Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Tuesday's Reviews - X-Men: Apocalypse

Anyone who has been following this blog for long enough knows that I've had a long and tortured relationship with the X-Men film franchise. I've been a fan of your friendly neighbourhood mutants ever since the amazing 90s cartoon and X-Men Evolution back in early 2000. Then, of course, Bryan Singer brought the gang to the big screen in 2000 with X-Men and its superb sequel. Still, the films that followed never quite managed to achieve the original greatness so I wasn't exactly loving the prospect of X-Men: Apocalypse. Especially when each of the trailers were such utter shit. Still, a guy at work saw the film when it first came out and insisted that it was worthwhile. He pretty much loves anything he watches so I wasn't exactly convinced so it took a while to get round to it. So, will Apocalypse fall into the same traps that we saw The Last Stand did?

Before all of the action kicks off in X-Men: Apocalypse a group of teenage mutants sneak out of Professor Xavier's mansion to watch Return of the Jedi. Upon exiting the film, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) utters the immortal phrase "everyone knows that the third movie is always the worst". It's a funny enough line considering the franchise's history but the question remains about any potential self-awareness hidden underneath the humour. Were Bryan Singer and co. really calling out Brett Ratner for the disastrous The Last Stand (something they erased from the canon thanks the events of Days of Future Past) or were they preparing for the inevitable criticism of the end of their new trilogy?

I mean whatever your interpretation, it doesn't bode well that the script is already preparing you for a shitty ending. Especially when the opening scene sets you up pretty well. The scene lifts off where the post credits scene of the last film left off. We are in Ancient Egypt and Apocalypse/En Sabah Nur is in the process of transferring his consciousness into the body of Oscar Issac. Unfortunately, before he can bring about the end of the world, the first ever mutant is betrayed by his people and ends up buried under the remains of his own pyramid.

Of course, we all know that's not where he'll stay and, thanks to some interference from Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrn), Apocalypse is risen from the dead and takes an instant dislike to the modern world. As the myths dictate he goes about rounding up his four horsemen to aid in his task. Storm (Alexandra Ship), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy) and, our old friend, Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Of course, Erik's return to the world of evil causes concern for his ex-ally Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and he and his mutant students quickly find themselves embroiled in the disaster.

However, there is a lot more to the story than the above summary suggests. The action takes place 10 years after the climax of the last film so there are several old faces to reintroduce alongside all the newbies. The first hour basically consists of little vignettes detailing each character's new storyline and it takes fucking ages. We see Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) acting as a vigilante in Berlin, Erik settling into a human life complete with wife and daughter in Poland, Alex Summers (Lucas Till) helping his younger brother Scott (Tye Sheridan) come to terms with his powers, and Jean Grey having nightmares about a coming evil. And, really, that's not even scratching the surface. The film reintroduces us to Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult); reminds us, as if we could forget, that Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) still exists; and introduces Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Pyslocke, Angel and Jubilee (Lana Condor).

There are a lot of players in this latest instalment and, because everyone has their own share of baggage, the whole things feels stuffed to bursting. It inevitably means that character plays a secondary role here and most people get little, if any, development. Scott and Jean get some chance to make a connection with the audience but they still don't get what they deserve considering their history with the audience. Charles, Hank and Moira really get little to do and the rest of the new cast are pretty much just set dressing. I mean what is the point of introducing a villain like Apocalypse and making him so fucking undefined? Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to overload the film so much that there is no real sense of characterisation here?

Instead, the studio have focused on the characters that they believe are most bankable people. That's why it is Eirk and Mystique who once again have to battle with their inner demons just as they have been doing for the past two films. The Last Stand failed because it was so wildly different to the preceeding films. Apocalypse fails because it's so fucking similar. We've had two films of Erik killing people because his family are killed and Charles trying to convince him of his hidden goodness. We didn't need another. He's murdered so many people by this point you'd probably just give up. Then you have Mystique who has gone so far into Katniss territory that it's embarrassing. I get that J Law can do no wrong but that doesn't mean I need a 2.5 hour film of her making trite, inspirational speeches. It's another Hollywood cliche at this point.

The film makers have got Apocalypse all wrong. X-Men hasn't succeeded on spectacle or grandeur. It works well when there is depth and emotion. It works because we get to know the characters and appreciate their struggles. This film has more in common with Zack fucking Snyder that it does with its own franchise. At its climax the film just descends into the same wanton destruction that has become such a staple of the modern superhero film. Thanks to a kickstart to his powers, Magneto finds that he can manipulate the metal deep in the Earth and pretty much destroy everything in existence. He tears down buildings and ships thousands of miles away. Masses of unnamed people must be killed in this epic finale but its all so low-key. There are no consequences, no drama, It's all just action.

I have to admit that I didn't hate this film as much as I thought and I think there is great potential within the new cast for some future movies. However, I think this went too far. There was so much going on that there was no room to develop the main story. The film isn't that long when compared to many recent releases but it felt neverending. It's difficult having to compete with films like The Avengers where so many familiar faces are pushed together and make millions in the box office. Fox clearly just pushed things too far and the film-makers couldn't handle it. The story isn't all that interesting when you get down to it and the villains are just pathetic. We don't even know anything about Apocalypse. What are his powers? What motivates him? Why does he pick the mutant he does? We don't fucking know because there was no time.

Fans applauded Singer when he retrospectively altered the timeline and got rid of everything that happened in The Last Stand. He wiped the slate clean and did what fans have been doing ever since 2006: forgetting it ever existed. It's just a shame, then, that he went and fucked it up by doing another shit third film. It's by no means as bad as Ratner's contribution but there is so much that needed to be defined and tweaked by this film. There are too many dinner party guests and not enough chairs or plates. Unfortunately, it's also the audience that is going hungry.

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