Monday, May 30, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse Review (some spoilers)

Pictured: one angry blueberry.

I've been on quite the roll in regards to the theater lately. Despite regularly adding anywhere from 140-170 movies to my memory banks each year, only a handful of them are witnessed on the big screen. I've already broken my usual numbers for that this year with most of them being opening weekend or even opening day.
Seeing all these flicks right outta the gate has made it very easy to keep up on the comic book flicks this year. Within the past few months I've gotten to witness Deadpool (good). Batman v. Superman (rubbish), Captain America: Civil War (damn fine, if a tad messy), and now the latest spandex adventure, X-Men Apocalypse. So far it is the second worst reviewed X-Men film, just ahead of the abysmal Origins. Are we really dealing with something that bad, or are critics overreacting just a little? The Answer is more complicated than you may think.

First off this installment is set fully within the odd prequel time line that seeks to both reboot the old flicks while still playing nice with them and never completely making sense. For instance; you may recall the ending of Days of Future Past where Mystique pretends to be William Stryker as the military fishes Wolverine out of the river. At the time, it was meant to serve as an indication of how this new continuity could change old events if only they'd remembered to do anything with it. That twist is completely ignored which should serve as an indication of what kind of flick you're getting into. That's not to say it's terrible, just very shortsighted. That shortsightedness affects other elements of the film, so as we cover the things that work with this film, keep in mind there's usually a side of it that doesn't.
Pictured: the movie I want to see.

Something Good: Fassbender as Magnito, and his solo plot in Poland.
Everybody knows Michael Fassbender is a damn fine actor. I haven't always enjoyed his version of Magnito, especially in First Class where he brought an extra side of ham. Through the sequels he's done much better and his work within the first act of this one is astounding. Turns out after the events of Days of Future Past, he went into hiding in his native Poland, eventually marrying and fathering a child with gifts of her own.
One day some of his co-workers at a steel mill find out who he really is and take lash out at Eric and his family. This is some of the best material in the whole movie and I would have honestly preferred a solo Magnito flick of this style.
After being recruited by Apocalypse, Magnito quickly turns to a floating sadsack/weapon with almost nothing to contribute. Worse still is his placement at the end where he's not only made a miraculous recovery from his despair but doesn't even get a smack on the wrist for his part in nearly destroying the world and killing fuckloads of people.

Speaking of killing, this is easily the most gruesome entry in the series with beheadings, crushing, flesh rending, and even body horror. It's surprisingly dark stuff until the last act. At that point, while the world is suffering tremendous cataclysmic events, streets are suddenly empty and action is reduced to blasts of color with little consequence. It's very odd considering the opening minutes feature people being smashed like soda cans.

Something Good: Kodi Smit-Mcphee as Nightcrawler
Missing in action after X2, Nightcrawler finally returns to the franchise under the guise of a new actor who keeps the core of the character intact. Nightcrawler is used more for comic relief here than in his previous appearance yet he remains enduring as all hell.

Something Bad: Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique.
For the third time in a row, Jennifer Lawrence proves to be horribly miscast in this role. And even with as much as I don't care for the actress herself, I won't place the blame solely on her. This prequel trilogy has framed mystique as everyone's tortured rock star girlfriend instead of a mysterious troublemaker with plentiful baggage.
Here she's supposed to be the inspirational leader of this fresh team yet despite freeing Nightcrawler from cage fighting slavery I really can't point out any accomplishments on he part. At best she nearly gets herself killed which spurs all her boyfriends into action. The less said about her hammy line-delivery the better.

Something that sorta works: Quicksilver
After stealing the show during the last movie, Quciksilver is brought back so he can hunt down his father, Magnito. Naturally he provides good comic relief and more crowd pleasing superspeed scenes but that's it.
Nothing comes of his quest to find daddy, and there's basically no character growth to speak of. He's just here to provide some levity.
Pictured: a waste of time with wings.

Something that really doesn't work: Angel.
Ten years ago we got to see founding team member, Angel show up in The Last Stand only to be completely wasted. Now the character returns with a new actor only to once again be completely wasted. There is no reason for him to be in this story. What's worse is that while Last Stand left the door open for him to one day return and actually do something, this one kills him off. What the actual fuck is that about?

Likewise: Psylocke
Speaking of pointless plot threads, meet Psylocke. She's here to do ninja moves and look thick in a spandex onesie. Mission accomplished.

Might Work Later: Storm.
Alexandra Shipp takes over the role of Storm. From other times I've seen the girl she doesn't seem like a bad actress, and frankly she's pretty easy on the eyes. However; her goofy attempt at an Egyptian accent doesn't work out and she makes karate noises whenever she uses her superpowers.
On the upside, by showing her life as a thief we've already got more depth to this character than ever before. Small Victories.

Not gonna work: Cyclops
Tye Sheridan is our new Cyclops and.....well....he kinda sucks. He gets the dick part of the role just fine but he doesn't have the charm or range of someone like James Marsden that allows the character to be an enduring dick. Instead he makes poop face like all the time. Oh and he makes karate sounds too.

Doesn't Have to work later so let's have fun: apocalypse
Apocalypse is and always has been a ridiculous and annoying villain. He's made for some grand stories no doubt, but he's still just a big angry blueberry with a love for speeches. Kudos to the filmmakers for having the stones to leave him mostly comic accurate. Oscar Issac does his best to deliver a strong performance through pounds of make-up and layers of ludicrous dialogue. Honestly, you'd be hard pressed to ask for a much better screen version of this character. He's silly, talkative, and overpowered, just like in the pages. Points there.
Pictured: a teenage girl having a fit, which turns out to be a good thing.

Probably gonna work. Jean Grey
Strangely deep voiced Sophie Turner takes over the role of Jean. She does a decent enough job of selling the girls emotional state, primarily her fear of her own powers. There's a good balance of her having a a casual relationship with her teammates while still being slightly closed off. Problem is her story is all on repeat. We've already seen Jean struggle with her fears and begin to unleash her Phoenix powers which is exactly what we get here. Nothing new. This is another problem with the movie.

If not for the angry kool-aid man, this would almost serve as greatest hits mix-tape for the franchise. We get to see Magnito suffer a family tragedy in Poland, again. Get to witness Quicksilver perform a daring hyper-speed rescue, again. Wanna see Strykers old base, and watch Wolverine escape the weapon X program again? You're in luck. Wanna see Cyclops get his powers in school again? The school comes under attack, again. Professor X is kidnapped so his powers can be used for evil, again. Watch the phoenix force save the team, again. You get my point.
All that repetition adds up to another big problem. Nothing really important to the franchise happens here. It's all very shiny and yes it is entertaining. In the end you've been sitting around for two hours so a psychic can loose his hair and tell a bunch of teenagers to put on silly costumes. I'm ok with that setting but did we really need a whole prequel trilogy plus time travel to get there?

It may seem like I hated this one but that's not true. It's simple junk food viewing and competently made. Decently paced with a few strong performances to make up for the bad ones. Action's pretty solid there's just nothing new which when combined with issues that have plagued the series for years it all just seems rather pointless. Let's try and rank it against it's brethren from worst to best shall we?

9 First Class (rubbish)
8 Origins (easier to watch rubbish)
7 The Last Stand (meh)
6 Apocalypse (pointless fluff)
5 Days of Future Past (well made but convoluted)
4 The Wolverine (only the R rated version)
3 Deadpool (good fun)
2 X-men (simple and classic)
1 X2 (solid all around)

And with that we're on break from superhero flicks for a while. Unless you count that new Ninja Turtles movie. Honestly, my theater going may slow down again as the Summer looks fairly bleak other than The Conjuring 2 and Kubo and the Two Strings. Maybe that's a good thing. I can finally try that summer reading everyone talks about. I mean there's always more X-Men.

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