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Review: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) — It’s the End of the World as we Know It, and I Feel… Fine?

Bryan Singer is back to direct his fourth X-Men film; X-Men: Apocalypse. Luke Miksa checks to see whether it stacks up.

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The year is 1983, ten years after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Upon awakening after thousands of dormant years, the first mutant, the immortal En Sabah Nur, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), embarks on a plan to destroy humanity and remake it under his will. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and the X-Men must band together to face the cataclysmic force that is Apocalypse and his disciples of doom, the Four Horsemen: Storm, Psylocke, Angel, and Magneto — mutants lured by the charismatic allure of Apocalypse.

X-Men: Apocalypse is the sixth X-Men movie — ninth if you count spin-off films from Wolverine and Deadpool — and the fourth run at the helm from director Bryan Singer. Having practically pioneered the modern run of superhero films with 2000’s X-Men, Singer certainly has experience in films of this nature, but this really is his weakest effort with this franchise to date. Not to say that this film is bad, it honestly isn’t, but it just feels like a stale retread as opposed to advancing the X-Men films to the next level.

X-Men Apocalypse 1

NKOTB

As with most X-Men films, Apocalypse features many characters, probably too many by normal standards, but these films have always been about the large ensemble. Most major characters are actually well formed despite the sheer number of them. Their motivations are juggled reasonably well: senior characters like ‘Beast’ Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), ‘Professor X’ Charles Xavier, and ‘Mystique’ Raven Darkholme (Jennifer Lawrence) get to continue on the paths set from prior films, with the ongoing tragedy of ‘Magneto’ Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) a highlight thanks again to some solid output from Fassbender. But it’s also the fresh faces, the younger cast of ‘Cyclops’ Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), ‘NightCrawler’ Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and ‘Storm’ Ororo Munroe (Alexandra Shipp) showing promise for the direction of these younger versions of characters we know and love.

The disappointment comes with just how generic the plot is, and more specifically how generic the antagonist is. Apocalypse is a clichéd overpowered bad guy with visions of world domination. How many times do we have to see that in these superhero films? It’s just stale at this point.

Maybe the bar was set too high. Days of Future Past stood out by featuring high concept sci-fi, time travel, and scattered timelines to build an exciting film, successfully merging the X-old with the X-new. Apocalypse simply fails to build on what came before, and instead relies on tired storylines and familiar plot points. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

Get in the Bin, mate.

Get in the Bin, mate.

The tone is often baffling. Remember that really cool Quicksilver (Evan Peters) scene from Days of Future Past? The fun one where Quicksilver breaks Magneto out of the Pentagon prison? Well they tried it again in Apocalypse. Literally. They basically copied the exact same gimmick, except this time the result is a tonal failure. Instead of a jaunty heist, Quicksilver now is rescuing dozens of school children from an imminently exploding building. We are expected to have a good time — Eurythmics ‘Sweet Dreams’ scores the scene — but the context is utter devastation and despair before and after the scene. There is even a fairly major death involved. That doesn’t sound like a good time to me, but tell that to the filmmakers. Add in the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, which was placed in the most awkwardly distracting moment possible.

This is a film that takes itself very seriously. A lot of the humour found in the series has almost been completely stripped, but in this instance it actually works. X-Men movies have always contained serious themes of prejudice, so even though I could have used a bit more levity (Quicksilver doesn’t work for me, clearly), as a lifelong fan I appreciate these characters shown with the utmost respect. It’s the characters and their interactions that actually pull this movie through, as many of them are genuinely likeable and the acting is solid across the board. It’s just a shame that in this instance the storyline let them down.

Shockingly, there are 3 more blue people in this movie.

Shockingly, there are 3 more blue people in this movie.

I do have to commend the creative team of Apocalypse for embracing the adult content and themes for this film. Whereas other films shy away from violence, or rather imply it, Apocalypse isn’t afraid to show some bloodshed (and the obligatory single F-bomb, a staple since First Class). There was a particular moment in the prologue where Apocalypse uses his telekinetic powers to literally crush a person into a ball. That’s some serious shit! I also loved the brutal way in which Apocalypse imbues Angel with his metallic wings; it was cool in the comics and it’s everything I wanted it to be on film.

And speaking of adult content, there is a cracker of a scene where the fresh-faced X-Men release a certain captive from a certain Alkali lake bunker. Although it’s a moment that we’ve seen ad-nauseum at this point, it’s actually one of the best scenes from the entire film. **Spoiler redacted** is a brutal animal here, but it also leads to my favourite meeting of characters in the whole movie. If you’ve seen the final trailer, you know who I’m talking about, but clearly this was designed to be a surprise moment, so I’ll keep it under wraps for now.

There’s a lot to like about John Ottman’s score, using recurring motifs and the main title that debuted in X-Men 2 and was later resurrected in Days of Future Past. A love a film franchise that maintains musical consistency (what would a Bond film be without that classic theme?), and hearing that familiar tune after the prologue creates an aura of another exciting event in a familiar universe.

Oh, Rose Byrne is in this too, which is nice.

Oh, Rose Byrne is in this too, which is nice.

It’s hard not to compare this movie to the competition, namely the DC Movie Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From strictly an entertainment standpoint, X-Men: Apocalypse falls right into the middle ground: It’s a lot more entertaining and fun than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but doesn’t reach the heights of Captain America: Civil War. It’s a frustrating middle ground, as it could have been so much more, but optimistically, at least it doesn’t hit rock bottom.

That actually may be the most damning aspect. It’s so mediocre and middling that it’s completely forgettable. It’s not bad by any means, it’s fine, but unfortunately it fails to present something new. A lot of X-Men: Apocalypse feels like worn ground, and this franchise needs a real creative jolt. The post-credits teaser actually holds some exciting potential if done right, so let’s hope the next one’s a genuine winner.

Llama Score: 6I didn’t hate X-Men Apocalypse, but I also didn’t love it. It was fine as a continuation of the X-Men saga. It was fine compared to other current superhero blockbusters. Ultimately, it doesn’t bring anything new or interesting to the table and it’s just a forgettable chapter in a long running series.

Award: RecycleAward: Fury

Highlights Banner

– A great scene featuring **Spoiler redacted** in a certain remote facility.

– A cheeky jab at X-Men: The Last Stand.

– The 1980’s is the perfect era to set an X-Men film.

– The film ends with the X-Men in relatively accurate cinematic depictions of their comic book costumes. Finally!

Lowlights Banner

– Enough with the Stan Lee cameos, this one was particularly distracting.

– Quicksilver’s big scene was an awkward, tonal mess.

Further Viewing Banner

X-Men (2000)

X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Bone up on all things X-Men at Amazon.

Directed by: Bryan Singer Written by: Simon Kinberg Produced by: Lauren Shuler Donner, Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Hutch Parker Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till Distributed by: 20th Century Fox Run length: 144 minutes Australian Release: Out now in all major cinemas

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. ‘Fine’ is a very good (and yet damning) word for it… You share some ideas with my review: check it out if you want:

    https://watchingthingsblog.com/2016/05/18/x-men-apocalypse-the-end-is-high/

    Like

    Reply

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