Tuesday, May 31, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

Man, this summer has been a really weird one for blockbuster movies. Not only have the critics and fans been at odds for many of them, but reviews have been coming out weeks before the film's actual release. Case in point, I heard about the lackluster reception of X-Men: Apocalypse weeks ago. While that was certainly disappointing to hear, the recent trend of allowing critics access to these movies so far in advance has killed a little of my anticipation for them. I therefore had a surprisingly difficult time getting excited for this film, even though it was one of my top 5 anticipated films of the year. However, I was such a fan of 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past, that I had enough faith in director Bryan Singer and the stellar cast to produce something enjoyable.

Thousands of years ago, the Egyptians bowed before the god-like being named En Sabah Nur, who had grown old and weary over the centuries. Thanks to a mystical ceremony, however, the blue-skinned mutant is able to transfer his consciousness to another mutant (blessed with healing abilities) while inheriting his powers. Much to the chagrin of his four horsemen, there is a plot to destroy the so-called god before the transfer can take place. During the coup, each of the horsemen sacrifice themselves to protect their leader, even as the pyramid collapses all around them and buries the ancient being in the stony rubble. In 1983, however, a group of devout students and followers of a cult dedicated to finding the body of En Sabah Nur finally comes across the mutant's makeshift tomb and releases him into the modern world. Meanwhile, Charles Xavier must comfort his pupil, Jean Grey, who has awoken with a vivid foretelling of a terrible Apocalypse.

Even when writing this plot summary I've come to appreciate the intricacies of this film even more. While the story isn't quite as gripping and accessible as Days of Future Past, I think the setup of each character's motivations is expertly done. We've all gotten to know these mutants perhaps more than any other superhero characters, since it's been 16 years since we were first introduced to them on the big screen. Bryan Singer has a clear handle on these characters after 3 prior films in the X-Men universe, and the struggles each of them has to go through are relatable and emotionally involving.

A lot of that credit must go to the actors, of course, as Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are fully immersed in their roles as Magneto and Charles Xavier respectively. The only exceptions are Jennifer Lawrence (who is surprisingly flat in the role), and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who doesn't quite have the charisma of Alan Cumming's portrayal of Nightcrawler from X2. Apart from them, however, the rest of the cast was pretty solid. I think some praise must be given to Oscar Isaac, who is unrecognizable in the role, and not just because of the make-up. He's equally menacing and mesmerizing as the titular villain, which I think a lot of critics seem to be overlooking.

The action is pretty epic throughout the film, although it does push the PG-13 envelope on more than one occasion. We gradually see the full scope of Apocalypse's powers, and he seems utterly unstoppable to overcome, even for a team of super-powered mutants. The threat in this film is massive and urgent, and other than a few moments of slightly fake-looking CGI, the confrontations are all satisfying. It's easily the biggest X-Men movie we've seen, and one of the biggest superhero films in general. However, if you haven't seen any of the previous X-Men films you are going to have no idea what's going on here. Do yourselves a favor and at least go watch X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past so you can understand and enjoy Apocalypse as much as possible.

Not everything in this film works as well as I would like, but for the most part it's a very entertaining experience with huge action and emotional character arcs that will only get better with repeat viewings. I'm excited to go back and connect the dots the screenplay introduced at the beginning that I didn't recognize initially. There are a lot of fascinating themes being explored in this film as well, with some artistic interpretations of internal conflicts that are fairly novel to the comic book genre. I definitely had some issues with the film, but none so great that it would drop my rating more than a half-star. For those who can't do math (or who didn't see the image at the top of the review), that means I give X-Men: Apocalypse three and a half stars. Go see it if you like the X-Men films and are okay with a fairly trippy and violent superhero movie.

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images