Friday, 20 May 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

(M) ★★★½

Director: Bryan Singer.

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

"Just because you're a mutant, it doesn't mean you're too good for a seatbelt."
WHILE walking out of a cinema screening of Return Of The Jedi, a character in X-Men: Apocalypse quips that the third part of a trilogy is always the worst.

It’s a particularly meta and self-insulating moment in the third film of the second X-Men trilogy, which is indeed the worst of this trilogy, but in this case ‘worst’ doesn’t mean ‘terrible’.

Bloated, yes, over-the-top, yes, but not bad. X-Men: The Last Stand – the third film of the original trilogy – was bad, but Apocalypse, while not reaching the lofty heights of its predecessors First Class and Days Of Future Past, is still pretty good.

Apocalypse is largely set in the 1980s, 10 years after the events of Days Of Future Past. Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy) is running his school for gifted children (aka super-powered mutants), occasional villain Magneto (Fassbender) is in hiding, and Mystique (Lawrence) is behind the Iron Curtain rescuing fellow mutants from some kind of mutant fight club.

But a new power is rising. A long dormant mutant named En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse (Isaac) has awoken and is gathering powerful followers to his side as part of his quest to wipe the world clean and start again. Naturally it’s up to the X-Men to stop him.

Unlike many of the previous X-Men films, which have thrived on the mutants-as-hated/feared-minority analogy, Apocalypse ditches any kind of theme that might get in the way of its computer-generated world-wrecking. This is X-Men Gone Global – for the first time in the series, the threat is against all of humanity and director Singer has the FX budget to do it.

Those looking for the more cerebral edge amid the mutant throwdowns will be disappointed, as any cerebral edges have been buffered off, but at least Singer still knows how to handle his mutant throwdowns. A cameoing old favourite is a highlight, Quicksilver (Peters) once again gets a great scene to hang his goggles on, Nightcrawler’s powers are cool, and an angry Magneto is always a watchable Magneto.

In terms of spectacle and fun, Apocalypse delivers. It also juggles a lot of characters and a handful of intersecting stories reasonably well, but as is always the case with such an ensemble, some players get little to do beyond wield their powers in a timely fashion.

It is a shame there isn’t more depth here as it may have masked some of the sillier moments. Fassbender almost pulls off some terribly overwrought lines because he’s so damned good, and so does McAvoy. But you get the feeling everyone is sniggering off-camera about how damned ridiculous Apocalypse looks, which makes it hard to take the Big Bad too seriously.

It seems petulant to poke fun at the over-the-top nature of a film where a main character is an immortal mutant trying to destroy the world. First Class and Days Of Future Past were brilliant at remaining grounded in the face of absurdity (which is also an excellent trait of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first two Nolan Batman movies) but Apocalypse struggles to contain itself. The opening sequence in ancient Egypt is overstuffed with digital bells and whistles, as is the chaotic final battlefield. It makes you long for a time when Singer didn’t have nearly a quarter of a billion dollars at his disposal.

The most impressive thing about the X-Men series is the way it has reinvented itself. Via Days Of Future Past, the film has managed to double-back on its own timeline to give itself a renewed vigour and cast. Apocalypse allows us to meet a new Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Jean Grey, Angel, and Storm in a way that is not jarring. It also mean the producers can have a crack at plotlines they fumbled first time around, such as the Dark Phoenix saga, which is hinted at here, setting up for a new trilogy filled with its fresh new faces.

However, it’s going to be hard for a new trilogy to top Singer’s past three X-films. Apocalypse isn’t the perfect note to end on, but its an enjoyable enough conclusion to the trilogy.

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