Sunday, 22 May 2016

Review: X-Men - Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse (3D / first-pass)
Cert: 12A / 144 mins / Dir. Bryan Singer / Trailer

My reaction when I finally sat down at home just before three in the morning, was that maybe an eight-hour triple-bill is the enemy of clarity and concentration. Watching two movies I'm familiar with (especially when they're not short) directly before a new installment is perhaps the best way to inadvertently dull the senses a little, so that any nuance and detail blends into the background. I certainly enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse on a superficial level, but I readily admit that my attention was wandering in the last hour. So I quickly typed up some notes and went to sleep on it. Of course the next day, I realised that my less-than-glowing response to the film was far from unusual; in fact, I probably liked it more than many critics.

The problem isn't one of hype versus reality (cf BvS:DoJ), but more that Apocalypse is a very generic superhero/disaster movie in an age which has outgrown that format. Due to the number of characters involved in the story the film takes far too long to get started, giving us catchup/introductions for each of the main players, incorporating a brief setup*1 for a villain so one-dimensional that you'll be looking back on Darth Yashida with a sense of glowing nostalgia (he's essentially Ultron, but without the sardonic humour or, ironically, the self-awareness). There's a lot of pouting and frowning in the second-act, and then the final hour is one massive fight-sequence. This isn't two-and-a-half hours full of detailed character-building, nor is it two-and-a-half hours of too many things happing at once. This is really one thing happening for far too long with too many mutants shoehorned into the screenplay (cf Last Stand). Once again, the Magneto sub-strand feels like it could be its own film; maybe after the next reboot, eh?

Elsewhere, the Four Horsemen motif seems to be less of a biblical/mythical reference-point, and more an excuse to use Metallica on the soundtrack. A brief blast of their 1983 ditty in the background would have been a nice nod, this just feels heavy-handed. The rest of the (scored) soundtrack by John Ottman makes the right noises in the right places, but lacks any real personality, other than the recurring main-theme from earlier movies.

To be fair, the X-Men franchise has always been patchy so none of this should come as any surprise, but First Class, Future Past and Deadpool seemed to be marking an upward trend which would put Fox's mutant-universe on an equal footing with the MCU. Alas, this film is more of a snake than the ladder they'd hoped for...

The business-end:

• Is there a Wilhelm Scream? Maybe; see below.
• Is there a Stan Lee cameo? Yes.
• Is there a mid-credits scene? No.
• Is there a post-credits scene? Yes.

By no means as bad as many reviews would have you believe. I still find it incredible, almost inconceivable, that Days Of Future Past went to such great and pained lengths to wipe the story-palette clean for future-use, then followed that up with a movie so linear and pedestrian that it could basically have taken place at any point in the timeline. Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate Apocalypse the film, but Apocalypse the character just isn't interesting enough to build that film around. And with an antagonist this one-note, what choice do our heroes have other than to fight fire with fire? (oops, another Metallica reference!)

To paraphrase Magneto, "They are the future, Charles, not you…"

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Characteristically, the earlier X-Men movies; cinematically, Man of Steel.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For maximum oomph, sure.
Don't bother with the 3D, though

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Probably, although it's the film's ambition itself is the biggest sticking point for me.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Afraid not.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Pretty sure I heard one buried in the 'Stryker' segment, but can't be sure at this point.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Well, (other than the glaring and rather tactless Return of the Jedi script-reference that every other review has picked up on and which I've avoided dissecting, but still feel I can't not mention…) we've got a pretty sweet saga thing going on! Visual effects gurus John Dykstra and Daniel Brimer from the classic trilogy have brought their talents to Apocalypse, meanwhile Rose 'Dormé' Byrne is here representing the prequels, as well as Oscar 'Dameron' from the sequels.
That doesn't happen every day...

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 It's interesting to note that the resurrection of the ancient being known as Apocalypse is facilitated by a character who had an equally pivotal role the last time they were on-screen. It's less interesting (if anything, baffling) to note that this destructive force is unleashed upon the earth essentially because that character leaves a door open for the first time in 6,000 years…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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