Well, ‘X2: X-Men United’ (2003) is in no danger of being replaced as my favorite ‘X-Men’ flick, that’s for sure. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series, especially the portions directed by Bryan Singer (‘The Usual Suspects’). Matthew Vaughn (‘Kick-Ass’) gave us a slick ‘off-shoot’ with 2011’s ‘X-Men: First Class’ also, while hack director Brett Ratner (‘Rush Hour’) gave us a barely passable episode with ‘X-Men: The Last Stand, in 2006. I still feel that 2014’s ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ was a great flick that stood on it’s own technical and story-telling prowess, while also making up for the universally-recognized shit-show that ‘Last Stand’ ended up being. Coming off the good will stemming from that one, Singer had set the bar fairly high for himself…and I don’t think he quite reached it.
‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ opens in 3500 BC (or something), on the edge of the Nile in Ancient Egypt where we a see a huge, lavish ceremony being prepared. It seems that The First Mutant is in danger of expiring and opts to body snatch Oscar Isaac (‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’) to continue his reign of power. During the ceremony, there is a coup by the Royal Guards and all hell breaks loose (pretty cool scene, actually). The surprisingly violent turmoil results in the pyramid collapsing, burying the newly-transferred body of ‘Apocalypse’ in the rubble. Fast Forward to 1983, where we catch up with the ‘X-Men’. ‘Charles Xavier’ (James McAvoy) has now turned his estate into the school for gifted children, aided by ‘Hank McCoy’ / ‘Beast’ (Nicolas Hoult). We meet younger versions of the characters we’ve come to know over the years. We get ‘Jean Grey’ (Sophie Turner), ‘Cyclops’ (Tye Sheridan), ‘Storm’ (Alexandra Shipp), ‘Havoc’ (Lucas Till), ‘Nightcrawler’ (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and ‘Angel’ (Ben Hardy). In Cairo, CIA agent (and former associate of the ‘X-Men’) ‘Moira MacTaggert’ (Rose Byrne) stumbles upon the unveiling of ‘Apocalypse’ (Oscar Isaac) by an ancient sect of worshippers. While this is occurring, we also catch up with international fugitive ‘Erik Lensher’ / ‘Magneto’ (Michael Fassbender) as he tries to lay low in Poland, while raising a daughter with his Polish wife. He’s soon discovered and his family is tragically caught in the cross-fire, leading ‘Magneto’ to return to his vengeance-fueled ways, and on a path that will cross with ‘Apocalypse’s road to ruin for Humanity. So alliances are made and battles for the preservation of life and liberty ensue.
This movie is not a bad flick…let me just say that right off. Much of what I saw was very cool and clearly had some effort put into it. But it also has problems. But before I get to that, here’s what I liked.
Bryan Singer is a very talented director, with a very ‘clean’ and disciplined shooting and editing style, sometimes punctuated with the odd strange shot or edit to keep the audience on their toes. This movie looks great, with a lot of really slick visuals and ‘big’ shots, coupled with a warm and vibrant color palette that was pleasant to the eye. Most of the action I was able to clearly follow and the choreography was fun, usually giving everyone involved in a scene something useful to do.
Most of the acting was pretty good and served the story well. While I think Sophie Turner to be a great character in ‘Game of Thrones’, who’s incidentally blossomed into a real ‘looker’, I wasn’t completely convinced of her turn as the iconic ‘Jean Grey’ character. Could be that Famke Janssen (‘Goldeneye’) left such a solid impression that it’s hard to break through and open up to a new ‘take’, but I found the VERY obvious difference in eye color (Janssen= dark brown, Turner=light green) to be something of a distraction. It’s a weird ‘nitpick’, but it’s there. She was definitely serviceable, but she felt a bit like a ‘substitute’. Another character / actor I hoped for a bit more from was Nerd Wet Dream Olivia Munn. Apparently she was offered the role of ‘Deadpool’s weird n sexy girlfriend ‘Vanessa’ around the same time this was casting, and opted to take the role of the LaserBlade Arm-wielding ‘Apocalypse’ minion ‘Psylocke’ to avoid getting a boring ‘girlfriend / damsel-in-distress role. I understand the logic and am glad that the gorgeous Morena Baccarin (‘Firefly’) got that role in ‘Deadpool’ in the end, but I hope that Munn ends up kicking herself a bit for the choice. While looking cool and sexy, she amounts to not much more than ‘Expendable Henchman’ status, just there to look cool and give an ‘air’ of quiet competence a la ‘Boba Fett’, but I think she was just wasted in this role. And speaking of ‘wasted in the role’…Oscar Isaac. I love this guy and always look forward to a new role from him, but here he is criminally underused. He’s lost under the admittedly dumb-looking make-up design and spends the movie yelling threats and slogans, without actually becoming a compelling or threatening character. There’s no real threat, as his motivations are REALLY broad and non-specific. Also the guy, as a mutant, can do pretty much ANYTHING, as powers seem to go. Somehow, that was also dull. He was a weak character that did not make good use of the solid actor playing him.
Maybe it’s just ‘comic book adaptation’ overload (there’s been a shit-load lately!), but if this is the last ‘X-Men’ movie for a while…I’m okay with that. I think that the creative sands are running out of the hourglass on this franchise and it might be an idea for 20th Century Fox to give it a rest, and top up the tank, creatively speaking. Bryan Singer handles these movies well, but it seems that there’s only SO much that they can do with the ‘universe’ they’ve established (with the awesome exception of ‘Deadpool’), and it’s beginning to show.
Another issue I had was with the pacing. Especially in the latter half of the the 2nd Act. It felt rushed. There’s a sequence where our heroes rip on over to Egypt in their cool new jet…and the trip seems to take just a few casual minutes. The jet’s fancy…not friggin magical or able to fold time and space!! It’s the same problem that I have with the end of ‘The Force Awakens’. ‘Rey’ and ‘Chewie’ aim the Falcon at the planet revealed to be ‘Luke’s hiding spot, ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FUCKING GALAXY, and they’re seemingly there minutes later. We, the audience, are not idiots and know instinctively that travel takes time and when you rush it for the sake of cutting down the run-time in a movie, the pace suffers. The arrival at the location of The Big Showdown here…did NOT feel like the time in the narrative for the arrival at the location of the Big Showdown. Even though Singer has said there won’t be an Extended cut of this one (like what he did with the cool ‘Rogue Cut’ of ‘X-Men: DoFP’), it does feel like necessary material was sliced out and would be a benefit to have returned to the run-time.
All in all, ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ is a decent entry into this franchise…but not a great one, like ‘X2’, ‘First Class’, or ‘DoFP’. It can rub shoulders with the first one in the series, another good but not great ‘X-Men’ film. It has cool use of the younger versions of the X-Men we already know, and introduces us to some new ones that, despite how they were underused here, do have potential to bloom in subsequent movies. The action scenes are mostly pretty cool, especially another crazy sequence from ‘Quicksilver’ (Evan Peters), but there is some CG over-load in the 3rd Act, as there always seems to be with these flicks, these days. Oscar Isaac was miscast and criminally underused in the role of the ‘Big Bad’, which also could’ve used a brush up in the Characterization / Motivation Department. I saw it in 2D, but can see how 3D could’ve been potentially sweet in some scenes (a buddy who did see it in 3D said that some sequences were surprisingly bad…do with that as you will). IF they decide to take a 10 or so year break on this franchise (yea, right!), I won’t be upset at all. There was some cool shit on display, visually, but the story and several characters just weren’t that engaging, especially when compared to other entries into the series. If you like these movies, you MAY get a little more out of a Theatre Viewing, but it’ll probably be just as effective streaming or on disk. Good…not great.
*PS- JLaw, it’s time for you to go. You’ve now made ‘Mystique’ into a boring and unlikely character in this series. Your disinterest in the role and story is apparent, and you were dull and somewhat irritating, especially in how much screen time is spent as just ‘Jennifer Lawrence’. I thought your WHOLE schtick in the last couple flicks was ‘Mutant and Proud’. Really? If so…stay in your friggin mutant form, ya damn hypocrite!!! You were a bit of a lame-ass here, it must be said.