X-Men Apocalypse Review
Note: This review is, for the most part, spoiler-free. Unless even just talking about about a film’s story spoils it for you. If that’s the case, would you really be reading any review of any film at all?
When all’s said and done, the viewer gets what they expect when they finish watching a mammoth hunk of film with a title like X-Men: Apocalypse. Some might say that this is what is happening with the entire superhero movie genre, which is why the genre isn’t going away, why the studios are still throwing tons of money and talent in that direction, and why they are still ringing up major bank at the box office while still having the audience walking out of these movies with reactions ranging from wild enthusiasm for every single Easter egg to mild indifference. To many people, watching these films is like eating comfort food: it works for the moment.
While these films are supposed to be taken as simple escapist entertainment, it seems that the studios and the executives running the show have less and less apprehensions with showing us how the drama behind the scenes, as Sony and Disney made sure we all knew about their “Spider-Man” deal before Captain America: Civil War came out so we that when we went to see that film, we know the real reason the character showed up for a half hour in that movie and not merely the contrived on-screen reason, and maybe that made it easier for us to accept his appearance and have fun with it. Yet the makers of X-Men: Apocalypse decided to show us a “behind the scenes” trailer prior to Civil War, and that was a mistake. In attending the new X-Men film, I was inundated with commercials for Sprite and Geico (shouldn’t the cost of my ticket save me from seeing actual television commercials?) and trailers. Before the feature, a small promo came up featuring the lady that played the new Storm and she reminded us how many jobs the filming of Apocalypse created (while showing us footage from behind the scenes) and I’m thinking I haven’t even seen the film yet. Why am I bringing this up? Because the artifice of the movie never took hold, I never could quite escape into the film, and I was always at arm’s length, despite the fact that X-Men is my favorite CBM franchise.
What else kept me from escaping into this film? Well, the title. Sure, the title for the previous X-Men film, Days of Future Past, doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it is just weird enough to captivate audiences who aren’t familiar with the fact that it was superb X-Men comic story from decades before. Apocalypse was a comic book story as well, but the title is distracting in the film. Why? Because the X-Men films have well developed characters who play off of each other in intimate ways and what they are fighting for matters as much as why they are fighting, and issues of civil liberties were always important thematic notes for the X-Men films: a whopping ten films into the series, they are still fighting for same causes of equality they’ve always fought for (uh, raise your hand if you’re there, Deadpool). In Bryan Singer’s X-Men films in particular, the moments of climactic action were set in rather confined spaces (the crown of the Statue of Liberty, a base located under a dam, and within the confines of the White House lawn) so that the real issues can still come to the fore amidst all of the action. Yet by titling this film Apocalypse, the viewer knows what the end of this film will ultimately bring: the entire world will literally come apart by the end of this and none of the more intimate character scenes in the first two acts can sway the viewer from the fact that it’s all just laying track for a last act that will be utter chaos. This is not good for an X-Men film.
Even worse, the final battle just felt confined, even more than the Statue Of Liberty sets from the first X-Men film which was made eons ago: It looked like they were all on a green screen stage and I can picture the stagehands pointing key lights onto Magneto’s helmet as he hangs out on a set of fake debris, and that’s why it didn’t help one bit that they would remind us that this is a all artifical before we even get a chance to see it.
With all that out of the way, did I hate the film? Hell, no. It’s still an X-Men film directed by Singer, and so it still delivers the goods throughout. I lovehow Professor X’s opening monologue sets up the character of Apocalypse very well, explaining why someone so powerful would abuse his power. Michael Fassbender plays magneto as a man teetering on the edge of a knife, and he’s forced to become distrustful yet again in a screenplay that’s a bit on the nose, save for the fact that Fassbender sells the hell out of it. The opposite can be said of the character of Mystique and her role in the story: Jennifer Lawrence seems uninterested in the character, but the screenplay gives her an interesting role in the rocky relationships between humans and mutantkind. It was good to see some of the OG-X-Men be given fresh takes on their origins and why how they found Xavier’s school (like Cyclops and Jean Grey) and James McAvoy is really good in the film as well, despite seeming uncomfortable in the wheelchair that gave Patrick Stewart his presence. There was a funny running gag involving Xavier’s infatuation with Moira McTaggert, and such moments of levity were all most welcome. Yet, with literally apocalypse coming in the last act, the screenplay felt a bit mechanical: many scenes just felt like moving chess pieces up the board to get ready for an endgame that wasn’t all that interesting.
Strange too, that Apocalypse himself came across as underwhelming. Oscar Isaac is a fine actor, and they made him look much stronger and more powerful as Apocalypse than he is normally. Yet, he also seemed a bit short. Was he shorter than his horsemen? I’m not sure. Considering that two of his four horsemen were women who each weigh in at a buck and a quarter) he didn’t seem that foreboding when standing with them or other characters. He had the ability to move sand so fast that he could decapitate people, but his ability to teleport sucked away a lot of the dramatic tension. Did I like the fact that he could amplify Xavier’s powers much like Cerebro just on his own? Yeah, that was cool, but it seemed that his Horsemen not only did much of his dirty work, but they also were more interesting characters, too. Also, the five of them and the captured Xavier seemed to spend a lot of time hanging out on a strange hill or mountain or something located on a soundstage somewhere. Scene after scene cut back to them there, and I felt like I was watching and old Star Trek episode. (By the way, Singer inserts a very clever Star Trek reference in the movie).
What about the Wolverine cameo? Other than the fact that it was a bit too telegraphed (there’s an animal in that cage!A weapon!”) it worked rather well. Definitely a highlight of the film, and will make fans of the Weapon X story proud. (./Though the Mystique as Striker reveal at the end of the last film now makes no sense).
Some people might get their ticket money’s worth just to see Quicksilver in the movie again, and Evan Peter’s take on the character gets more to do in this film. It’s awesome that he’s wearing a Rush T-Shirt here, as it suits him. As with Days of future past, he’s given a scene where he is able to help out in a big way as he is able to rocket through an entire setting while time itself seems to slow down, at least for him. Does the set piece scene deliver? Nah. Here’ he finds that the entire Xavier mansion is about to explode, so he runs in to save all the students. He may be superfast, but I didn’t know he was superstrong. While most fit men can carry carry a woman from danger (an image that has been in comic books and pulp stories for generations) only the really burly men can do it without a lot of effort, and Evan Peters isn’t brawny at all. Yet he carries girls and guys out of the mansion without any effort whatsoever, nary even a grunt of effort, often carrying two people at a time. All this did was to remind the viewer that – in a world of CGI – actual weight and physics don’t really matter. Also, the song choice used in this scene wasn’t all that inspired. (There was an inspired song used earlier in the film, in the form of Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen,” so that makes up for it, I suppose.)
CGI was really this movie’s biggest problem. It was just “off,” and none of it it felt real or weighty. This was apparent from the film’s opening sequence which saw rocks burying the villain in his tomb, all the way to the end of the film, where CGI debris seems to inhabit every single pixel the X-Men fight against equally-matched opponents. When the film is called Apocalypse, I know that CGI destruction is par for the course. How I kiss the 90’s when CGI was an available tool for filmmakers, but it was so costly and labor-intensive that it was used sparingly. As soon as a studio titles a film Apocalypse or Resurgence or Transformers or whatever, you know that the studio has already earmarked 60% of the budget to CGI. In the end, what drew people to Days of Future Past wasn’t just the awesome battles against the Sentinals in the future scenes: it was the role of the characters. It was seeing Wolverine play a different role in the film than he usually plays, as he must guide the characters to work together in a different time period. That’s what made it such a compelling film to watch.
I remember when we get a glimpse of en sabah nur (Apocalypse, the first mutant) in the end credits scene of Days of Future Past. A seemingly diminutive child with blue skin, we see he him forging the pyramids with his horseman looking on. This singular image is more intriguing than anything we get in this film.
My Rating: 2.8/ 5