X-MEN: APOCALYPSE ½
PG-13, 144 mins.
2016, PG-13, 144 mins.
James McAvoy as Charles Xavier / Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr / Magneto / Jennifer Lawrence as Raven / Mystique / Oscar Isaac as En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse / Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy / Beast / Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert / Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers / Cyclops / Sophie Turner as Jean Grey / Olivia Munn as Betsy Braddock / Psylocke / Lucas Till as Alex Summers / Havok / Evan Peters as Peter / Quicksilver / Alexandra Shipp as Ororo Munroe / Storm / Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler
Directed by Bryan Singer / Written by Simon Kinberg
as much pleasure as I’ve derived from watching the X-MEN films over the
last 16 years, even I have to concede at this point that their narrative
continuity has become about as simple and straightforward as quantum
mechanics. Director Bryan
Singer has revealed that the newest installment
APOCALYPSE (the ninth in the series,
if you consider all of the films set within the 20th Century Fox mutant
universe, including the recent DEADPOOL)
is “kind of a conclusion of the six X-MEN films, yet a
potential rebirth of younger, newer characters” and the “true birth of
aside, the last two X-MEN films, the truly novel FIRST
CLASS and the wickedly ingenious DAYS
OF FUTURE PAST, had the very thorny task of paying respectful
homage to the cinematic mythology established by the first three X-MEN
films while, at the same time, subtly – and not so subtly –
retrofitting and retooling the whole series in a fresh and reinvigorating
manner. The last film dabbled
in time travel and involved Professor X’s iconic super hero team in
multiple time periods, played by multiple actors young and old, and
somehow Singer managed to make everything coalesce smoothly together to form a
unifying whole. APOCALYPSE is the most straightforward sequel of this
newfangled X-MEN cinematic trilogy in the sense that it carries on directly
from the events of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST.
There’s simply no doubt that Singer can helm the requisite
elements of this comic book franchise with maximum competency and
confidence (this is his forth film in the series as director), but
APOCALYPSE oddly feels like a disposable entry in an already strong
franchise, and one that forgets its strong thematic undercurrents and
contains a villain that’s ill defined and not really all that compelling
takes place ten years after the events in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, which was
set in 1973. X-MEN: FIRST
CLASS was set in 1962, a film that established staple characters like
Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik “Magneto” Lensherr
(Michael Fassbender) as being in their early thirties.
Based on my simple math, that would make both of them in their
early 50’s in the 1983 set APOCALYPSE…yet neither McAvoy or Fassbender
(nor anyone else in the cast) has apparently aged a day and still look
like their youthful, 1960’s era selves. Apparently, the mutants in APOCALYPSE
have a highly unique, but frustratingly unexplained “gift” for never
getting…old…and that may or may not have something to do with Singer and
screenwriter Simon Kinberg never once offering up a reasonable rationale for
such logical age loopholes, which proves to be a distracting irritant
throughout the film.
APOCALYPSE does have a fairly sensational opening set in ancient Egypt,
during which time the world’s very first mutant En Sabah Nur (Oscar
Issac, disappointingly caked under pounds of rubber and what I’m
assuming is CGI makeup), aka Apocalypse (a dangerously powerful and
unstable being), wishes to – as most megalomaniacal villains go –
rule the world. He finds
himself buried under tons of rock and debris during a violent altercation
with other mutants, where her remains entombed for thousands of
many centuries to 1983 and we meet back up with Professor X, who has moved
on from his kind being exposed to the world back in Washington, D.C. over
a decade ago and has fully established his school for “gifted
children.” Some of his
newest students include Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie
Turner), the former who had the rather unfortunate experience of having
his powers revealed in one of his high school's bathroom stalls during an
awkward confrontation with a bully. Life seems
positively ideal for all at Xavier’s academy.
soon arise when CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) inadvertently
awakens Apocalypse during a mission in Egypt, not fully realizing the
power she’s unearthed. Apocalypse
decides to make it his mission to recruit “Four Horseman” in order to
enact his fiendish plan to eradicate humanity.
Joining him are Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Archangel (Ben Hardy), and
eventually Xavier’s greatest frenemy, Magneto, whose character arc in
this film – and all of the X-MEN films, for that matter – is its most
endlessly compelling element. Despite
the fact that he became the very public face of mutant evil in DAYS OF
FUTURE PAST (nearly destroying the American capital and killing President
Nixon), Magneto was able to go into hiding in Poland to live out the rest
of his life with a new wife and daughter, earning a living in a steel
mill. Fassbender proves yet
again with his thanklessly committed performance why Magneto is arguably
the most tragic figure in the entire X-MEN universe.
All he wants to do is move away from his tortured past as a child
of Nazi occupied concentration camps, but when humanity once again reminds
him that they can’t be entirely trusted when it comes to their treatment
of mutants, that sets him on another tailspin of angry revenge, making it
easy for him to join up with Apocalypse’s cause.
Magneto is not so much a villain in these films as he is a
compellingly layered victim that's relatablely driven by endless personal trauma.
only wished that this X-MEN film made its titular villain as fascinatingly
rendered as Fassbender’s deeply conflicted metal-controlling antagonist.
Apocalypse is a disappoint here, mostly seeing as Singer has taken
an actor of such stalwart charisma and passion like Isaac and adorns him
with stiff costuming, so many latex appliances, and peculiar voice
synthesizing to the point that the actor underneath it all barely registers or comes
motivations are also of the cookie cutter, Comic Book Villain 101 Playbook
variety in wanting to the destroy the world for…what ultimate ends?
His character is not aided by the fact that his disciples have
next to zero personality in the film. Archangel is a posturing baddie
without much of a soul, and Munn seemingly speaks less that half a dozen
lines as Psylocke, leaving her character regrettably feeling
like stern faced window dressing. And what of Apocalypse’s powers?
Here’s a limitlessly immortal godlike being that can apparently
live for thousands of years, destroy cities with his thoughts, send
mankind’s nuclear arsenal into space on a whim, take over Xavier’s
Cerebro from halfway across the planet, and demolecularize people into
dust with the
wave of a hand. How he
isn’t just able to effortlessly and instantly kill any given X-man/woman
that opposes him at the drop of a hat is beyond me.
course, if that were the case, we wouldn’t have much of a super hero
film, let alone an obligatory action-packed climax pitting all of the
pertinent parties against one another.
The diabolical plans of Magneto in FIRST CLASS (wanting to turn
missiles launched at him and his kind by humans during the height of the
Cuban Missile Crisis), for example, felt deeply personal.
Sadly, Apocalypse’s end game culminates in yet another third act
in a comic book series entry that depicts massive amounts of world/city
decimating chaos that never once deals with any of its obvious fallout. Destruction porn is
really, really becoming an overused visual cliché of the super hero
genre, and its sole existence is essentially used to demonstrate how much
bigger a film can outdo itself on a level of visual effects from its
predecessor. Considering the
more thoughtful and gripping approaches Singer and company have taken in
previous X-MEN entries, it’s kind of a shame that APOCALYPSE wallows in
like STAR TREK, the X-MEN films have always been at their most interesting
when they explore topical ideas that tap into our collective everyday
consciousness, but APOCALYPSE mostly fails to comment on the nature of
human beings with duplicitous, prejudicial leanings and their problematic
relationships with mutants that want societal acceptance.
That’s too bad. Most
of this review thus far has sounded overwhelmingly negative, but there are
indeed pleasures to be had in APOCALYPSE.
Singer comes off just as passionately about the material as ever,
even if the end results are middling.
McAvoy and Fassbender continue to make for a highly effective
one-two punch performance dynamic (even though co-star Jennifer
Lawrence’s turn as Mystique this go around clearly displays her lack of interest in
continuing to play the role). New
additions like Sheridan, Turner and Kodi Smit-McPhee (as Nightcrawler) are
agreeably welcome presences, not to mention that there’s an absolutely
show-stopping action sequence once again involving Evan Peters' Quicksilver
using his super speed to save nearly all of his mutant friends at
Xavier’s school...and with the Eurythmics' “Sweet Dreams” blaring on the
soundtrack. Moments like this
show real boundless invention.
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE somehow loses its way throughout and forgets to be the
type of X-MEN film that we’ve all come to expect.
Too much of it seems haphazardly constructed for its own good and
left me asking far too many questions that frankly took me out of the film
more often than not. It’s
funny, but there’s a sly scene in the film involving some of the young
mutants taking a trip to the mall to see RETURN
OF THE JEDI. Afterwards,
they engage in a quick debate as to which film in the original series is
the best. Jean Grey points
out that third films in a trilogy are usually the worst.
Many viewers have taken this as an obvious shot at the critically
drubbed X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, the third
film in the first X-MEN trilogy.
Ironically, it also unintentional references APOCALYPSE as well.