Mark Reviews Movies

X-Men: Apocalypse


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Lucas Till, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, Lana Condor, Olivia Munn, Josh Helman

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images)

Running Time: 2:24

Release Date: 5/27/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 26, 2016

Whatever good will was established by the previous two X-Men films (X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past) has been eliminated with X-Men: Apocalypse. The movie's most immediate precursors, which respectively served as an origin story and a time-bending exercise (that allowed it to serve simultaneously as a sequel to its predecessor and a culmination of the X-Men movies that came before this new phase of stories), had two hooks that were vital to their success. Firstly, the films were clever with the way they fit the existence of mutants within specific periods of history (The first installment set the story's climax amid the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the second saw Richard Nixon willing to implement a police state because of the fear of the mutant "other").

Secondly and more importantly, they got to the heart of the way that the conflict between factions of mutants was really a battle between opposing ideologies. How should mutants react to the fear and persecution of their kind by the rest of humanity? That was the question debated by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and their respective answers to the question helped to define them as characters, which gave the films legitimate, personal stakes when the spectacle erupted.

While the previous two films eschewed the trappings of the typical comic book movie (the usual story beats and action that exists for its own sake), this third one fully embraces the generic. Continuing the decade-passing trend of its predecessors, the third entry in this rebooted series is set in the 1980s, although that means little to nothing for the plot, save for a brief and fairly pointless interlude in which the nuclear arsenals of Cold War-era superpowers are shot into space. The villain, you see, is a super super-powered mutant named Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), who possesses nearly godlike abilities (and a face that randomly changes color depending on the lighting). This, of course, means that his motive is—you guessed it—world domination.

Beyond the fact that the seemingly invincible foe and his megalomaniacal motive are transparently cheap ways of arbitrarily raising the stakes of the plot, they're also a way of denying the movie of the series' second vital hook. No longer is there a battle of ideas. Now it's just, well, the usual, ho-hum battle of super-powered heroes and villains.

There are a lot of them, too—far too many for the new ones to do anything other than show off their abilities or for the returning ones to reveal anything further about them. The characters exist here as an excuse for Simon Kinberg's screenplay to string together a series of setpieces that barely feel like a story.

In addition to Charles (who runs his school for young mutants) and Erik (whose failure to live a normal life—the only scenes in the movie that continue the ideas set up in its predecessors—leads him to an existential crisis), we also see the return of Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), who wants to form the X-Men, and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), whose actions in the previous film have made her a hero among mutants. Meanwhile, Apocalypse is awoken from his millennia-long slumber under Egypt when Moira (Rose Byrne), the CIA agent from the first film, investigates the ancient ruins for convenient-for-the-plot reasons.

Apocalypse seeks out mutants—the winged Angel (Ben Hardy), the weather-controlling Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and the energy-wielding Psylocke (Olivia Munn)—to join his team. Charles' school gets some familiar names with new faces—Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Havok (Lucas Till), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The two sides clash over the fate of the world. Cue the special effects-heavy, visually ugly climactic battle that amounts to a game of rock-paper-scissors (This power beats that one, which beats this other one) and that features mass destruction for the sake of seeing things be destroyed.

Also returning is the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who gets another showcase of his abilities in a sequence that tries to up the ante of the previous one, as he rescues people from an exploding building. It only stops the movie dead in its tracks. Some of the younger soon-to-be superheroes take an unnecessary detour to a top-secret military compound, just so the movie has an excuse to include the most famous of the X-Men.

The plotting never gels into something cohesive, with multiple scenes coming out of and leading to nowhere. Worse, without the ideas about their place in the world behind them, the characters of X-Men: Apocalypse regress to being little to nothing more than the vessels for their powers. The movie marks a course correction for the series in the wrong direction.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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