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New Release Review - X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

A centuries old mutant is resurrected and plots the destruction of the planet.




Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Olivia Munn, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee. Alexandra Shipp



With a bunch of characters that could easily carry their own solo movies, it's a shame that X-Men: Apocalypse teases their potential early on, only to gradually turn them into indistinguishable figures duking it out in the ruins of yet another destroyed city.



There's a scene in Bryan Singer's latest foray into the world of mutants in which a bunch of characters emerge from a 1983 cinema screening of Return of the Jedi. "The third movie is always the worst," one remarks. It's a blatant dig at X-Men: The Last Stand, the much derided 2006 Brett Ratner directed second sequel to Singer's original 2000 movie. The joke's on Singer though, as his latest movie is the third installment of its own trilogy, and it is indeed the worst of the three.


On paper at least, the characters of this franchise are more interesting than those of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A group of outsiders struggling to find a place in a world that doesn't trust them, how could The X-Men not be attractive to a filmmaker who grew up gay and Jewish in middle America? For this reason, unlike most superhero franchises, the X-Men movies have borne something of an authorial stamp, and there's always been the sense that, even when they fail, they are at least 'about something'. Sadly, the well appears to have run dry; X-Men: Apocalypse is about little more than spandex clad heroes and villains punching each other.

The early scenes do manage to hint at the potential of this franchise, as we're treated to a series of vignettes that catch us up with its characters in 1983, 10 years after the events of the previous installment, Days of Future Past. Most interesting of all is Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who, having escaped the Nazis as a child, now finds himself dodging the attentions of the Communist party in Cold War era Poland. In a scene that owes much to that under-rated Hammer vampire flick Twins of Evil, he's confronted by a group of uniformed party members, having earlier let his metal manipulation powers slip in order to prevent the death of a coworker at his steelworks. The scene ends in tragedy and fools us into believing this is a movie with genuine stakes, but it's a high point that's never scaled again in this 145 minute non-epic.


X-Men: Apocalypse refuses to follow the recent superhero movie trend of self-reflection and feels like a relic of the 2000s as a result. We have an omnipotent titular villain (Oscar Isaac, unrecognisable and wasted under a ton of makeup) who indulges in the sort of city destroying mayhem the likes of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War tied themselves in knots attempting to address and avoid. Skyscrapers collapse, not just in a single city, but on a global scale; the human cost surely runs in the millions here, yet none of the 'heroes' seem particularly upset about any of this.

The film is a tonal mess, offering us infanticide and a trip to Auschwitz alongside the comic antics of new fan favourite Quicksilver (Evan Peters), whose big set-piece here is pretty much a repeat of the one we saw in the last movie, but here feels out of place and serves to dramatically reduce the stakes in a manner not seen since Christopher Reeves' Superman spun the world backwards. What should be the movie's most weighty scene is rendered flat by an ill-timed cameo from Stan Lee; presumably that was the only day of shooting he was available for. The fan service continues with a pointless appearance by Hugh Jackman's Wolverine in a scene containing a level of bloodshed never seen in this franchise before.


Singer's film commits so much to its '80s setting that it ends with a climax that wouldn't be out of place in a bad Nightmare on Elm Street sequel. For a bunch of mutants with an array of powers, somehow, as is so often the case with superhero movies, it all comes down to a punch-up in a set-piece that could be swapped with the final reel of BVS or Fantastic Four, given how generic it is. What's odd about this sequence is how Singer's direction and the editing fail to distinguish the heroes from the villains; Olivia Munn's underused Psylocke belongs to the latter camp, but is awarded the film's biggest 'hero shot'.

With a bunch of characters that could easily carry their own solo movies, it's a shame that X-Men: Apocalypse teases their potential early on, only to gradually turn them into indistinguishable figures duking it out in the ruins of yet another destroyed city. The consolation is we now have a superhero free summer until Doctor Strange arrives in November.
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