Worth A Look: 8.33%
Pretty Bad: 25%
Total Crap: 54.17%
3 reviews, 6 user ratings
by Brett Gallman
Say what you want about Bryan Singerâ€™s decade-plus run with the â€śX-Menâ€ť franchise, but even at its most dusty and moldy moments, itâ€™s managed to mean something.Even when those early films feel like stilted, outdated pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe vestiges, they at least capture the fundamental appeal of this universe and its characters, often despite the directorâ€™s obvious embarrassment of the propertyâ€™s outlandish aesthetic. The tenuous, perpetually fraying relationships that have driven the comics for over fifty years made it to the screen largely intact (at least in spirit), resulting in a franchise thatâ€™s usually less concerned with world-breaking, pixelated destruction and more invested in surveying how the carnage resonates on a personal level.
As the subtitle for â€śX-Men: Apocalypseâ€ť suggests, this latest entry is an endgame of sorts, one where the digital finally chaos swallows the characters, reducing them to incidental chess pieces on a pre-viz board. This feels like the end of the X-Men franchise in more ways than one, as this is the first effort that feels truly obligatory.
If you can even call it much of an effort anywayâ€”â€śX-Men: Apocalypseâ€ť isnâ€™t a film that feels directed so much as its sequences were captured by a camera and loaded onto a hard drive before someone pressed a â€śplay all scenesâ€ť button. The plotâ€”such as it isâ€”basically amounts to ancient mutant En Sabah Nurâ€™s (Oscar Isaac) resurrection in the 1980s, where he aims to cleanse the world of humankind. Opposing him is a sort of ragtag bunch of X-Men, as Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) have spent the last decade reestablishing the School of Gifted Youngsters, which now houses familiar faces like Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Gray (Sophie Turner).
Other principles from previous films, such as Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) intertwine into the sparse proceedings, which still manage to unfold over a bloated 144 minutes. While there is an enormous cast (that also manages to squeeze in Apocalypseâ€™s horsemen and even a Wolverine cameo) to account for, the filmâ€™s absence of thematic heft or worthwhile character arcs render it an overlong, hollow, and misguided recreation of a superhero movie boilerplate. Apparently, this is what Singerâ€”who was once at the forefront of this frontierâ€”thinks the landscape should look like: big, overstuffed, and ponderousâ€”only this is a film that has very little to ponder upon. Itâ€™s almost as if Singer expects â€śApocalypseâ€ť to feel important via a sheer force of will, as if stuffing so much into so little will somehow add weight to what amounts to contractual obligations for so much of its cast.
But thereâ€™s no recovering from the sense that â€śApocalypseâ€ť is simply gliding on rails. The first half especially unfolds with little to no cohesiveness as Singer haphazardly arranges the pieces on the board: hereâ€™s Mystique rescuing mutants, hereâ€™s Magneto losing the wife and child heâ€™s lived with under an assumed identity for years, hereâ€™s Apocalypse teleporting from one place to the next recruiting his horsemen (whileâ€”I shit you notâ€”Metallicaâ€™s â€śFour Horsemenâ€ť blares during a scene that even Zack Snyder might find a little too on-the-nose).
Itâ€™s not that any of this isnâ€™t compelling on paper: I especially love the idea of Mystique becoming sort of a Harriet Tubman for her people, a savior who essentially operates through backchannels and underground railroads to find sanctuaries for troubled mutants. Likewise, Magnetoâ€™s already tragic backstory gains another heart-rending layer when his attempt to live off the grid goes south. If thereâ€™s any arc worth exploring here, itâ€™s Magnetoâ€™s descent into Xavierâ€™s vengeful, spiteful, rival, and yet itâ€™s practically glossed over by Apocalypseâ€™s grander schemeâ€”itâ€™s never quite clear if Magneto is willingly serving him or if En Sabah Nur is coercing him with mind control (as is the case in the comics, Apocalypseâ€™s powers are defined as â€śwhat the fuck ever is convenient for this sceneâ€ť). Considering Fassbender spends much of the second half just sort of wobbling around in a CGI bubble, causing increasingly boring destruction, itâ€™s hard to tell.
You canâ€™t help but feel as if this franchise squandered two incredible talents in Lawrence and Fassbender, whose character arcs were carefully crafted in the two previous entries, only to be balled up and tossed into a tedious swirl of disaster porn effects here. To her credit, Lawrence seemed to at least negotiate to where she had to endure this shit while wearing Mystiqueâ€™s trademark body paint for as little of the running time as possible, and you can hardly blame her for half-heartedly trudging through a film that doesnâ€™t bother to provide her with much to do besides deliver speeches that feel like warmed-over â€śHunger Gamesâ€ť leftovers. So much lip service is paid to how inspiring Mystique is, yet the film rarely allows you to feel thatâ€”hell, she spends most of the climax just sort of watching from the sidelines.
I would like to say Fassbender fares better; technically, this is the case since he does deliver some of the more resonant character moments, but thereâ€™s still a nagging sense that Magneto is short-changed once he becomes Apocalypseâ€™s pawn. A scene where he confronts the co-workers who ratted him out to the local authorities threatens to capture the spark of what makes this character so compelling, at least until Apocalypse intrudes like an asshole and ruins the scene.
In many ways, itâ€™s a moment thatâ€™s emblematic of â€śX-Men: Apocalypse,â€ť a film that faintly hints at captivating character arcs but doesnâ€™t bother to see them through. Apocalypse is less a villain and more of an albatross suffocating the proceedings at every turn. Whatever the hell this movie has done to Oscar Isaac is borderline criminal, as his natural charisma is snuffed out and buried under mounds of latex. His performance canâ€™t salvage this insane decision, not when heâ€™s charged with the task of seething and hissing his way through amateurish dialogue that feels recycled from every other megalomaniacal villain in recent years. In attempting to tackle Apocalypse, Singer bites off much more than he can chewâ€”this is a character whose defining characteristic is omnipotence (until he isnâ€™t, of course).
Even though Singer admittedly does lean into the utter, ancient Egyptian weirdness of Apocalypse, the character and his scheme amounts to the same tableau of destruction glimpsed in every other world-breaking blockbuster. Digital recreations of world landmarks crumble for the umpteenth time, the impact of this imagery now thoroughly diluted to the point where I have to ask myself why I should give a shit, particularly when the film itself seems to shrug off its own destruction. Seriously, Magneto comes perilously close to warping the earthâ€™s magnetic poles but eventually exits the film yukking it up with his old friend Charles. For all its grandstanding and its ominous title, â€śApocalypseâ€ť is an inconsequential bore that canâ€™t even bother to find anything for Professor Xavier to aside from lecherously pining over Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) and wishing heâ€™d never erased her memories twenty years earlier.
Youâ€™re left wondering how the X-Men franchise has come to this, especially when it still shows the occasional signs of life. Evan Petersâ€™s Quicksilver rightly returns to steal the movie with another show-stopping sequence that leaves you wondering why Singer decided to autopilot the rest of the film. Clearly, he has the chops to deliver whenever heâ€™s invested, so itâ€™s not hard to question just how much he cares about the rest of the film considering how blandly shot it often is. Itâ€™s such a regression not only from Matthew Vaughnâ€™s â€śFirst Classâ€ť but also Singerâ€™s own â€śDays of Future Past,â€ť both of which burst with some kind of urgent energy.
In contrast, â€śApocalypseâ€ť is a slog despite Singerâ€™s efforts to mostly embrace the world of the X-Men. He might still leave you wanting for yellow spandex, but he obliges in other ways, whether itâ€™s in the form of a nearly perfect panel-to-screen translation of Psylocke (Olivia Munn) or even a nod in the direction of the Morlocks. I mean, nobody comes right out and says â€śMorlocksâ€ť and Psylocke is kind of a dud aside from her fealty, but Singer doesnâ€™t seem to be quite as embarrassed of the cool, colorful sandbox he nearly drained the life from fifteen years ago.
Rather, he mostly just seems bored by it: at no point does â€śX-Men: Apocalypseâ€ť feel vital, nor does it particularly seem to mean anything. Youâ€™re left with the feeling that Singer has kind of half-heartedly thrown his hands up and resigned himself to delivering fan-service, even if it requires taking a wholly unnecessary fifteen-minute detour to catch up with Wolverineâ€™s whereabouts. Iâ€™d say it grinds the film to a halt, but that would imply that itâ€™s doing anything but spinning its wheels anyway. Forgiving the film for its emptiness might be possible if it had more of a spring in its step.
So few of the decisions amount to anything important, including a period setting thatâ€™s mostly mined for a gag involving some of the students seeing â€śReturn of the Jediâ€ť and making jokes that the third movie is always the worst. This not-so-subtle shade thrown in the direction of â€śX-Men: The Last Standâ€ť might be funny if it werenâ€™t coming from a film that isnâ€™t much betterâ€”at least Brett Ratnerâ€™s film had the decency to clock in under 105 minutes and deliver a definitive Danger Room sequence. On the other hand, â€śApocalypseâ€ť is an overblown monstrosity that loses sight of even its principal characters, something that canâ€™t be said for previous films in this franchise.
Paradoxically, itâ€™s bigger than ever, but the stakes have never felt smaller, even with the support of two fantastic previous films that underpin it. Singerâ€™s last-ditch effort at pathos involves flashing back to the crucial exchanges between Xavier and Magneto during those films, only to see it fall utterly flat because this film does so little to pay it off.
Those flashbacks may humorously highlight how these characters havenâ€™t aged in two decades, but they also reveal that the hope and optimism surrounding the rebooted â€śFirst Classâ€ť feels like a lifetime ago. â€śX-Men: Apocalypseâ€ť does little to disavow you of the notion that â€śDays of Future Pastâ€ť serves as a perfect ending to Singerâ€™s run on this franchise.He should have quit while he was ahead; instead, an obligatory post-credits sequence here threatens us with more when it seems pretty clear Singer has little more to add to this series. Eventually, everyone has to ride off into the sunset, and he would be wise to do so before he completely undoes whatever good will remains after this stumble.
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originally posted: 05/29/16 15:37:11