X MEN APOCALYPSE REVIEW
Prof X Fact File
Director: Bryan Singer
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Olivia Munn, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Pete Beale Jr off Eastenders
Genre: Action / Adventure /Sci-Fi /Comic Book adaptation
12A / PG-13
On General Release / 20th Century Fox
Mutants were thought to be a product of nuclear warfare and associated experiments. No! A natural phenomenon predated them all..back in ancient Egypt. Its name? Some thought it ‘God’. To us..APOCALYPSE! It /he (played by Oscar Isaac) is the ultimate threat: able to assume and amplify the powers of all other mutants. Awakened in the 1980s, Apocalypse is determined to wipe out ‘the weak’ of mankind and therefore recruits ‘4 horsemen’ (fellow mutants of varied deadly abilities) to the cause of world destruction / domination.
Apocalypse will be opposed by Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his band of ‘X Men’ and it is a fight to the very ends of their abilities and very possibly, to the death. Thankfully, true heroes are never truly alone and Mystique (JENNIFER LAWRENCE) is on hand to lend some extra help. But who will MAGNETO (Michael Fassbender) side with? Even with strength in numbers, the odds appear stacked against the X Men and the world as the age of APOCALYPSE begins..
Ok. This is NOT a great movie. It’s not even a great X Men movie (for that, see FIRST CLASS and DAYS OF FUTURE PAST). And YET..I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED X MEN: APOCALYPSE!
To ensure objectivity, let’s start with the bad and get it over with. This might smart a bit, Mr. Bryan Singer. Sorry. But you are a big boy now and can take it. Plus, all will become clear once the transfer of consciousness / review is done. Buckle up!
The Bad. Some of it Very, very, very bad indeed..
The opening of this film is high camp of the YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES /MUMMY RETURNS variety..all bald blokes and Egyptian chanting. The ONLY Director who can pull that off is one Mr. Steven Spielberg (hence, we should all be welcoming INDIANA JONES 5, rather than dismissing the prospect).
Bryan Singer simply is not Steven Spielberg! And he compounds that deficiency by trying for an Indiana Jones / 1980s adventure film ‘vibe’ that he simply has not prepared adequately to pull off. Matters not helped by some lazy plot and character devices and some bizarrely absent pay-offs to clearly foreshadowed motifs. Some gratuitous STAR WARS references are knowingly thrown in. WHEN will people STOP doing that?
The continuity is also all over the shop if you are trying to follow the series in some linear fashion, including spin offs. Several characters have little if any impact, relative to screen-time awarded, and could be played by anyone other than the big talent actors to whom they have been matched.
The ‘big’ set pieces fail to match some fairly stark and drab production design in other scenes (budget problems? cough cough??). Seriously, this is SUPPOSED to be a 1980s, period piece, right? But you would not know that, save a few nods like ghetto blasters and Pac-Men here and there. Missed opportunity, I’d say?
The whole enterprise adds little if anything to the established mythology and simply gives more of the same (one wishes Matthew Vaughan had delivered a genuine sequel to FIRST CLASS, still set in the 1960s). Speaking of which, I will never forgive Director Bryan Singer for killing off JANUARY JONES‘ Emma Frost character from the 2011 X Men movie..she was quite THE sexiest vision..ever. Like her mutant power was..being sexy?
But fear not! He gives us a kid wot used 2 b on EastEnders (Bridddish soap opera wherein every character is either very nasty or very silly) and kits him out in dodgily fetishistic looking angel’s wings and Michael Flatley Junior Lord of the Dance mark 2 costume / hair. Seriously..those scenes.. just DON’T work. Uncomfortable viewing, especially the ‘cage fight’ bits. Awkward, to put it mildly. Yep.
It’s NOT that this film is ‘so bad it’s good’ (a phrase I have never bought anyway; if something is bad..it’s just bad). It’s just that the ‘good’ bits, though few and far between and largely compressed near the end..are so heart soaringly wonderful that you simply won’t care about the preceding flaws.
The moment you hear ‘that’ theme, both at the start and end of the film..you just feel a sense of magic and awe and expectation. It’s deeply manipulative editing from Singer and John Ottman (composer and..yes..editor). There is also a strategically placed use of ‘Sweet Dreams’ by Eurythmics that instantly makes you sit up and smile in recognition during an inventive action scene. Smoke and mirrors? Yes. But it WORKS.
The superficial window dressings of a film ARE important in the retrieval of a positive feeling and especially in the ‘comic book’ genre. Film is a visual medium and it should engage and entice your senses.
Seriously, if BATMAN V SUPERMAN just had ONE ‘fun’ theme to close its final scenes / accompany credits..who knows how much better the reviews might have been? I am not exaggerating here. BATMAN FOREVER: flawed movie, arguably saved by its soundtrack, harnessed especially cleverly in its closing credits.
Same here: I left the Cinema THINKING I LOVED and ENJOYED X MEN: APOCALYPSE; even wanting MORE. And perhaps I actually DID feel that way? Either way, the music helped. A.LOT. Besides, Where’s the shame in simply ENJOYING something, nowadays?
This nonsense notion that every comic book picture must now be some Oscar worthy work of art /politics lecture dressed as ‘plot’ is pretension of the highest order and destroying Cinema. X MEN, by contrast, delights refreshingly in its own fantasy, save ONE, momentary yet major misstep towards ‘dark and gritty’. There is a concentration camp as super-hero set piece: REALLY: Stop it. DO NOT DO IT AGAIN: See also: UNCLE, Man From).
That aside, the film knows its limitations and sticks to them, largely. No pompous senate hearings or pseudo erudite lectures on the politics of ‘collateral damage’.
We KNOW mutants are a metaphor for those talented / different citizens in the real world who were cast out previously and only now get the recognition they deserve (partly THANKS to the art form of Cinema and its socio-political force?).
Singer and co KNOW we have seen that motif before and don’t want it rehearsed to death. The message IS there but implicitly so, delivered via genuine plot devices and character arcs.
For THAT reason, I kind of prefer X MEN: APOCALYPSE to BOTH BATMAN V SUPERMAN AND CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. Though by no means a ‘superior’ film, this one at least honors the brief and boundaries of genre with greater restraint and coherence.
Here, we get a clear villain, plan, mcguffin, set of stakes and characters moved as chess pieces within that scheme. A simple story, told visually.
THAT is not just effective comic book cinema; it’s simply good film-making. Full Stop. Refreshing and familiar at once. Daring to be different, whilst providing more of the same. Admirably honest and simple craftsmanship.
Of course, I might have to confess a problem with objectivity here. JENNIFER LAWRENCE is, as you may know, something of a muse. Blame the fact that I once knew a girl who looked and talked just like her but was even lovelier and more powerful than any of the X MEN. I moved on, totally. (It was HAY FEVER, ok. I was NOT crying in the J-Law scenes. Honest. Yep.)
Seriously though, there has been much Internet based bitching about Ms Lawrence ‘phoning it in’. Nonsense! She gives a more than competent performance, with the material given. Also..looking lovely, as ever, and rightly without that awful blue make-up in the majority of scenes.
True, the character of ‘Mystique’ really has no business being in this story and her role is gradually being turned over to Sophie Turner’s excellent iteration of Jean Grey /Phoenix.
But it’s lovely to see J-Law again and her scenes with Beast (NICHOLAS HOULT) are movingly human in a sea of super-heroics.
You can FEEL a sense of lost love and naively held hopes of its being rekindled. Natural, wonderful, refreshingly simple ACTING from two young stars with a palpable promise and power.
It’s also insightful direction from Bryan Singer in those scenes: tender, intimate, honest. And a great approximation of frustrated heterosexual love in a way that sometimes a gay writer /director can capture best of all?
See also: RUSSELL T DAVIES and his DOCTOR WHO dynamic between Rose /The Doctor and JOEL SCHUMACHER’s direction of TOMMY LEE JONES /SUSAN SARANDON in THE CLIENT.
Is sexuality relevant / pertinent to mention? Of course it is! It is pervasive in life and art and Singer himself has frequently cited X -MEN as a kind of modern allegory for those struggling to ‘come out’.
The true gift of great writer/directors is to convey the idea that love is love, be it straight or gay; veteran or first young flush; fraternal and filial / platonic or urgently sensual and primal / passionate. We all face the same challenges, urges, frustrations, hopes. Just in different shades.
Singer has that gift of communicating romance in one shot, on screen. It’s a great asset to this film. To paraphrase STAR TREK (blink and you’ll miss it but there is a Trek reference in ‘Apocalypse’..): of all the comic book films I have encountered of late, this is the most ‘HUMAN’.
JAMES MCAVOY has never been better: transferring his art-house actor credentials to the action genre more comfortably than ever. He is aging in the role and in the genre and I wish he’d do more movies in the same mode. MICHAEL FASSBENDER fills the screen. JAMES BOND people (ie..the lovely BARBARA BROCCOLI)..if you HAVE to replace DANIEL CRAIG..I think I have found your man.
Seriously..Fassbender = big star + great actor. Old school masculinity with poetic sensitivity and method sensibility. Irish soul meets Germanic/English, steely efficiency. Pardon the pun but he’s magnetic to watch. So, I do hope that Mr. Fassbender plays Magneto again. Or JAMES BOND..soon, if the role is indeed vacant (but it’s not, at least officially..so hold fire).
Speaking of Bond, ROSE BYRNE revisits the role of Agent Moira McTaggart, on whom McAvoy’s Professor X has an endearing schoolboy crush (a real highlight of the film). Rose was once considered for the VESPER role in CASINO ROYALE. Great though EVA GREEN was, Rose would have been a magnificent Vesper, given her ability to convey skepticism and awe at once.
Rose has a unique comedic timing and femininity, fused to action heroine field-work credentials: a ‘strong’ yet vulnerable female character actress.
See also: BAD NEIGHBOURS 2 (still in cinemas; and hilarious thanks in part to Rose’s performance). By contrast, poor OLIVIA MUNN is kind of wasted (again!) in her role as PSYCHLOKE (have I spelled that right? I give up on mutant names..) but looks stunningly beautiful and handles action well.
OSCAR ISAAC continues his rise to power as a great leading AND supporting man here. He is genuinely scary when required but also pathetically comedic whenever Apocalypse’s villainy and power are challenged. It’s fair to say that X MEN uses Oscar’s talents better than STAR WARS (where his Poe Dameron character is basically a poor man’s Han Solo and thereby redundant?).
EVAN PETERS is also deployed effectively again after his star turn in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. Indeed, Peters’ QuickSilver puts one in mind of the young VAL KILMER circa TOMBSTONE. He’ll go far, that young man. And fast. 😉
FINAL SAY: I pity the poor soul who goes to a Cinema, looking for trouble with this film. You will be pleasantly surprised, charmed and crucially: ENTERTAINED. The good here outweighs the bad and frankly, given the genre /subject matter: what did you EXPECT? When X MEN:APOCALYPSE delivers, it does so, brilliantly. You will laugh. You might even cry. And you could just find yourself leaving a Cinema with a smile of satisfaction and a curiosity for what comes next with this franchise. That’s a very good feeling indeed and redeems any cinematic shortcomings.
B++: Enrolled at Professor X’s School as approved viewing. A perfectly competent and charming film with an abundance of warmth, heart, soul and naively innocent simplicity absent from the genre all too long. Welcome Back!