Sunday, 22 May 2016

Film Review: X-Men - Apocalypse

Director Bryan Singer is at the helm once again for another round of mutant heroics in X-Men: Apocalypse; a direct sequel to 2014's Days of Future Past, this latest entry sees an ancient evil awaken and threaten to destroy humans and mutants alike.

There's a moment midway through X-Men: Apocalypse where Sophie Turner's Jean Grey and her friends emerge from a screening of Return of the Jedi and offer a rather scathing put-down on the disappointing nature of threequels; "Everyone knows the third film is always the worst,” she laughs as they make their way back to Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters in their stylish retro car.

This reference may be aimed squarely at Brett Ratner's 2006 film X-Men: The Last Stand, but unfortunately it's also true for Apocalypse. Following on from the one-two punch of First Class and Days of Future Past, Apocalypse is something a step backward for the series. Don't get me wrong, it's still pretty good - it's just not on same level as it's predecessors, making the comparison to Return of the Jedi rather apt if you think about it.

Set in 1983, Apocalypse introduces us to a world where the existence of mutants is known and widely accepted. Following the events of Days of Future Past, mutants now live amongst humans in relative peace, with figures like Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) now respectively feared and famed the world over. When young mutants like Jean Grey and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) display powers, they're placed with their peers in the care of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) at his idyllic school  - but this peace is threatened when an ancient evil in the form of En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) rises from his Egyptian tomb and vows the cleanse the Earth of its impurity.

With such a vast ensemble to play with, Singer is evidently straining to cram everyone into this instalment. The returning cast is a mixed bag, with Fassbender and McAvoy once again giving the film a captivating central conflict, but Lawrence kind of sleepwalking her way through this entry. It doesn't help that writer Simon Kinberg continues to steer her character away from her comicbook counterpart, but that's a critique of the series as a whole. Safe to say, J-Law doesn't look like she's having a lot of fun donning the blue spandex bodysuit once again and her growing tiredness for the series comes across in her performance.

Alexandra Shipp isn't given much to do as Storm whilst Olivia Munn mainly just stands there in a skimpy purple latex one-piece (this is both a pro and a con for obvious reasons). However, Oscar Isaac draws the shortest straw; buried beneath mountains of makeup and lumbered with truly awful dialogue, Isaac's generic 'burn the house down' villain is silly and instantly forgettable.

On the flipside, the raft of youngsters give the series a promising future; Sophie Turner kills it as Jean and Tye Sheridan is equally as great as Scott. The only issue here is that their respective arcs are kinda rushed; both are only grappling with their newfound talents for the first half of the movie. Also excellent is Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler. Evan Peters' Quicksilver once again steals the show and the film actively works to eclipse his Days of Future Past scene (you know, the super slo-mo one beneath the Pentagon). It lacks the same shock value, but Quicksilver's moment in the sun is every bit as entertaining and inventive the second time around.

My main issue with the film was the lack of tension. En Sabah Nur is billed as the most powerful mutant in history, which naturally means the entire world is under threat. Buildings are torn apart, cities are levelled - but none of this destruction has the same impact as past entries. Hundreds of thousands of people die, but we don't feel it like we should. Neither do the characters. The whole world is irreversibly changed, but no-one seems all that fazed. Sometimes, bigger doesn't mean better - X-Men: Apocalypse is proof of this. The film also doesn't make great use of its 80's setting; aside from a few references here and there (Quicksilver plays Ms Pac Man and listens to Eurythmics), it's kind of wasted.

The film tips the scales at just over 140 minutes, and whilst it doesn't feel long, there are detours that didn't need to be taken. Without spoiling anything (nothing that the final trailer didn't give away mind you), a certain cameo that works its way into the second act is totally pointless. It literally serves no purpose and is only there to tease the next movie in the series (out next summer I believe). I like the character, but their appearance here wasn't warranted.

On the whole, X-Men: Apocalypse is neither the best nor the worst we've seen so far. The new characters are all great, and returning cast members like McAvoy and Fassbender continue to excel; but a weak villain and a generic plot make this a rather mediocre entry that could've been better if it'd been more focused and afforded more time to earning key character moments.

The Verdict: 6.5/10

A typical tricky threequel, X-Men: Apocalypse ups the ante at the expense of developing its core cast of exciting young actors. Turner and Sheridan hold promise whilst Fassbender gives the best performance by far; it's just a shame that all this potential is stifled by some soulless spectacle and a run-of-the-mill plot.

X-Men: Apocalypse is in cinemas across Australia now

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