“X-Men: Apocalypse”

“X-Men: Apocalypse”
Directed by Bryan Singer

xmen-apocalypse-gallery-06Another summer, another bloated, yet thrilling ride on the X-Men train. Actually, bloat doesn’t quite cover it. It’s a virtual explosion of effects and characters and death. LOTS AND LOTS OF DEATH. It’s very, very serious, more so than past X-Men, which at least had SOME sense of irreverence. And it’s about 20-30 minutes too long. BUT…it has Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac and James McEvoy…and a breakout performance by Sansa Stark!

The script is a philosophical jumble about both absolute power and extraordinary physical power – how it can be used for peace or for control – and how the definition of peace and control are malleable. In other words, the same as every X-Men film before it. The stakes are sky high in this film, but so high that they jump right over in to Ridiculous Land (my favorite part of Disneyland). That doesn’t mean the creators of the film don’t make it feel intense, they do. But it’s yet another Marvel/DC film where MILLIONS of people are killed and no one says a word. No, in these films that concern is saved, exclusively, for the safety of our heroic group. Made it feel a little Ultron-ish. Ugh.

And yet, as a roller coaster ride, the movie is fantastic. It has both substantial precipitous drops, and noticeable calm-before-the-storm moments. The effects are incredible, if maybe a little expected…which is not a knock on the film, just how quickly we have learned to suspend our disbelief with so many of these films coming out each year now. What Bryan Singer is a master of, however, is focusing your attention on the storyboard of each fight. It’s never out-of-control crazy, and the POV of each hand-to-hand conflict is never lost. This kind of direction is extremely rare (and welcome) given the new paradigm of holding the camera so close to the action that you lose all perspective, and thus, haven’t a clue of the scene’s intention.

I do wish the X-Men had a LITTLE bit of the irreverence of the Avengers. All the jokes in this film are cheap shots at late seventies and early eighties pop culture, since the film takes place in 1980. None of it is based in character and, hence feels awfully forced. Thank god, then for Evan Peters’ Quicksilver. As he did in the last X-Men, Peters provides our biggest laughs. But even here, the script puts him in the center of a deeper, more existential set of issues. Ah well. His first five minutes of major screen-time were maybe the best part of the whole film for me.

But the royalty of this show is the court of actors Singer assembles. Michael Fassbender has some origin story scenes at the beginning of the film which are spectacularly three-dimensional (and I don’t mean the glasses). And while he gives up screen time for the plot in the second and third act, the weight of his backstory is what grounds the entire film. Oscar Isaac continues to bring it (he’s the bad guy and he’s great – ’nuff said). James McEvoy, as the narrator, more or less, is like Fassbender, weighty, believable and worthy of his position within the plot structure.

As for the other performances everyone is talking about…Olivia Munn is ridiculously attractive, but is given VERY little to do. Tye Sheridan and Kodi Smit-McPhee are fine as the newest members of the X-Men, but certainly not standouts. But MAJOR kudos to Sophie Turner. She not only wraps her whole self around the role, she is kick-ass, serious, significant, and INTELLIGENT as the young Jean Grey. I was utterly hypnotized every time she was onscreen (no pun intended). And given how most of us thought she was the weakest of the Starks, that’s saying something. It’s evident, if you are watching this newest season of “Thrones”, that the controlled bravado of her performance in this film has leaked in to her portrayal of Sansa. Can’t wait to see what else she ends up doing in the future.

And then there’s J-Law. Sorry folks, unless she does something soon, I’m close to calling her career done. Since “American Hustle”, she is either phoning it all in or is simply making terrible career choices. I mean, I know making 15 million a picture should never be called a bad choice, but maybe do a freebie indie once in a while? She’s utterly unbearable in this, as she was in the last two Mockingjay films, and, of course, in the despicable “Joy”. She’s the heavy in this film, and heavy she ain’t – in fact, she’s lighter than air. There’s a scene with Fassbender, in the third act, during which all I could think of was how he must have suffered to try and make it seem real, since he was the only one mentally in attendance. I hope I’m wrong, because she was so great in “American Hustle”…

The score is, as usual, unremarkable. Not bad, but certainly nothing that stands out. What I just noticed for the first time is that composer John Ottman is also the editor of the film, as he has been for several of the X-Men films. It makes sense. The cuts in action happen so quickly, why not have your composer put it all together. But, truly, if the best part of a score is the use of the Allegretto movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony…a theme that fits the genre so well, I’m shocked it hasn’t been done before…you’re not really saying much about its effectiveness.

As I say every summer, you already know if you’re going to see this or not. If you usually don’t go to these films, it might be worthwhile to go for the performances. If you always go to these films, you’ll probably enjoy it. For the most part I did, just maybe lets hold the killing down to 100,000 faceless humans next time.

Written 5/27/2016

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