by Kevin Muller
You have to hand it to the “X-men” franchise. Not only is it still going strong, 16 years after the first film, but it was the jumping point for many of the comic book blockbusters we all admire today. Christopher Nolan, who directed ‘The Dark Knight Trilogy”, has stated that he was influenced by the way Bryan Singer, this film’s director, and the director of the 2000 original film, grounded everything from the look to the themes into reality. Singer followed it up with the equally worthy “X2” before departing and giving the reigns to Brett Ratner. The general consensus of Ratner’s film was that it was garbage so when Singer was announced to come back and helm 2014’s “X-men: Days of Future Past,” fans rejoiced. That film was a triumph both with fans and financially. The amazing thing that Singer achieved was erasing everything that happened in Ratner’s film and his own, to create a new time line through the element of time travel. This now gives him the ability to recast the roles that were made famous by other actors without anyone batting an eye.
The very familiar crutch that these films lean on is prejudice and alienation. It has been said that James McAvoy’s diplomatic Charles Xavier is Martin Luther King JR. He sees that mutants and humans can coexist peacefully. It won’t be an easy task but the dream of it happening can be achieved. In contrast, Michael Fassbender’s Magneto is similar to Malcolm X, where he believes humans will never truly accept mutants and his kind’s needs should be achieved by any means possible. His twisted view comes from the fact that he watched his family be killed during the Holocaust, so he has seen how low humanity can go. We have seen this event in almost all the films, but Fassbender still sells it even though it is starting to feel stale.
Set ten years after ‘Days of Future Past”, we find all our heroes in hiding trying to live a normal life. Charles has fully opened his school that is disguised as a place for gifted children, Magneto works in Poland at a steel factory to support his wife and children, and Mystique is a mercenary. Though she is seen as a heroine, Mystique wants no part of her real self, which causes her to be in a human form for most of the movie. We all know Jennifer Lawrence is capable of giving depth and humanity to any character. It doesn’t hurt that she has an Oscar for her brilliant performance in “Silver Linings Playbook,” but here it seems that she is distant from one of the franchises that made her a household name. The mysterious femme fatale quality that she gave Mystique isn’t present here. A talented actress could make the arc of not embracing who she is a joy to watch and she has it in her. She seems bored and ready to walk away from this thing instead of taking advantage of this compelling character’s present journey.
Her sense of apathy isn’t shared by Oscar Issac who portrays Apocalypse. Once looked upon as a God in Ancient Eygpt his reign ended when the rest of the civilization rebelled and buried him underground until 1983, where this movie takes place. Apocalypse’s want for world domination and cleansing aren’t anything new, but Issac is such a gifted actor that he, like Fassbender, make it seem new and exciting. In the comics, he is large figure with a strong dominating physical power. Singer had the choice of choosing a tall and dominating looking actor or one who could inhabit these qualities through performance. The 5’9 Issac, who was lifted a few inches in platforms, gives more than enough to correctly give the villain the dominance he needs. This is a mutant who can be so quietly charismatic then switch to dangerously violent. For both Singer’s sake and the movies, Issac nails both.
Singer and 20th Century Fox, who own this property, have avoided one thing that Marvel is starting to overuse and that is the constant catering to the element of family friendly entertainment. This movie isn’t all dark, there is some humor in it, but it doesn’t feel suffocating. Singer has kept the same darkness and grittiness that was established in the original movie 16 years ago. Magneto even utters an extreme vulgarity that seems to be a staple of this new trilogy. Though the freshness and epic scope of the movie isn’t as strong as the last one, it does preserve its own identity.
The storyline does have pacing issues that aren’t helped by some of the new actors. As stated, there are many new players filling roles of actors of the past. The biggest name is Sophie Turner who takes the role of Jean Grey. She doesn’t do a terrible job. As with Magneto, she falls into the alienation category but isn’t anywhere near as jaded as he becomes. Turner, who plays Sansa Stark on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” gives her enough personality for us to follow her in future sequels. James Marsden’s role of Cyclops is now Tye Sheriden’s to experiment around with for this movie and future ones. Sheriden isn’t as interesting as Marsden was but his character is young and growing, while Marsden’s Cyclops was already established and one of Xavier’s main men. Much of the comic relief comes from Nightcrawler, who was brilliantly played by Alan Cumming 13 years ago, but now is Kodi-Mcphee Smith. McPhee-Smith keeps the charm and humor of the character.
Unfortunately, the four horsemen of Apocalypse do get underplayed. First off, their presence really never seems necessary and when they do get their time to shine, it really isn’t memorable. Olivia Munn’s Pyslocke could’ve been a complete bad ass but she is given really nothing to do besides look good in the outfit and occasionally fight. You feel that the role could’ve been bigger and a lot better. The one character, outside of the horsemen, who gets his time to shine is Quicksilver. In the last movie he had the show stopping sequence of him saving the day through the use of his speed. Singer has done it again and provided us with a similar sequence that is a little too familiar but still damn impressive.
“X-men: Apocalypse” isn’t the train wreck you may have heard but is definitely is a step down from the last one. What saves the movie is that it clings on to its identity in a genre that is starting to lose it. This thing has some great actors giving us depth that is a joy to see. Though it does have some pacing issues it is a worthy addition to the franchise.