Saturday, May 21, 2016

Something Of A Mess For The End Of The World: X-Men: Apocalypse

The Good: Special effects, Moments of character/philosophy
The Bad: Simplistic plot, Underdeveloped characters, Some of the performances.
The Basics: X-Men: Apocalypse is entertaining, but not as engaging as some of the earlier X-Men installments.

Summer Blockbuster Season is upon us and the final movie of the year that I am excited about is upon us! It's a rare thing that there is a Star Trek film on the horizon and I am not at all excited about it (sorry, but when the big selling point of the film is that it is directed by the director of The Fast And The Furious, it's hard to be an enthusiastic Trekker!). The film is X-Men: Apocalypse and it represents the best chance for a kick-ass super hero film experience this summer. For sure, Captain America: Civil War (reviewed here!) was not bad, but when one is expecting a high-minded philosophical debate and one gets yet another "here's how a half-rate villain outwits our heroes" story and "product placement" for future MCU films, it is hard not to be somewhat disappointed. As for X-Men: Apocalypse, there is a lot to enjoy within the film, but it does not take long into the film before it seems like director Bryan Singer and his co-writers bit off more than they could chew.

X-Men: Apocalypse is based upon a massive Marvel Comics crossover series from the mid-1990s and it is worth noting up-front that I have not read it. As a result, this is a pure review of the film X-Men: Apocalypse. And, in many ways, X-Men: Apocalypse is the sequel to X-Men: First Class (reviewed here!); it introduces most of the rest of the central X-Men characters to bridge First Class with Singer's first X-Men film (reviewed here!). Unfortunately for viewers and fans, between the casting and the abundance of characters leaving most of them under-developed, X-Men: Apocalypse is not all it could be.

Opening in ancient Egypt, the mutant En Sabah Nur is involved in a ritual to transfer his consciousness into a new mutant body when the humans aiding him in the process turn on him and his assistants, burying him by destroying his pyramid. In 1983, Raven rescues the mutant Kurt Wagner (Nightcrawler) from a mutant fight club that leaves Angel wounded. In Poland, Erik Lensherr is hiding out - living a mundane life - with his new wife and daughter when he saves a worker at his factory from death. But, when humans hunt down Lensherr and inadvertently kill his family, Magneto reverts to his rage. This happens at almost the same time as CIA Agent Moira Mactaggert uncovering En Sabah Nur's temple and (with the addition of sunlight) reactivating the mutant. The resurfacing of Apocalypse sends shockwaves through the mutant community, especially at Xavier's School Of Mutants (where most people assume the physical shaking is coming from the telekinetic Jean Grey).

Apocalypse quickly surrounds himself with powerful mutants - Ororo Munroe (Storm), Psyclocke (who has the ability to create energy-based weapons), and Angel. Recognizing that a worldwide manhunt for Lensherr has begun, Raven returns to Xavier's side to try to find him before the humans can. Unfortunately, Apocalypse reaches Magneto first and recruits him to help him lay waste to humanity. Just a Quicksilver is reaching out to Xavier to help him find Magneto, Apocalypse and his Horsemen abduct Xavier from the school. While Apocalypse utilizes his newfound allies and uses Xavier to deliver a message to the world (after disabling the world's nuclear arsenal), Raven and Hank McCoy marshal the forces of Xavier's students. In the ashes of Xavier's school, Stryker abducts Mactaggert, McCoy, Quicksilver, and Raven, leaving Jean Grey, Nightcrawler and Scott Summers (Cyclops) to rescue them and save Charles, while Apocalypse attempts to remake the world for the strongest mutants.

X-Men: Apocalypse once again reworks the cinematic X-Men universe to once again de-canonize X-Men Origins: Wolverine (reviewed here!), whatwith having a new first meeting between Scott Summers and Charles Xavier. More than that being a genuine problem, X-Men: Apocalypse packs so many characters into it that almost none of them are properly serviced. Logan's lone scene affords an opportunity to have a plot-necessary diversion for some of the main characters and remind viewers that they were missing Hugh Jackman. Ororo Munroe, especially, is introduced in her earliest incarnation in a most unsatisfactory way. Munroe is introduced as a thief on the streets of Cairo and she seems to have virtually entire control over her weather-controlling abilities . . . and she falls in with Apocalypse without any apparent ethical conflict.

In a similar way, Olivia Munn is added to X-Men: Apocalypse as Psylocke in a particularly unmemorable way. Psylocke's powers - like Bishop's in the prior film - are made clear only through context clues and she is presented, sadly, as a monolithic lackey for Apocalypse. Munn looks great in the outfit and Psylocke is an awesome fighter for the scenes she is in, but she had remarkably few lines and virtually no characterization.

Apocalypse is an unfortunately monolithic villain and he sucks the well-developed Eric Lensherr down into his trap of being troublingly one-sided. Apocalypse wants to basically use Magneto to erase human infrastructure from the world and (potentially) leave the planet for mutants. But Apocalypse is not presented as a well-rounded enough villain to even explain that; he feels like humans have overrun the Earth, but why he wants to rule over it is not clear. Why Apocalypse wants to rule over the ruins of Earth he is having Magneto create is never compellingly explained. Moreover, why Magneto even wants to have mutants around him is not explained. Here is a mutant who has lived for many thousands of years; there is no one he knows or who has ever known he has not already lost. Why would he want or need anyone around him?

The result of so many flaccid characters mutes the deeper characters presented or revisited in X-Men: Apocalypse. Charles Xavier is given very few scenes and is not able to truly reflect on Raven's return before he is torn away from his students. Magneto's rage is interesting, but X-Men: Apocalypse does not satisfactorily explain why he would willingly fall in with Apocalypse as opposed to just continue his own killing spree or go his own way. The cult of Apocalypse is not expressed on screen in a convincing or compelling way.

The character that comes out ahead for most of her time on screen in X-Men: Apocalypse is Raven. Mystique, and to a lesser extent Hank McCoy and even Quicksilver, has no bad scenes and she follows an arc that makes sense and is character-driven. Raven continues to embody a character conflict that has her trapped between two worlds; she is helping mutants, but not as part of Xavier's school. She is presented well in X-Men: Apocalypse and here she reaches a new heroic level that Jennifer Lawrence is easily able to portray.

The same cannot be said for Sophie Turner and some of the other young cast members introduced in X-Men: Apocalypse. Turner, alas, does not have the screen presence or range to play Jean Grey in a compelling way. Turner's performance lacks nuance or depth. To be fair, so does Alexandra Shipp's portrayal of Ororo. Tye Sheridan fails to portray Scott Summers as realistically shaken either in the sudden manifestation of his powers or in the death of his brother. Kodi Smit-McPhee does fine as Kurt Wagner in X-Men: Apocalypse, but most of his acting is covered up by the make-up for the character.

Despite the lack of compelling characters and plot development for the bulk of X-Men: Apocalypse, the special effects are suitably impressive. Between make-up, costumes, and CG-effects, X-Men: Apocalypse looks great. Hell, despite not having much of a part in the film, Olivia Munn draws the viewer's eye for ever scene she is on screen as Psylocke.

The X-Men film series has, largely, been successful because of the morals, message, and characters in the franchise. X-Men: Apocalypse lacks that depth or character development. The result is a fair popcorn movie, but not a film that stands up well compared to the rest of the series.

For other X-Men films, please visit my reviews of:
X2: X-Men United
X-Men III: The Last Stand
The Wolverine
X-Men: Days Of Future Past


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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