X-MEN APOCALYPSE (Fox)
Dir. Bryan Singer, Script. Simon Kinberg
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till
Plot: A mutant smurf (Isaac) with god-like powers wakes from a long nap, and threatens the X-Men and the rest of the world.
Certainly, in the last few years, the comic book blockbuster has been self-referential – we take that as a fact of the ongoing, seemingly never-ending domination of the box office by the super-powered few. X-Men Apocalypse, the third instalment in the prequel trilogy and the third instalment of the ‘LOOK AT ALL OF THESE SUPERHEROES FIGHTING’ trilogy after Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War, unsurprisingly goes down the meta route too. Midway through the film, we cut to some characters exiting a screening of Return of the Jedi (ha, 1983 bants), and in a discussion over the ranking of the original Star Wars films, they come to the conclusion that ‘the third one is always the worst’. That’s true – in the case of X-Men: The Last Stand, Brett Ratner’s abortion of an attempt at finishing the original trilogy which the film is obviously trying to lampoon, that’s very true. However, I think there’s a second meaning to this.
Never underestimate a director’s willingness to foreshadow – in the case of X-Men: Apocalypse they must have been in on the joke, right? The makers of this film must have known? To cut the tension with a telepathically controlled metal spoon, X-Men: Apocalypse is bad. It is relentlessly bad. It is the most disappointing movie in recent memory. It is worse than even The Last Stand. And that genuinely hurts to say, because this movie should have been brilliant. It is an exercise in overbloated filmmaking, maybe even the ultimate manifestation of it; the film begins in Ancient Egypt with costumes and green screen they shared with Exodus: Gods And Kings, and from that moment on is an almost two-and-a-half hour marathon of nonsense, interspersed with emotional character moments that are glossed over with CG-reliant action scenes worthy of Michael Bay’s wet dreams.
That might be my main gripe with this whole thing: it genuinely feels like a betrayal. The early X-Men films worked, and worked well, because they were different and proud of it. Yes, the social commentary was a bit overbearing, but the reason it all worked is because the films focused on their characters and gave them all motivations. Needless to say, Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg forgot on this occasion. The whole narrative relies on either exaggerated moments or illogical ones to put its characters into place, and once that is messily done the film decides to retire as a film in order to live out its days as a mountain goat. All we are left with is about an hour of mindless action, followed by the much-anticipated end credits.
But what’s specifically wrong? For a start, the plotting of the whole thing makes no sense. If you watched Batman v Superman, you’ll know that occasionally the movie paused in order to have a trailer for another film. X-Men: Apocalypse spends a good fifteen minutes of its runtime setting up one cameo appearance, and WE ALL KNEW what the cameo was going to be. I wouldn’t be annoyed when it comes to cameos usually, but when a good portion of the movie leads up to it, and has absolutely no relevance to the narrative of the film at all, then it does irritate me, especially considering the movie takes a stunning amount of time to finish. When the film isn’t setting a cameo up, its equally nonsensical. Some of the decisions our villain, played by Poe Dameron caked in what looks like enough blue Play-Doh to fill the Earth’s crust, decides to take are stupid to the point where his master plan actually moves backwards. The way in which the writing gets characters into the necessary emotional state is also heavy-handed, especially with Magneto, who is living out his days in hiding as a steel worker in Poland. Once you see his situation, its easy to predict what’s going to happen, because the most obvious things that can happen, happen. The film is so heavy-handed that, in order to persuade him to destroy humanity, the titular Smurf villain takes Fassbender on a school trip to Auschwitz. Yes. And Magneto destroys it. You read that right (although something mustn’t be if you read this far); this is a film in which somebody destroys Auschwitz to provide emotional context.
Borderline offensiveness aside, what I’m really offended by is Singer’s direction. It’s easy to forget that he made The Usual Suspects, one of the best-directed thrillers possibly ever, and if you know the full extent of his ability what you will see in X-Men: Apocalypse will be even more painful to watch. The first hour is totally rudderless, and jumbled up to the point where it takes a good 30 minutes for the actual plot to start. In that opening jaunt, you will be introduced to a number of characters that you’ve been introduced to in the original X-Men films, but in such a way that you never get enough time to really get introduced to them, and as a result I didn’t care for them at all. And, in an almost worrying fact, the new batch are the one shining, redemptive light through the dark. Sophie Turner is a really promising new Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan a decent new Scott Summers, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is pretty irrelevant under blue Play-Doh that he presumptively stole from Oscar Isaac. He’s meant to be the comic relief – he isn’t.
The humour comes from Quicksilver, played by the delightfully offbeat Evan Peters, who remains a bright spot after his brilliant introduction in Days of Future Past. However, his bright spot is an action sequence that is not only a plagiarism of the action scene from that film, but also a deus ex machina tantamount to Christ intervening in a Richard Dawkins lecture. It’s definitely the most inventive of the film’s action scenes and the most followable, but it does feel like it was there for no reason other than the fact people liked it in the last movie. The returning cast, possibly the most talented ensemble you could have found anywhere, don’t really get any meat as well. Jennifer Lawrence, playing Mystique for probably the last time, is an Oscar darling, a certified-superb actor, but Mystique has nothing to do besides come to terms with her heroism. James McAvoy was BRILLIANT in Days of Future Past, but here he is resigned to empowering speeches and going bald for a reason that just seems tagged on for fan service.
But the drawer of the shortest straw has to be Isaac – after he strode into The Force Awakens with a stunning swagger and bravado, you’d have thought Singer would want to show him off. Instead he’s given a six-hour appointment in the prosthetics suite and ridiculous, empty lines about ending the world that would feel wooden on the Disney Channel. And you know in the trailers, where you see those really dramatic superhero-landing shots again and again? There’s a reason for that – those are the only shots of those characters that are even remotely important. To be honest, the whole thing’s an elaborate mess. It would be a tragic fall from grace for the X-Men franchise, if the whole experience of watching it hadn’t completely removed any goodwill I had for it. Instead of celebrating a film fitting of the two that came before it, it’s my unfortunate duty to read out the franchise’s death rites – it’s that much of a hammer blow to the series. When The Last Stand was a complete disaster, it had to be ret-conned from the series just to make the fans happy, and the fact that there’s an in-joke about it 10 years after it was released only reflects the fact that its still a point of controversy. I have no idea how they’re going to get out of this one.
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With the amount of A-listers on show, doing this will take way too long, so what’s next for the X-Men? Well, with Fox trying to get their own cinematic universe going (and with Deadpool, currently going well) there’s plenty more stuff coming up over the next few years – there’s a long-delayed solo movie based on Gambit, the second instalment in the ‘after X-Men Origins: Wolverine you deserve to be treated right’ series of origin movies, starring Channing Tatum with Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman on board, a movie based on X-Force, a movie based on The New Mutants (The Fault In Our Stars director Josh Boone an interesting choice), a third Wolverine movie in which we say goodbye to Hugh Jackman, and a straight up sequel to Deadpool (cue confetti). And yes, there’s a fourth proper X-Men movie, entitled X-Men: Forget The Last One Ever Happened.