise is the most inconsistent in Hollywood, and once again, the filmmakers behind the series are proving me right. This year, Deadpool became the first truly effective spin-off movie from the X-Men universe, demolishing records and setting the new standard for R-rated superhero films. And after the massive success of Days of Future Past in 2014, it seemed like the series was finally headed on the right track, a path that would create consistently good movies. Enter X-Men: Apocalypse. Working as the third film in the First Class trilogy, Apocalypse had so much potential. It was picking up after two beloved reboots/sequels, it featured a bigger scale than ever before in the series, and Oscar Isaac was joining the cast as the villain. With steady momentum and Bryan Singer behind the camera, there was no way this could disappoint. Right?

Unfortunately, X-Men: Apocalypse further proves the inconsistency of the franchise, delivering a bloated, dull mess of a film that never comes together. It's not a total waste- the film is passably entertaining and there are certain subplots that are engaging and compelling, especially the continued moral dilemma of Michael Fassbender's Erik Lensherr/Magneto. However, it's surrounded by excess and bland extravagance, dominated by an awful, often unintentionally hilarious villain, rampant tonal confusion, and a general sense of pointlessness. After the triumphant success of First Class and Days of Future Past, the disappointment of Apocalypse is crushing. A fascinating character study shoved into a generic, oversized blockbuster, Apocalypse finds the X-Men franchise running in circles.

The film begins in Ancient Egypt, where we witness the transformation of Apocalypse (played by Oscar Isaac), who is billed as the world's first mutant. The opening scene is one of the most bizarre moments in the entire film, a goofy and zippy action scene that is utterly jarring, considering there's never any explanation as to what's happening or why. Mutants fire things at people, everybody's trying to kill each other, and we never really understand any of it. Nonetheless, Apocalypse is stopped by.....somebody. And then he ends up in the ground and is presumably dead and buried. Life goes on in the mutant world, the events of First Class and Days of Future Past happen, and then we arrive in the year 1983.

There are a plethora of characters in X-Men: Apocalypse and it's often hard to explain what they're all doing or why exactly they're in the film. After the Apocalypse stuff, we cut to Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique, who is traveling around the world and finding mutants. When the movie begins, she has just found Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is in Germany at a location where mutants fight for sport. Meanwhile, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is back at his school, working with Professor Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and new students Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) to help breed the next class of mutants. And finally, Erik Lensherr (Fassbender) is living quietly in Europe with his new family, having escaped the infamy that resulted from his assassination attempt on the President.

But things will turn bad again when CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) travels to Egypt for an investigation. She does some cave exploring and unwittingly resurrects Apocalypse, who is immediately appalled with the direction that humanity has taken. The all-powerful mutant always has four followers by his side, so he travels the globe to gain his mutant allies. Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) join his side, plotting to destroy the Earth as we know it and restore new order. With a global threat underway, Professor Xavier, Beast, and Mystique must join forces to train a new generation of students and create a group of X-Men.

The X-Men franchise has always specialized in crafted compelling, dynamic characters, which has often felt unique in the blockbuster sphere. I still maintain that James McAvoy gave one of the best performances in a comic book movie ever in Days of Future Past, painting a picture of a damaged man who is forced to believe in hope again. Despite its numerous problems, the third chapter in this trilogy has some phenomenal character development as well, mostly centered around Michael Fassbender's Magneto. I won't say too much because it could devolve into spoiler territory, but let's just say that Erik Lensherr's arc in this film is tragic, heartbreaking, and endlessly fascinating. Fassbender alternates between uncontrollable rage and emotional pathos with ease, delivering a performance that stands with McAvoy's in the aforementioned X-Men flick.

Unfortunately, while Days of Future Past featured complex character development for nearly everyone in the cast, Apocalypse is lacking beyond the multi-layered story for Magneto. The script attempts to incorporate some kind of arc for James McAvoy's Charles Xavier, but he ends up just being another pawn in the plot. Same goes for Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique- she organizes the X-team, but there's very little else that she has to do. Beast, Havok (Lucas Till), and Moira Mactaggert also fall flat for the most part, making it hard for the audience to understand why they're really in the movie. The biggest disappointment comes in the form of Evan Peters' Quicksilver, who has the potential for a truly interesting story that instead gets squandered by a big action setpiece set in Egypt.

The new characters in Apocalypse are a mixed bag. The new generation of X-Men shine but the Four Horseman are pretty much a waste of time. Olivia Munn's Psylocke is there to just stand around, and despite an interesting effect or two, the same can be said for Storm and Angel. On the other hand, even though it wasn't terribly fresh material, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, and Kodi Smit-McPhee are great as Jean, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler, respectively, bringing the series back to its roots in a fun, lighthearted fashion. They're shoehorned into a movie that probably doesn't need them and yet, they still emerge as one of the best parts of the movie. Apocalypse may be a massive disappointment, but if the series centers around this new generation of mutants, I'm down for the ride.

But we need to talk about the character of Apocalypse. Because good lord, he's just a straight-up disaster. None of the blame should go to Oscar Isaac, who is still one of the world's best young actors. Instead, I just question why the filmmakers chose to go with this villain in the first place. The character design was often mocked when it was first revealed back in the fall, but I couldn't understand why fans were in such a furor over it. After seeing the movie, I can certainly confirm that they were very, very right. Apocalypse made me laugh out loud multiple times. He's hammy, unmotivated, goofy, and way too grim for his own good. When Apocalypse teleports into Auschwitz and stands there in his gaudy, ridiculous-looking makeup and armor, I was just stunned. Such a strange choice by director Bryan Singer.

Apocalypse is a big issue in this film, but I wouldn't even say that he's the primary flaw. Ultimately, this is just a jumbled flick without any real narrative momentum or much of a point at all. This is a film that stops halfway through and transports all of our main characters to a distant location just so the studio could shove Hugh Jackman's Wolverine into the movie. This is a film that spends an hour building any sort of momentum before destroying it all just as the plot is seemingly moving forward. In the past, X-Men films have taken risks and made bold moves that felt fresh and interesting. Even this year's Deadpool felt innovative, injecting a sense of R-rated lunacy to the action. Apocalypse feels like the first film that was truly made by studio heads who have no sense of development or plot mechanics. It's a movie that constantly struggles between balancing high-voltage action, goofy comic-book charm, and subtle character work, and despite some great material, it just falls flat.

After witnessing two films where the emotional and real-world stakes were incredibly high and felt that way, Apocalypse just feels vapid and empty, constantly searching for a good reason to be telling this story. X-Men: Apocalypse isn't the "franchise-killer" that some have ominously predicted. It has enough passable entertainment value to not anger and alienate its core audience. But it proves a continuous cycle in the X-Men franchise, a cycle that sees the filmmakers run out of ideas every few years, resulting in something immensely disappointing. Riding off the high of Days of Future Past, Apocalypse should have been a thrilling victory lap. Instead, it's a retread of things we've seen in the past that feels confused, messy, and tedious. The result is one of the worst X-flicks in a while and the summer's first big disappointment.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                              (5.6/10)

Image Credits: Vox, Forbes, Coming Soon, Joblo

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with everything you said here. Definitely a major step back from Days of Future Past.

    - Zach (