X-Men: Apocalypse (***)
Running Time: 144 minutes
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp and its great Evan Peters
(Movie House Dublin Road, Press Screening 16/05/2016)
With the emergence of the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse, the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.
HOT on the heels of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War comes X-Men: Apocalypse, the double colon has never been busier as big-budget comic book movies continue to dominate cinemas; sadly this latest instalment in the franchise, the sixth (not counting the Wolverine solo movies) or third in the ‘First Class’ regeneration is a tad undermining. I’m particularly fond of the First Class films, Matthew Vaughn’s pseudo series reboot played out like an old-school Cold War thriller and Days of Future Past was a great time-traveling yarn, Apocalypse however just feels like a generic, run of the mill comic book blockbuster.
What I feel it lacks is the magic touch of Jane Goldman, the British writer was involved in the last two outings for the X-Men and whilst it might be purely coincidental her absence this time round seems to coincide with my problems with the script. There’s simply too much going on, as Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg attempt to lay the foundations for further instalments, shoehorn in ‘surprise’ cameos already been spoiled by the trailers and an overall narrative that just felt too generic and a tad dull.
Up till now the First Class movies have wrapped themselves around important historical events to create an added depth to proceedings. Matthew Vaughan’s First Class used the Cuban Missile Crisis as an important aspect within its finale and Days of Futures Past used America’s humiliating withdrawal from Vietnam and the Paris Peace Accord of 1973 to form the backdrop for its complex ‘timey-wimey ’plot. This time round there’s none of those clever nods and as the film opts for a crash-bang-wallop, rinse and repeat approach, it’s easy to forget this instalment is set in the 1980s as the X-Men face off against Oscar Isaac’s megalomaniac super-villain, Apocalypse.
Clocking in at nearly 2 ½ hours long the writers spend too much time reintroducing mutants back into the franchise, characters like Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Storm and Jean Grey, but in doing so they’ve lost one of the central and most interesting aspects of the X-Men films, the complex friendship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr: these two men might have a great mutual respect for each other, but they’ve completely different attitudes towards human-mutant coexistence. Whether it’s been Ian Mckellen and Patrick Stewart or James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, in previous instalments the writers have always brought their complicated relationship into the forefront of proceedings and made it a central aspect of the franchise, but sadly not this time.
McAvoy and Fassbender find themselves largely pushed to the side-lines as writers attempt to reinvent the franchise once again and ensure Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven gets considerable screen-time. McAvoy has some nice moments with Rose Byrne, who returns as Moira MacTaggert, but Fassbender’s Magneto becomes a largely peripheral figure throughout the film, his character little more than a henchman to the movie’s ‘big bad’. I’d have loved to have seen more of his story explored, his character has clearly been through quite a lot since Days of Future Past, but it’s brushed over far too quickly as the writers try to get all their chess pieces into place in time for the film’s Cairo set finale.
Whilst Marvel Studios and DC have decided to tease out their respective franchise’s ‘big bad’, the writers for Apocalypse have thrown theirs straight into this movie; bar a brief post-credits tease at the end of Days of Future Past. Sadly Isaacs’ character just didn’t do it for me, Apocalypse proclaims to have god-like abilities, yet he feels like nothing more than a villain of the week for the X-Men to confront as they attempt to stop his plans of world destruction. It’s an interesting decision by Singer to have Isaac play Apocalypse under heavy prosthetics rather than CGI, whilst he might have a slight resemblance to Ivan Ooze from the Power Rangers Movie, but there’s a genuine presence about his character that I don’t think you get from the CGI villains like Ultron, Thanos and even Darkseid, when he inevitably makes his appearance within the DC Universe.
It’s not all bad though, some of the younger actors put in solid performances, particularly Kodi Smit-McPhee (Nightcrawler) and Alexandra Shipp (Storm) and it’s great to see Evan Peters back doing his thing once again as Quicksilver, but I just found Sophie Turner’s performance as Jean Grey to be as dull as dishwater; although in her defence the writers lay some pretty solid foundations for exploring the Dark Phoenix storyline in further instalments and rectifying the hatchet-job attempt seen in X-Men: The Last Stand.
Apocalypse is by no means a terrible film it’s just not up to the high standards of previous instalments within the franchise and undoubtedly suffers from being released so quickly after Civil War, which is a superior film in almost every regard: despite its flaws it’s still more fun to watch than Batman vs Superman and I still think there’s enough there for X-Men fan-boys to enjoy.