Monday, June 6, 2016

"X-Men: Apocalypse" Review: With So Much At Stake Why Does Everything Feel So Insignificant?


It is a common belief that the only good Marvel films come from Marvel themselves. Sony totally butchered Spider-man not once but twice! Universal's Hulk and Incredible Hulk are generally considered to be massive disappointments. Fox has all but destroyed any future enthusiasm for the Fantastic Four but was saved by Deadpool earlier this year (which only took Ryan Reynolds and company 10 years to convince Fox to make). Fox also has the X-Men films though which at this point are difficult to judge how anyone really feels about them. Some have been good, a couple great and most are just plain bad, but they have consistently made money for the studio. The question however isn't if Fox will stumble so much as when they will stumble. After the last entry "Days of Future Past" literally wiped the slate clean it seemed as though Fox had found their footing. Does X-Men: Apocalypse herald in a new era of X-Men films or does it sink it? Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital           
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime:  2 hr 16 min
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: May 27, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: X-Men: First Class, X2
Likes: X-Men (2000), X-Men: Days of Future Past
Neutral: The Wolverine
Hates: X3, X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Favorite mutant who should be in every X-Men movie?: Quicksilver, no doubt.

I hope Charles isn't too attached to that mane of his.

The events of X-Men: Days of Future Past (henceforth known as DOFP) has brought mutantity (see what I did there?) into the spotlight which has made the need for Charles Xavier's (James McAvoy) school for the gifted more of a necessity than a luxury as new mutants pop up every day and are in need of a place to hone their powers without having to look over their shoulder every minute. As if that wasn't enough to deal with a new mutant has emerged from the depths of the Earth (quite literally) who is hellbent on destroying anyone he deems too weak to live under his rule, mutant and human alike. In order to create his apocalyptic vision however he must promote 4 select mutants to be his elite guard one of which happens to be none other than Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who has been in hiding ever since the events of Washington D.C. over ten years ago.

Those are just the major plotpoints of X-Men: Apocalypse (henceforth known as just XA) as there are a number of other minor subplots going on in the background that may or may not have any relation to the bigger picture. There is the (re)introduction of Scott Summers aka Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) who has just discovered his powers and must learn to control them with the help of his brother Havoc (Lucas Till) and the faculty of Xavier's school. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has is still this sort of mutant freedom fighter and during her latest attempt to free some imprisoned mutants comes across Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) whom she takes under her protection.

Magneto struggles between doing what's right and what's wrong...again.

Then there is the reintroduction to Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) who is doing her CIA spying thing which leads her to the resting place of Apocalypse (Oscar Issac) and subsequently is the person who inadvertently resurrects him (good going there Moira...). We also meet up with Quicksilver (Evan Peters) again who is still bothered by the many atrocities his daddy Magneto has and still is committing which causes him to jump back into action just in the nick of time. Lastly there is Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) who is having trouble reeling in her powers which causes nightmares of the forthcoming apocalypse (the event, not the mutant) which she and Charles mistakenly believe is about their current predicament.

If that isn't enough for you then we also get some other very minor character arcs for even more mutants such as Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Angel (Ben Hardy), all of whom are basically just there to give Apocalypse his other three horseman with Magneto being the only one of the four we know or care about. Their presence didn't really add or detract from the overall film but with a movie already jammed packed with way too many characters it felt like a little overkill and more like they were included as fan service than anything else. As a matter of fact the entire film felt like someone's excuse to throw in as many of their favorite characters as possible for no other reason than to feature them in an often very quick action scene and then dispense of them (hello Psylocke and Angel POW! goodbye Psylocke and Angel).

Why is the school always used as a plot point of set piece for an action scene?

To say XA is a bit overstuffed would be an understatement as it makes Captain America: Civil War look downright simplistic at times with all the juggling of characters and subplots it is doing. When director Bryan Singer left the franchise after making arguably the best X-Men movie to date (X2) many felt it was Fox and pinch hitter Brett Ratner who turned X3 into a big pile of steaming poop, but now after seeing DOFP (which was fun) and XA it is seeming all the more plausible that X3 wasn't a fluke due to Singer's departure and more like him jumping ship before hitting land. There are so many flaws in XA that are similar to the many failings of X3, the large cast used as filler and jamming too many plotlines into one movie, that it is sort of mind boggling and calls into question whether or not X3 would have been any better if Singer did direct it.

However, thanks to Captain America: Civil War and even the first Avengers movie we do know having a ton of characters can work if there is a reason for each character to be involved in the story. Even DOFP had legitimate reasons to have a majority of its huge roster, but it is readily apparent that just about everyone outside Xavier, Magneto and Mystique is here simply to have one or two standout action scenes such as Quicksilver's arrival at the school and/or moments of story exposition such as Cyclop's integration into the X-Men. There is little to no reason for them or many others to be in the film as they contribute nothing to the overall story aside from being extra mutants to throw at Apocalypse in the final battle. Nightcrawler in particular is used more as a means for the writers to get characters in and out of tricky situations than anything pertaining to him as an actual character.

Apocalypse looks more sleepy than anything else.

Speaking of Apocalypse, for him being the main bad guy in XA he sure comes off as sort of inept and limp most of the tim. His introduction in the opening scene that takes place in Egypt gives us no idea of his power as we only see him as a decrepit old man whose forces (whom he handpicked) are fairly easily beaten causing him to be trapped for thousands of years. Our opinion of him isn't helped much when he awakens in modern day and just sort of wanders around collecting whatever mutants he finds on the streets to turn into what is supposed to be his all powerful four horsemen. His lack of a proper background check results in all but one (Magneto) being pretty useless. Seriously, there are so many more powerful mutants he could have found other than a guy with wings, a chick with a laser sword and a street rat who can control the weather. It doesn't help that he has no specific use for their powers, whoever he finds he doesn't seem to care what they can or can't do which seems sort of inconsistent with his mantra that only the strong may survive. Uh, I don't think Angel could survive much considering Nightcrawler beats him down not once, but twice.

Beyond his poor choice of employees Apocalypse really drops the ball when it comes to fulfilling his wish to destroy humanity. He is constantly going on about cleansing the planet of the weak and looking for ways to accomplish this but there are two instances before the ridiculous finale where he could have cleaned house rather efficiently that he completely botches. The first is when he forces the launch of all the world's nuclear weapons which seems like an opportune time to use them to decimate the planet but instead just sends them into space...what? The second time is when he takes control of Xavier to communicate his plan to kill everyone via telepathy which he could have easily used Xavier to just scramble everyone's brain right then and there. But if he would have done either of those we wouldn't have seen his grand master plan to build a pyramid, lay down on a slab and try to transfer into a new body...again.

This is the only reason Psylocke was in this movie...seriously, just this one shot.

So Apocalypse is kind of a dumbass but at least we have Magneto right? Well, as cool as Magneto is he is starting to become more and more one note as these films progress. In previous films we have seen Magneto lose his family, go nuts, kill a bunch of people and then eventually get talked down at the end. The way those same story beats are recycled here really waters down the emotional impact of the scenes with Magneto and his family we see in XA. After a while it feels as though the character is just caught in this everlasting time loop where he must relive his actions from the other films over and over again which is shame since Michael Fassbender consistently delivers a fantastic performance each time out which is undermined by the lazy screenwriting. The only real new character development we see for him is that he suddenly becomes an Earthbender and can control dirt now...seriously, that happens.

On that note it should also be pointed out that Magneto isn't the only thing being recycled in XA as a number of key sequences and story arcs are literally ripped straight out of Singer's 2000 X-Men movie. In the 2000 film we start out with a scene from the past that depicts Magneto's origin while in XA we start out with a scene from the past that depicts Apocalypse's origin. In the 2000 film we then cut to a young teenager (Rogue) who just discovered her powers after accidentally hurting someone while in XA we then cut to a young teenager (Cyclops) who just discovered his powers after accidentally hurting someone. In the 2000 film Rogue is taken to Xavier's school for the gifted to hone her powers and given the tour of the campus while in XA Cyclops is taken to Xavier's school for the gifted to hone his powers and given the tour of the campus.

Jennifer Lawrence seems to wear less blue make-up in each new movie.

The parallels are everywhere but none more blatant than the finale where in the 2000 film it was Magneto's grand scheme to take a powerful mutant (Rogue) and give his power to her so that she may use a machine to destroy humanity. In XA we see Apocalypse has a very similar plan to take a powerful mutant (Xavier) and take his power so that he may use it to destroy humanity. Why Singer decided to recycle so many plot details from one of the most underwhelming films in the franchise is anyone's guess but the results are just about the same as they were for that 2000 film which is to say not very good. At least the 2000 film has the excuse of being the first superhero movie of its kind, XA is the ninth film in Fox's X-Men franchise and with ten times the budget so there is absolutely no excuse for this sort of ineptitude.

Also working against it is just how confusing and muddled the X-Men film timeline has become. You can look at XA in a couple different ways, it is either the third film in the reboot trilogy following X-Men: First Class and DOFP or it is the ninth film in the X-Men franchise. Ever since DOFP basically wiped the slate clean for a fresh start it has become increasingly difficult to separate what was or is supposed to be considered continuity at this point. Things that happened in the 2000 film apparently don't matter anymore although Wolverine still finds himself part of that timeline in his standalone features and Xavier still loses his hair in each timeline just because that's what the character is supposed to look like apparently. But even the reboot trilogy doesn't make any sense as a cameo appearance by a very famous mutant in XA completely disregards a key moment from the ending of DOFP.

Jean Grey or Sansa Stark? It's difficult to tell some times.

Probably the biggest disappointment is that XA is clearly trying to establish the Dark Phoenix saga (which was totally botched in X3) here but if we are to believe what we saw at the end of DOFP where we saw Jean Grey happy as a clam at Xavier's school in the distant future then her turning into the Phoenix before then will make absolutely no sense at all. Is any of this important to the enjoyment of each individual film? No, not at all. But in a post MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) world where audiences are being trained to not only care but expect for things to make sense between each film in a franchise then this starts to be less irritating more of a detriment after a while.

Is XA any fun though? Well, not really. For all of its big spectacle, increased stakes and tons of action sequences it all feels somewhat inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. It's funny to think that a film like Captain America: Civil War which was about infighting between a relatively small group of superheroes felt more epic in scope than XA which features scenes where the entire planet is being ripped apart from within. To rely on an old adage, sometimes smaller can be bigger if you just keep your story tight and to the point. Piling a bunch of superheroes into your film and making them fight each other without giving them motivation or any real personality is the quickest way to kill your audience's interest in what they are watching. We can only see Quicksilver do his thing so many times before we just see it as a glorified music video as opposed to a really cool scene in an otherwise larger story. You know you are in trouble when a main character dies and you don't even realize it. Seriously, that happened to me while watching this.

Lamest.mutant.ever.

While there are some admittedly thrilling moments here and there along with the usual high level of excellence from all the actors who are doing their best to elevate the limp script, XA ultimately leaves you feeling empty inside wishing you were watching Captain America: Civil War again in the auditorium next door. Bryan Singer has reportedly said that he wants to take a break from making X-Men movies and after watching XA that seems like a great idea. Perhaps he can go back and make some smaller films again and get back in touch with the guy who gave us stuff like The Usual Suspects and X2. As for the X-Men franchise, unless they find a way to course correct themselves we may be looking at another reboot sooner rather than later.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Is there more to XA than it just being an excuse to make Xavier bald? On the surface there are tons of flashy effects and a huge roster of unique characters with little substance beyond what the actors playing bring to the table. If that sounds bad then be prepared cause it only gets worse if you dig deep as all you will find is the limp corpse of the 2000 X-Men wrapped up in a shiny new package but now with more confusion thanks to Fox trying to grasp on to that ledge just before Marvel steps on their fingers to send them to their doom and get their property back. If you liked the X-Men movies and don't really follow the continuity then perhaps XA will give you a couple of decent hours of fun. If you are looking for it to become the second coming of the MCU then you will be sorely disappointed and largely bored by this lackluster entry into the long running series.

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