Review: X-Men: Apocalypse
PLOT: When an ancient, powerful mutant - Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) - is reawakened circa-1983, it’s up to a new group of X-Men led by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), including Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and the ambiguous Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) to stop him.
REVIEW: In this era of the modern blockbuster, where superhero films dominate the worldwide box-office, a curious backlash has started-up against movies that don’t quite deliver fans the experience they expect. In some ways, this can be chalked-up to Marvel Studios, whose films reliably please fans - a formula they’ve aced but has proved to be difficult for studios to replicate.
Still, it was assumed that Bryan Singer’s take on the X-Men universe was among the franchises approved-of by fans, with DAYS OF FUTURE PAST getting raves and the recent quasi-spin-off DEADPOOL emerging as mammoth blockbuster. Certainly, Fox must have thought they would like APOCALYPSE, with nationwide press screenings taking place a full three weeks before opening day. When the embargo broke, it took less than an hour for the buzz to turn from white-hot anticipation to disaster, with early critics slamming this with the worst would-be blockbuster reviews since BATMAN V SUPERMAN.
The fact is, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE isn’t nearly as bad as the early critics say, nor is it on-par with the last two installments. But, for at least two hours of the 150 minute running time, APOCALYPSE is a perfectly serviceable superhero blockbuster, and - in rare moments - almost excellent. It’s really only the last act that does APOCALYPSE in, with a conclusion that’s almost a carbon-copy of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST’s wrap-up, and a pre-credits epilogue that’s already being torn to pieces in some of the more spoiler-heavy reviews out there.
Nevertheless, APOCALYPSE is mostly good-to-very good. While fans were right to worry that Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse would be turned into a generic baddie, director Bryan Singer still has a good handle on the heroes (if not the villains) and is more-than capable of staging excellent set-pieces. One includes a familiar mutant that’s not part of the billed-cast and is (in my opinion) that character’s best-ever action scene in the franchise and a tantalizing glimpse at an upcoming spin-off that promises a new, hardcore take on the character.
The large cast of APOCALYPSE is hit-and-miss. As in the other films, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are reliably good. While Singer goes a little too-far in making Charles Xavier an eighties fashion-plate (his wardrobe looks like it was stolen from a warehouse containing Don Johnson’s old MIAMI VICE clothes), McAvoy once again gives Xavier the dignity and warmth Patrick Stewart brought to the part. While he’s sidelined for much of the second half, McAvoy seems to relish the role and he also gets a returning love interest in the under-used Rose Byrne.
For his part, Michael Fassbender still seems absolutely committed to making Magneto a tragic, near-Shakespearian figure, with us learning early-on that he’s been hiding, since the end of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, in Cold War Poland with a new human wife and child. Once he comes under Apocalypse’s sway his part gets formulaic, and it’s too bad that like McAvoy he barely registers in the second half. Sadly, the much-more prominent Jennifer Lawrence seems bored with playing Mystique, phoning-in a part that - to her defense - has become quite boring and hasn’t evolved much since the last film.
Of the new mutants, Tye Sheridan is excellent as Cyclops, and Game of Thrones’s Sophie Turner is good (if not entirely convincing - yet) as a young Jean Grey. Alexandra Shipp is terrific (maybe better than Halle Berry ever was) as the young Storm, who starts-off as a minion of Apocalypse, but Olivia Munn is frustratingly under-used as Psylocke, with her emerging as little more than another henchwoman.
As in DAYS, Evan Peters is the ace-up the movie’s sleeve. Now aware that Magneto is his father, he becomes prominent as the film goes-on, and once again gets one of the movie’s best sequences, set to the classic Eurythmics’s track “Sweet Dreams”. It’s bits like this that make it clear Singer’s still one of the best superhero directors out there, with many fans forgetting it was his original X-MEN that invented the cinematic language of the modern superhero film - for better or worse.
Sadly, the early critics, while far too harsh, weren’t totally off-base criticizing this. The last act really is an absolute mess, and Apocalypse is so dull a villain one wonders what (other than a hefty paycheck) drew Isaac to the part. The finale really is quite bad and leaves the movie on a sour note that’s going to affect the fans and their confidence in Singer, although a good eighty-percent of the movie is just fine, if not quite on-par with something like CIVIL WAR. Maybe it’s just that the X-MEN, after six films (not including the spin-offs), have started to run-out-of-steam and need some kind of re-imagining. Even still, APOCALYPSE is in its best moments, a good time at the movies and nowhere near the nadir of a series that’s seen some really bad entries.
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