X - Men: Apocalypse
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan
A decade after the events in Washington in the 70's, the world is accustomed to the presence of mutants, but not totally accepting. Scott Summers, a young teen, suddenly develops a devastating power to shoot lasers from his eyes, he is taken to the Charles Xavier School for Gifted Children, where he meets other mutant kids such as him.
Meanwhile, Eric Lehnsherr, aka Magneto, has been trying to live a quiet life in a small Balkan state, but an accident leads to tragedy and he finds himself lost in vengeance. When a powerful mutant awakens after a centuries-long slumber he recruits Magneto and three other powerful mutants - Psyloche, Archangel and Storm - to be his disciples and help him bring about an Apocalypse. Now Xavier's students must band together and become the X-men in order to try and stop them.....
The X-Men film series has had a bit of a bumpy ride since Bryan Singer first brought Wolverine, Professor X et al to the big screen. The first two films are held in high regard (especially #2), the double-team effort of Brett Ratner's Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine almost buried the series altogether. A wise prequel helped stabilise things, as did Wolverine's second solo outing and Days of Future Past, which also managed to fix a lot of what was wrong with Last Stand. And now we have Apocalypse, which sits fairly in the middle. It's nowhere as good as the best of the series, but its no Last Stand, either.
The story comes across as very episodic at times, as if it really were put together like a few issues of a comic book. We have a prologue set in Egypt, Magneto's doomed family, Scott Sommers developing his lethal lazer vision with the onset of puberty, Mystique acting as a Liberator of oppressed mutants and that's just the beginning. Even when the story starts to gel together, there is a sudden detour involving a couple of well-known characters. There's some nice circling back to the first X-Men film here, and no ones saying the diversion wasn't enjoyable - it just felt like it belonged in some other film.
For me, superhero films work best on a small(ish) scale. As soon as you start involving epic, world changing events, you're looking at a screen made entirely from computer graphics and to me they just look a mess. Magneto creates a pyramid out of the ruins of Auschwitz or cities being pulled apart and ripped into the sky. These are no longer as awe-inspiring or daunting as they once may have been. Its been a long time since the film Deep Impact had that money-shot of New York being engulfed in tidal waves. Too much time is spent on these sprawling disaster shots. Having said that, the personal fights that occur between good guys and bad guys work really well and some actually feel like they might have real stakes (little known characters may be expendable). Even Professor X and Apocalypse's psychic showdown works.
As for the cast, I thought they did pretty well overall. I find James McAvoy's take on Charles Xavier a little too much to take at times, he comes across a bit like David Tennant's Dr Who. If he's not being overly intense then he's being overly smug, although watching him verbally fumble around Rose Byrne's returning CIA agent Moira Mactaggert was pretty funny. Sophie Turner has picked up a lot of flack for her interpretation of Jean Grey but I say give her another shot at the role. She did have rather big shoes to fill, after all, having to replace Famke Janssen. Kodi Smit-McPhee was very good as Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner, and I thought the film did a good job of explaining the character's powers and showing their advantage in a fight. A genuine surprise for me, was seeing Nicholas Hoult playing Hank McCoy, aka Beast. He's proving to be a very versatile actor and one to keep an eye on.
Things aren't so great on the bad guys' side of the fence however. Fassbender remains strong as Magneto, although the backstory needed to bring him into action was really contrived. Oscar Isaac gets to do very little as Apocalypse while his disciples get even less (Olivia Munn as Psylocke seems to get the shortest straw with hardly any dialogue scenes at all).
One of the series' plusses is its portrayal of both male and female superheroes, something that both Marvel and DC have been rather reticent to explore on the big screen. If Jean Grey seems a bit wet to most, then Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique is someone to look up to - just as many of the students/other mutants do, in the film.
X-Men Apocalypse has two main problems: an over abundance of characters and an over-reliance on CGI disaster scenes. It is, for the most part, an entertaining film. However, if there are to be more of these then please, scale back on the scope of the story, make it somehow more personable to the characters involved.
6 out of 10 (MikeOutWest)