Xmen Apocalypse – Blue Man Group

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Perhaps I am going soft as I reach the age of 30 but I really enjoyed Xmen Apocalypse and I simply cannot understand the large amounts of scathing reviews it has been getting since it’s release. Well actually, perhaps I can understand it. Whilst it is true we have long passed the point of peak superhero movies and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as well the output of Marvel Studios has upped the game as far as the genre is concerned. I suppose the problem with the Xmen movies is that although they have changed their composite pieces around – updating and reviving their cast and the historical setting to great lengths – but at their core they haven’t really changed all that much in terms of style and structure. They still emulate that real world look and they still tackle themes of social tolerance and prejudice. In this age of social media, there is no middle ground anymore. Films are either these huge multi million dollar 3D Imax experiences or smaller independent movies that get a lot of critical acclaim but are seen by virtually nobody until the day they become available on Netflix. People can’t just like a movie anymore, they have to speak in the language of hyperbole, a movie can only be astounding or be hated as worse as Hitler. There is no middle ground anymore.

Back in 2000, after the likes of Batman & Robin, nobody wanted to make superhero movies and nobody wanted to create stories that literally adapted storylines from the pages of comic books, but that’s all changed now. In some ways Bryan Singer’s original Xmen set the tone, it was set in a believable world, the near future, rather than a colourful comic book world. Gone were the yellow spandex, in were the fetching leather battle suits. This allowed the film to embrace comic book silliness to a degree but more importantly flirt with the real social issues the comics were founded upon and make the stories more interesting than your usual superhero schtick. Indeed, the mutant ‘coming out’ scene from X2 is still one of the best moments in any superhero movie.

 

Xmen Apocalypse is the 6th Xmen movie if you’re going by the core movies. If you want to add Deadpool and the two rubbish Wolverine movies to the mix, then this is the 9th Xman movie to have come out since 2000 and the fourth to be directed by series pioneer Bryan Singer.

The movie kicks off in Ancient Egypt, in a pre-credit sequence that introduces us to the story’s big villain – En Sabur Nur or Apocalypse. A mutant who possesses the ability to create and shape matter around him and inherit the skills of other mutants through a gaudy ritual which requires a giant pyramid through which sunlight must travel. Presumably. When a faction of his enslaved subjects rebel against him, Apocalypse is buried alive in a state of suspended animation underneath his pyramid. Flash forward to the early 80s and the events of Days of Future Past, the world’s stance on mutants or those with special superhuman abilities have calmed. Though Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is still finding traces of anti-mutant bigotry in society’s underworld, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is accepting more and more youngsters to his school of the gifted, including a young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers aka Cyclops (Tye Sheridan). Meanwhile in Poland, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has walked away from his life as mutant terrorist and started leading a quiet life in Poland with his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, after Moira MacTaggart (Rose Byrne) unwittingly awakens Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) underneath Cairo, the big bad takes one look at the world around him and decides the world needs to be reduced to ruin so his mutant brethren can build a better world on top of it. Needless to say, the Xmen must unite and save the world once again, this time from the most powerful threat they have ever faced.

This movie doesn’t mince words. It is literally the Apocalypse. There are scenes of great destruction, but these visual scenes quickly give way to the focal conflict between the characters, which was something I admired despite the slight roughness of all the CG effects. Singer’s take on the Apocalypse is relatively tame next to the scenes of destruction that colour Zack Snyder’s superman movies.

Being the apocalypse, this allows the plot to be relatively straight forward when compared to other Xmen movies whilst amplifying the threat at stake. There are still a lot of characters entering the fray, the most in any Xmen movie ever. In regards to the returning characters, it still feels as if Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique would rather be somewhere else. There is a point in which she must don the Katniss Everdeen battle suit, where she doesn’t actually roll her eyes, but you can just tell. Luckily James McAvoy as Professor X has the main arc of the story, continuing to be charming and believably empathetic to his Xmen. A scene in which he gauges the abilities of a young Cyclops is a standout (“That’s my favourite tree”). Michael Fassbender is once again formidable as Magneto even if he is underused towards the end of the movie. His accent still feels more Irish than it does Polish, indeed, I think it went during the climax of First Class. Magneto gets a couple of standout scenes in the first act.  The loss of his wife and daughter you can see coming a mile off, but it is still really well executed and just goes to show what you can do with a relatively simple plotline and a good actor.

Nicholas Hoult returns as Hank McCoy or Beast, who also feels underused, he doesn’t have much to do accept be attractive as Nicholas Hoult before he dons the blue prosthetic makeup. The big character to get his return is Quicksilver after his show stopping scene from the last movie. Suffice it to say, the film makers find a way to go bigger on that scene that once again basically make the character one of the most powerful superheroes out there.

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WHO ATE ALL THE SUGARPUFFS

We also have a new younger cast of superheroes, some of which are characters that are being reintroduced. Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner plays a young Jean Grey, the telepath with a dark mysterious force slumbering inside her. Her American accent wanes a little bit here and there, but in a nice subversion of earlier movies, Xavier isn’t trying to control Jean in order to suppress the darkness inside of her. Instead, he prompts her to let it all out and when it does come out, it’s glorious. Tye Sheridan almost too easily walks into the X-mansion as Cyclops and assumes command of the Xmen and Kobi Schmidt as Nightcrawler retains the lovable nervous quality of Alan Cumming’s character in X2 and rocks a great red leather Michael Jackson thriller jacket.

Then you have Apocalypse himself and his four horsemen.

Apocalypse is a self proclaimed God and from some angles it looks as if the film is going to be a mediation on the relationship between God or some form of divine power on this cast of evolved humans. How to the superhumans interact with the divine? Isn’t evolution the great explanation of life on this planet that disproves Genesis and the existence of an almighty creator? Are the Xmen as progressive beings inherently atheist or does their outlying situation in society cause them to actual seek a higher power in the form God. How do we in turn view the Xmen themselves? Do we look up to them? Do we fear them? Do we worship them? It’s an enticing subject and asks some complexing questions that are at the heart of the Xmen mythos and the cyclical nature of man’s inhumanity to man throughout the ages. A perfect setup for an Xmen movie, or at least this is what I thought during the film’s first half.

Apocalypse is the bad guy and is a false prophet, a being of enormous power who’s mistake in life has been believing his gifts make him some sort of God. As is the nature of false prophets, he appeals immediately to the vulnerable. Storm is a poor street urchin wandering the streets of Cairo in search for food before Apocalypse recruits her and gives her a sick white mohawk. Magneto is at his lowest state of being having witnessed the death of his wife and daughter once again to the churlishness of mankind. Archangel is a drunk after having one of his wings damaged in an enforced cage fight. They all represent the classic elements of those who are susceptible to religion. Less obviously explained is Psylocke (Olivia Munn) who doesn’t have much a reason to side with Apocalypse, when she is recruited her new found leader ditches her more tasteful garb for a purple leotard and a pair of thigh high boots. Which feels a little bit insane. The Xmen movies have usually steered clear of the look of the comic books, but Psylocke is the exception.

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Her eyes are up there!

Perhaps this is to be expected. What is God but the fuckin’ patriarchy made almighty. Despite your ability of summoning awesome purple lasers, your God still thinks you would be improved by wearing more revealing clothes. What need does God have for a spaceship? What need does God have for you to be wearing a purple leotard? This movie already has too many strong female characters, so what need does Psylocke have for a proper character arc?

A lot of the criticism surrounding the movie has been around Apocalypse himself, a powerful being played by Oscar Isaac underneath reams of blue prosthetic makeup that make him look like Ivan Ooze from the Power Rangers movie. Oscar Isaac has already proven himself to be the quite the actor, see him convincingly play a computer genius in Ex Machina or even emanating instant cool of Poe Dameron in the Force Awakens. You can still just about make out Isaac’s Pacino esque eyes as they turn white, but when shit gets real, the film makers use the same strategy of amplifying his voice as with Cate Blanchett in that scene from Lord of the Rings.

Maybe I’m too enamoured with Oscar Isaac, but I really liked Apocalypse. He is something the Xmen movies have never really had, a camp arch villain whose motives are only to destroy the world. Magneto is and has been a more interesting villain, Malcolm X to Xavier’s Martin Luther King, but they have done that storyline to death by this point. Apocalypse gets several stand out moments. In one scene he disarms the world from it’s nuclear weapons, it made me root for the guy.

“All right Apocalypse! Enforced nuclear disarmament! Take that Trident!”

Then you have the scene that returns Magneto to Auschwitz where Singer’s Xmen series began all those years ago back in 2000.  Apocalypse amplifies Magneto’s power, and grants him the ability to tear what is the biggest monument to humanity’s failures. Despite all it’s wanton CG destruction, there is an element of catharsis in seeing Magneto tear the camp down brick by brick. Even if it is Michael Fassbender doing a power pose next to a wind machine. Apocalypse’s motives are simple, the world has been fucked in his absences, he’s here to bring the old testament wrath of God punishment upon us all.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s exactly what we need.

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Stop. Hammer time.

I went into Xmen Apocalypse with low expectations after witnessing the online fallout surrounding it. I was expecting another Batman Vs Superman styled superhero slog. What I got was a movie that was another solid Xmen movie. This is nowhere near as bad as X3: The Last Stand or the two Wolverine movies, which are unquestionably bad movies. People have been decrying the tonal shifts, like how one big dramatic moment when the X mansion blows up (again) and is suddenly interrupted by a scene of humour, as Quicksilver arrives on scene to rescue everyone before they even realise there is a problem to begin with. To which I would respond, this is bloody comic book movie about mutants with special powers. If these super beings have the power to interrupt the status quo of what was expected in linear storytelling, then of course they are should intervene, surely this is the joy of these kind of movies – putting the X to the men as it were.

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It’s hard to look this cool.

Civil War was flashier and Deadpool was funnier whilst also poking fun at the entrenched Xmen schtick. I’ve grown up with the Xmen movies, so perhaps I am slightly too fond with the series. Xmen Apocalypse may not reach the heights as X2 or First Class, but it is still a solid instalment to the series just as Days of Future Past was. There are many characters within, though some get underused there is plenty of heart and dynamic interplayed between each of them. In all its CG excesses it doesn’t forget to make the conflict about the characters which so many other movies of this calibre forget.

In the end, I had fun with this movie and I’m quite excited in seeing what happens next with the newly formed young Xmen team.  

Recommended Viewing: Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now [1979]

This one is kind of obvious.

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Big bald fella in face paint?

Melancholia [2011]

Want to see the world actually get destroyed? Lars Von Trier has got you covered in his powerful mediation on depression, in which a naked Kirsten Dunst summons a planet to smash into earth, all soundtracked to Wagner. HEY LOOK A LINK TO APOCALYPSE NOW! Everything fits. Just as I intended…

Power Rangers The Movie [1995]

This movie is literally the apocalypse. Kids were so stupid back in the 90s for liking this crap. But the absolute worst are the adult men who thought this ‘adult’ take on the power rangers  was a good idea.

ivan-ooze-apocalypse
Same guy.

 

 

 

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