Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Please Let "X-men: Apocalypse," Be the End

The "X-men" films have had a very impressive run, and even managed to reinvent themselves out of a bad rut more than once. However, as far as the main series of "X-men" films is concerned, I think we're really due for a break from them. Bryan Singer returns to direct his fourth film in the franchise, which is a direct sequel to the alternate history "First Class" and "Days of Future Past," and happily rewrites many events that happened in the original trilogy of X-films.

Now we're in the year 1983, and the idea that twenty years has passed in the "X-men" chronology since "First Class" while the actors have only aged about five years is completely ludicrous, but that's the corner that the writers have backed themselves into. Life isn't bad for mutantkind at the moment. Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) are running their school for mutants students, including teenage Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan). Even Magneto (Michael Fassbender) seems to have moved on, living a quiet new life in Poland. However, the X-men's old CIA friend Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byre) is back, investigating reports of a newly reawakened ancient mutant named En Sabah Nur, or Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) in Egypt. He's trouble, to put it mildly. This means that everyone gets roped into another big adventure. The good guys reteam with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and we're (re)introduced to young mutants Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp).

I'm really starting to resent all the recent superhero movies clocking in at around 150 minutes. And like "Captain America: Civil War," the latest "X-men" is stuffed to the gills with characters, plots, and subplots. Among the good guys, we get four different POV characters, which was probably two too many. This isn't new for the series, but Bryan Singer doesn't manage the juggling act so well this time. Pains are taken to make sure that all the major characters get their due, but the material for this outing simply isn't very compelling. Apocalypse's modus operandi is behaving like a god, wreaking havoc on humanity with his matter-manipulating powers whenever he feels they're getting out of hand. To this end, he recruits four "Horsemen," powerful mutants who he gives enhanced powers to. We see each of these recruitments in detail, and though everyone involved is trying mightily, spending so much time with Apocalypse doesn't help make him a more interesting character. He's just another pontificating cartoon character, spouting exposition and completely failing to display anything resembling a personality. Oscar Isaac is apparently playing him, but he's invisible under all the makeup and latex for the duration.

This is a far cry from the previous films in this timeline, which were so good about mining recent history for parallels to the mutant experience, and really using the different eras to their fullest. "Apocalypse" almost totally drops the social commentary and historical fiction in favor of telling a very simple, basic story about everybody we liked from the previous films getting together to beat a big bad. While there are some amusing '80s references, the Cold War only really features for about a scene and a half. Instead, most of the heroes' journeys come down to minor personal issues being hammered out. Professor X wants to reconnect to Moira. Mystique considers being a good guy. Quicksilver has family drama. The exception is the introduction new batch of X-youngsters. Scott and Jean probably have the most full and successful arcs as they grapple with their powers and come into their own, though Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner deliver some of the shakier performances.

More interesting is the material with Magneto, who suffers more tragedy and more horror to provide a reason for him to turn against his friends again. It feels awfully repetitive by now, watching Michael Fassbender giving a performance that outclasses everything else in the movie, and the movie completely failing to live up to him. Magneto's actions ultimately make no sense, but we're obliged to follow along anyway, to get us to the inevitable final showdown. And speaking of that showdown, the massive scale destruction looks great and provides some fantastic moments of popcorn fun. On the other hand, it also feels a little out of date, after two other superhero movies this year had plots that specifically repudiated this kind of ending. And as previously stated it takes over two bloody hours to get there.

At the end of the movie, I just felt relieved it was over. "Apocalypse" is an underwhelming film, but I enjoyed quite a bit of it - especially some of the big, fancy set pieces. But more than ever, it feels like the "X-men" franchise is treading water, and the creators are struggling to find reasons to keep going on. After "Apocalypse," we've more or less caught up to the original timeline, which makes this a logical place to stop. I certainly want to see more of this universe and I'd love to see some of the characters spin off for their own adventures, but this is the last I want to see of the X-films for a while.

If they do insist on a '90s Dark Phoenix redo, actually wait ten years this time, okay?


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