Friday, April 8, 2016

X-Men Apocalypse (2016) (Movie Review)

     There’s something that has to be said about the third installment of a popular movie trilogy ... they usually don’t turn out so well. The common consensus is that the first movie of a trilogy is great, the second is the best by far, and the third is a disappointing conclusion. The 2016 movie “X-Men Apocalypse” is the third installment of the “X-Men First Class” trilogy, and it’s very self aware of a third films bad reputation. There’s even a hilarious, moment in which some of the young characters are coming back from a screening of “Return of the Jedi”, in which they all agree it was the weakest of the films. Quick side note, I personally love Return of the Jedi”, and consider it the best of the "Star Wars" trilogy, but that's a discussion for another review. Unfortunately for X-Men Apocalypse, being self aware wasn’t enough to protect it from pore reviews. Obviously we're all entitled to our own opinion, but in most cases I can at least understand why some film get criticism. For example, I say with no shame that I really enjoyed “X-Men 3: The Last Stand”, but I at least recognized the problems in the film, and respected why others didn’t care for it. In the case of “X-Men Apocalypse”, I really don’t understand where all the hate and criticism is coming from. Not only did I find this to be a sold conclusion to the “X-Men First Class” trilogy, but it’s also one of my favorite installments in the franchise as a whole. Maybe I’m just a sucker for this series, or maybe the critics were too quick to right this off as just another middling third installment, but either way, here’s “X-Men Apocalypse” and these are my honest thoughts on it.

      The movie begins in ancient Egypt, where we see the origin of our main villain Apocalypse. Basically, he was the world’s first mutant and is the reason mutants came to be in the future. In the past, he would harness the powers of various other mutants by transferring his mind to their bodies, but during a ritual, he was betrayed by his followers and placed in a state of hibernation. I’m not going to lie, this is probably my favorite opening sequence of any X-Men movie thus far. It was brutal, tense, beautifully shot, the music was great and everything leading up to the main title card gave me chills. On that note, I also love the opening credit sequence, as it artistically goes through the ages leading up to the 1980’s in which the movie is set. At this point, it’s been 10 years sense the events of “X-Men: Day’s of Future Past”, we see that Professor X has finally established his mutant school as a home for the gifted, Mystique is secretly aiding other lost mutants on the side lines, and even Magneto has settled down with a wife and is raising a child. However, one of the X-Men, a young Jean grey has a vision of a future in which the whole world reduced to rebel. This gets Professor X nervous of something malevolent on the horizon. Sure enough, the dreaded Apocalypse awakens from his slumber, and is furious of the world he’s awoken to, believing that the weak have inherited the earth. Now we come to the dramatic highlight of the movie in which Magneto tragically loses his wife and child do to human intervention. Magneto’s grief and renewed hatred of humanity get the attention of Apocalypse, who both join forces to reshape the world as they see fit, with only our heroic X-Men there to stand in the way.

        Right off the bat, let’s talk about our main villain Apocalypse, as he’s the title character. One of many reasons this film has received negative reviews is due to Apocalypse being a clichéd villain, which I have my own defenses against. First of all, from the characters inception in both the comics and the TV shows, Apocalypse has always been a clichéd villain of sorts. He’s not complex or deep, he always been the mega threat that aims to bring about the end of the world, as if his name didn’t already imply that. Whether it's comics, TV or the movie, Apocalypse’s only function is to provide our hero’s with their biggest challenge, and I think this film was faithful to the character. I loved the movies overall make-up and costume design of Apocalypse, and I especially felt that the actor ‘Oscar Isaac’ delivered an appropriately restrained, yet menacing performance. I like that he was very soft spoken, and quiet, he didn't yell that often, and it just made him all the more menacing. I also like that he's introduced as this frail, almost pathetic looking figure, yet he still had a dooming presence. Honestly, I felt that Apocalypse had a legit presence every time he was on screen, and I genuinely excited to see one of the X-Men’s most classic foes finally brought to life in a movie. He has this menacing glare whenever he looks into the camera, and I got chills like he was staring into my soul. Some of the things Apocalypse dose in the film were also very intimidating, especially this one scene in which he unleashes every nuclear bomb on the planet. I’ve always been scared of nuclear war fair, so this scene coupled with a speech from the villain came off as genuinely intimidating.

     Now weather Apocalypse comes off as a clichéd villain or not, Magneto played masterfully again by Michael Fassbender is anything but cliched, and he helps balance things out as the more complex, tragic villain. I honestly felt that Magneto’s story arch was more compelling in this film then any of the previous X-Men movies. In the beginning of the film, we see Magneto’s sudden instincts to do good, and make good with his life, right down to using his powers to save a human. Tragically, life just can’t deal him a winning hand, as this one act of kindness leads into the death of his family at the hands of frightened police officers. Even though the scenes with Magneto's family in the opening were brief and admittedly predictable, their demise still left a big impact, mostly thanks to a solid direction and powerful performance from Fassbender. When Magneto joins Apocalypse, we see a different side to him that we've never explored from his villain persona, and it made his reformation at the end all the more satisfying. This movie introduces more colorful villains in the form of Apocalypse's four horsemen. The character Psylocke has always been a favorite of mine, so it was a treat to see her to make a real appearance in an X-Men movie. She looked amazing, it was great to see her signature pink sword powers, and kudos to actress Olivia Munn for doing all her own stunts. The characters Storm and Angle are commonly seen as X-Men, so it was cool to see them in the roles of villains for this film. Although I would have liked maybe a pinch more from Storm, and her reformation at the end could have been handled a little better.   

       One great highlight is the return of classic X-Men characters like Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler, now played by a new young cast. These are characters I’ve been waiting to see in the “X-Men First Class” series for some time now, and their presence just made the movie feel fresh,  new and not just another sequel relying on the same cast again. I really loved this new cast, especially Kodi Smitt-McPhee who was extremely charismatic and hilarious in the role of  young Nightcrawler. Of course we need to spin that rolodex of “Game of Thrones” actors to see who makes an appearance next, and this time it’s Sophie Turner who I loved as Sansa Stark from the show. As far as casting is concerned, she is spot on in the role of a young Jean grey, and the character was actually more interesting here then she’d been in the previous films. I like that she’s considered an outcast by the other classmates, who are scared to get close to her. This makes Jeans relation with Cyclops work because he too is scared to get close to anyone due to his powers that he can’t control. This is the first time I ever felt real chemistry between these two, and it was sweet to see the origins of how they both became X-Men.

     One thing I can’t emphasis enough is that the performances are very solid, not just from the new cast, but from the returning cast as well. James McAvoy delivers another compelling performance in his signature role of Professor X, and it’s always great to see Nicholas Hoult as Beast. The greatest returning character by far is Evan Peters as Quicksilver who once again steals the show, and is more prominent in this film then he was in “X-Men: Days of Future Past”. The scene in which he rescues the team from an exploding building is one of the most fun and creative action set pieces I’ve seen in years, even better then what he did in the last film. Seriously, we don’t get fun, creative moments like this enough in action movies. Rose Byrne reprises her role as Professor X’s love interest Moira MacTaggert from “X-Men: First Class”, and it’s nice to see her come back into play. This is also Jennifer Lawrence’s third time in the role of the shape-shifter Mystique, and while Jennifer is clearly done with this series, I like how the characters arch concludes in this film. This is the third movie to feature the X-Man Havok, and he has a subtly effective death scene that resonates with Cyclops, making for another dramatic highlight. There’s also some well placed cameo’s from various other X-Men alumni including Jubille, the Blob and even the Sentinels from “X-Men: Days of Future Past” make an appearance. Speaking of cameo’s, X-Men creator Stan Lee makes another cameo, this time alongside his wife, and it's actually more serious than his more lighthearted cameo’s in other Marvel movies.  

      Personally, my favorite thing about “X-Men Apocalypse” is that it looks and feels more like an X-Men comic book brought to like on screen then any of the previous movies. The costumes for example have never looked this good. Some of the characters like Psylocke and Nightcrawler look just like their TV show counterparts. Magneto’s costume looked amazing, and honestly I’d like to think this film could get an Oscar nod for best costume design. Obviously the special effects are also impressive, but this movie utilized some signature X-Men visuals which "as long time fan" absolutely thrilled me. We see Jean Grey in her fiery Phoenix form, we see Professor X in a mental battle with Apocalypse on an astro-plane, Cyclops eye piece glows red and when Nightcrawler teleports we see him traveling through dimensions. My favorite moment of all is when Magneto separates Apocalypse from the X-Men by combining two large poles together, and making them resemble a large X. These are the kind of visuals, events and set pieces that characterized the X-Men in both the comics and the TV show. It truth, it just made me feel like a kid again seeing this all come to life on the big screen. Obviously, this film is shot on a much larger scale then the majority of the X-Men movies, with lots of destruction, lots of energy, but with just enough humanity and comedy to balance out.   


     Now there’s one little detour in the narrative structure of the movie that will either be a positive or negative for some. Said detour revolves around Wolverines arch human nemeses Colonel Striker, who captures the older leaders of the X-Men, while the younger members go on a mission to rescue them. I’ll admit, this portion of the movie has no real barring on the plot, but personally, it’s another one of my favorite scenes that the film has to offer. First off all, it’s great to see the younger X-Men on a mission to rescue the grownups, and it really played to my nostalgia of the TV show “X-Men: Evolution”, which revolved around young high school mutants that went on small scale adventures. Second, this little detour never overstays it’s welcome, and is just a plain awesome action scene. Third and most obvious, this scene features Hugh Jackman reprising his signature role as Wolverine. It’s kind of like a small remake of the movie “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, except done so much better, with some brutal kills, and Wolverine in his classic Weapon X head gear. An especially amusing touch is that Wolverine kills this one gourd played by the film’s director, Bryan Singer himself. There’s an after credit scene with Wolverines blood taken by some suits after the incident, which is a set up to the next movie titled “Logan”. This sub plot has also been criticized for being tacked on, which I can understand, but I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it either.

    Yet another criticism levied against the film is the action sequences being “overloaded”. Now I’m not a fan of over the top action, and is the main reason I refuse to watch movies like “Transformers” or "Man of Steel", but in regards to this film ... I honestly thought the action worked great. It wasn’t even that over the top when compared to then the action from either of “The Avengers” movies or even the previous “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, and those movies were praised for their action spectacles ... so why not this? Heck, there really aren’t too many fights scenes in the film at all until the climax, and because of that, I was able to enjoy how supercharged and massive this final battle got. After all, this is the X-Men’s epic showdown with Apocalypse and his four hours man ... of course it’s going to be a big spectacle! Sense Apocalypse is the most powerful mutant of all, our hero’s have to team up and combine their powers together in order to stop him, and it’s just plain awesome! This climax takes that impressive final battle from “X-Men 3: The Last Stand” and makes it look like a snow ball fight. There’s a great little moment when Apocalypse takes note of Jean Grey’s destructive Phoenix powers, and when he dies, he gives his satisfying look that the world will be destroyed by something even more powerful than him, which gave me chills. 

      In the end, I found this to be a very ambitions X-Men movie, and it’s honestly one of my favorite’s of the whole franchise. I don’t know what the magic formula is for this specific film, but it just felt the most like “X-Men”. It did things differently from past installments, it looked amazing, it had great energy, the new young cast was an excellent addition, the villain had a dominate presence, the classic music cues are still great, and it just took me back to when I was a kid that grew up loving both the comics and the TV shows. Now every "X-Men" movie has its resonant themes, and this film is no exception, but I’ll admit, the subtext isn’t nearly as strong as the previous themes in “X-Men: Days of Future Past”. and I think that’s why the critics were harder on this film. The predecessor did such a good job raising viewer expectations that it made “X-Men Apocalypse” feel middling by comparison. As always, I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, I was absolutely thrilled with this film. I thought it was a strong conclusion to the “X-Men First Class” trilogy, and a very underappreciated installment in the long running, yet still reverent superhero franchise.  

                                    I give “X-Men: Apocalypse” 4 ½ stars out of 5.     

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