Mon, 6 June 2016
It's been out for a week and a half so Sam shares his spoiler-heavy thoughts on X-Men: Apocalypse:
Way back, I remember a kid in my neighborhood inviting me over one afternoon after he taped the series premiere of a brand new cartoon the previous evening. The cartoon was X-Men: The Animated Series and the episode was Night of the Sentinels and it began my lifelong enjoyment of Marvel Comics' superteam of misfits defending a world that hates and fears them. The major antagonist of the series was Apocalypse, the world's first documented mutant who had since evolved to possess god-like powers. He quickly became my favorite X-Men villain; Magneto is their most iconic frenemy, sure, but whenever Apocalypse reared his head, it was always all hands on deck. When I heard the latest X-Men would center on Apocalypse, I got very excited; Bryan Singer had returned to the franchise he brought the big screen back in 2000 with the best entry yet in X-Men: Days of Future Past and I was eager to see what he would do.
So imagine my surprise, last night, when I found myself wishing I could fall asleep instead of watching what was unfolding before my eyes. How do you make an X-Men movie focused on Apocalypse boring? How is Apocalypse himself the worst thing in the movie? How did the guy that directed the terrific X-Men, X2: X-Men United, and X-Men: Days of Future Past helm the worst installment in the series by a country mile? Fucked if I know but let me go over it and see if I can find out by the time I'm done thinking out loud (Or, in this context, electronically).
Largely set in 1983, ten years after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, everyone is trying to move on in the ensuing decade. Professor X and Beast are more interested in running a school for mutants rather than training a team to defend the world. Magneto has returned to his native Poland to live a quiet life as a factory worker while raising a family. Mystique has become the face of mutant heroism after saving the President at the conclusion of Days of Future Past; a title she rejects as she adopts a human appearance and lives underground in Western Europe. But when CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Bryne returning from X-Men: First Class) accidentally awakens the millennia-dormant Apocalypse, she sets into motion the events that will lead this wayward figures to cross paths again.
Apocalypse immediately sets out to recruit four lieutenants as his Four Horseman with a young Storm, Olivia Munn's Psylocke, and Ben Hardy's Archangel being the first three brought into the fold after each receiving a power upgrade (Archangel's recruitment being set to Metallica's Four Horsemen because fuck subtlety). Meanwhile, Professor X welcomes teenaged Cyclops and Nightcrawler to his school while keeping a watchful eye on the young Jean Grey, well aware of the destructive capabilities of the Phoenix Force inside her.
After Magneto draws attention to himself by using his powers, the authorities kill his family after it's revealed his daughter can...control birds? It's dumber than it sounds and it sounded pretty dumb to begin with. A heartbroken Magneto is then recruited by Apocalypse as one of the biggest pieces of his nonsensical master plan completing his requisite quartet. I've always been a big fan of Michael Fassbender and thought he deserved the Academy Award for Best Actor last year over DiCaprio for his performance in the criminally overlooked Steve Jobs and he does a decent enough job from the outset but, after he loses his family, he turns in one of the most ham-fisted performances I've seen so far this year. I get that a narrative that centers on a strong allegory for prejudice can get heavy-handed at times (For fuck's sake, Magneto visits Auschwitz as if he forgot why he became the man he is) but it gets a bit over-the-top. And after joining the Four Horsemen, he and the others just stand and sulk like they're posing for a bad album cover.
Oscar Isaac is an actor I've watched make a monumental ascension recently. Sure, he was in the latest Star Wars and does a fantastic job with that smaller role but it was his star-making performances in Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina, and Show Me a Hero that put him on my radar. When I heard he was cast as Apocalypse, I was very happy but I'm not happy anymore. It doesn't help that he goes through the movie looking like a monochromatic sad clown and chews scenery like an all you can eat buffet.
I think the faults of X-Men: Apocalypse are best exemplified by the film's centerpiece action sequence featuring Quicksilver. The sequence is bigger and more ambitious than the memorable set piece in Days of Future Past that saw the supersonic mutant save the day set to Jim Croce's Time in a Bottle...but bigger definitely doesn't always mean better and somehow the special effects got worse over the past two years? The scene wasn't an exercise in imagination so much as a direct attempt to top something that's been done before...but setting it to the pulsating menace of Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics is pretty cool.
After 6 X-Men films (8 if you count the Wolverine spin-offs), everything feels played out; the love just isn't there anymore. All of the pieces we've come to know and love are on the board. James McAvoy still does an underrated job as a younger Professor X and there's a reason why Jennifer Lawrence has an Academy Award and three additional nominations under her belt already (Though Mystique has a very contrived role to play here). But there's just no heart in it and it's a soulless, dragging flick. Maybe skip this one and just watch Captain America: Civil War again because this thing is a trainwreck.
Category:First Impressions -- posted at: 4:06pm EST