Friday, May 27, 2016


In today’s modern studio-driven superhero movie climate, there is a current strong focus on ensemble casts with super-powered people taking on a relevant social issue or two. The X-MEN franchise, now in its 16th year with eight films, was the very first to do so thanks to director Bryan Singer. The latest offering, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, takes a different approach that is very basic; so basic that it almost feels new.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the world’s first and most powerful mutant, awakens after thousands of years and begins to recruit more mutants to help him cleanse the world; including a heartbroken Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Standing in his way are Professor Xavier (James McAvoy), and his team of current and former students including Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Havok (Lucas Till), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

For better or for worse, the X-MEN franchise has thrived on putting its super-powered characters into a civil rights battle; specifically, society rejecting those who are different. Those days are gone in APOCALYPSE, as director Bryan Singer dispatches the debating of rights and belonging for a simple good vs. evil story. The central villain, Apocalypse, is fascinating to watch as he manipulates mutant powers in a way we’ve never seen before on film; the things he does to people and mutants are downright horrifying, and he is a viable threat to our heroes.

APOCALYPSE however goes a little too simple with its villain. Despite the horrors he brings to living beings and the world-wide devastation he causes, he’s very undercooked with his motivations never really spelled out. It’s a one-note bad guy and whatever makes him tick is a bit of mystery. The film still works, as Singer, who has always had a strong hold on these characters, keeps the threat real and how it effects the principle players always up front, and the intimate and revealing moments with the principle characters are brilliantly handled.

The fights are spectacular, the visuals are stunning, and the large-scale set-pieces...realized with tons of CGI, increase the stakes dramatically. There is a great balance of tone going on; moments of tragedy are immediately followed up by a light or heavy laugh, which are then followed up by some sadness. It’s an emotional ride which never gets too heavy-handed or takes itself seriously. Singer takes full advantage of the period setting (early 1980’s), inserts some well-chosen bits of music and pop-culture references which adds to the enjoyment, and a sequence scored with Beethoven's 7th Symphony is masterfully done.

With such a large cast, many of the characters merely serve as set-pieces and get shoved to the back by the time the final battle happens. Faring the best are the principle players, specifically James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. This may be a film with costumed and caped heroes doing silly things, but don’t tell that to these two guys who treat their characters and their movie as serious drama at all times. Fassbender’s character goes through a surprising and heart-wrenching turn, and the actor carries it very well. Faring the worst are the lovely Rose Byrne, who in reprising her role as a CIA Agent, does little but offer a few laughs and stand around with her mouth open. Sophie Turner, who as the new and powerful Jean Grey, still needs to discover her facial muscles. Oscar Isaac is buried underneath mounds of makeup and costume which seems to hinder his usual wonderful acting ability, and newcomers Olivia Munn (as Psylocke) and Alexandra Shipp (Storm) are held to a dozen lines and a hundred grunts and growls. A huge cameo late in the film is handled brilliantly by both actor and director.

With no central social-theme to work with and what eventually amounts to a disposable villain (SPOILER: the good guys win), APOCALYPSE isn’t the type of film which gets the wheels turning and inspires discussion. Much like its misfit characters, the X-MEN franchise has always been the bold one, and the decision to stick with a stripped-down, naughty vs. nice plot actually makes it stand out amongst the current heavy-handedness of the modern superhero film genre. What it does offer is plenty of thrills and chills, and is arguably the most fun out of all of the X-MEN films in its 16-year history. It’s not enlightening, but it is entertaining.


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