The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


X-Men: Apocalypse

The mutant superhero franchise hits a low point with X-Men: Apocalypse. On the surface, everything about this movie looks bigger and better, especially the inclusion of Apocalypse as the villain. He's one of their most popular antagonists in the comics, and his immense power makes him a genuine threat. Combined with the fact that the two previous installments, First Class and Days of Future Past, were so good, there was every reason to think that Apocalypse would deliver something special. Instead, it falters badly, failing to maximize its many promising elements.

The movie begins with a prologue set in ancient Egypt as the “first mutant,” Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), is entombed alive. During the 1980s, he is dug up and let loose. He quickly assembles a team of mutants to work alongside him. They are Angel (Ben Hardy), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Psylocke (Olivia Munn). The all-powerful mutant then begins a reign of terror designed to end the world as we know it. The X-Men, who have scattered across the globe since the end of Days of Future Past, reunite to take on this new threat once Apocalypse and crew capture Professor X (James McAvoy). Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) leads the mission, while Magneto (Michael Fassbender) straddles the line, having just endured a personal tragedy that changes his outlook on mutants in general. Also in the fight are some new young recruits to the team: the telepathic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), the transporting Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), who struggles to control his laser vision. Returning from the previous movie is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who lends a hand in a valuable way.

X-Men: Apocalypse makes a fatal error in its storytelling. The movie tries to be a continuation of the previous two chapters, while also serving as an origin story for several characters – Storm, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Jean Grey – who appeared in the first wave of X-Men pictures (the original, X2: X-Men United, and The Last Stand). This leads to a muddled story that feels like it's going forward and backward simultaneously. Apocalypse has a sluggish first hour as it tries to shoehorn all these mutants in. Once everyone is finally in place, the film has to tell the tale of this particular battle while also trying to achieve continuity that will tie it in with the original X-Men pictures. Doing such conflicting things prevents Apocalypse from ever being as exciting as it wants to be. In many ways, the movie feels like it's just doing a lot of “business,” particularly when it grinds to a halt in order to toss in a fan-pandering bit of foreshadowing or make room for a pointless, obligatory cameo from you-know-who. And I don't mean Stan Lee, although he's here, too.

Furthermore, director Bryan Singer doesn't seem to know what kind of superhero movie he's making. At times, Apocalypse feels very high-tech and modern; other times, it feels old and cheap, bordering on campy. It's almost as though he couldn't decide whether to make a superhero epic or a tongue-in-cheek spoof of one. That extends to some of the characters. Apocalypse doesn't look remotely real or threatening. He looks like what he is: an actor in not-very-convincing make-up. Shots in which Psylocke and Angel posture cinematically are also weak, threatening to take you out of the story, if you're not out already. The awkward insertion of goofy humor doesn't help, either.

All this is a shame, because there are still some good elements here. Lawrence, Fassbender, and McAvoy give very strong performances, as they did in the previous two entries. Although other actors originally played their roles, each of them has successfully made the characters their own. Sophie Turner, meanwhile, is a terrific addition as Jean Grey. She's reminiscent of Jennifer Lawrence, in that both project depth onscreen that lends weight to their scenes, no matter how much digital chaos surrounds them. Once again, though, the real standout is Evan Peters, who charismatically plays Quicksilver. He gets the film's very best scene, a sequence in which Quicksilver slows down time so that he can rescue dozens of mutants from an exploding building. X-Men: Apocalypse needed more moments like this.

The big hazard of any X-Men movie is that there are dozens of mutants to choose from, and including too many of them can lead to a lack of focus. To a large degree, that's what happens here. X-Men: Apocalypse takes on so many things all at once, never realizing that some of them work against others, or that combining them leads to an inconsistent tone. Going forward, the franchise would be wise to pare down a little bit. It's been fun so far, but Apocalypse is sloppy and unsatisfying.

( out of four)

X-Men: Apocalypse is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images. The running time is 2 hours and 24 minutes.

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