Wednesday, 25 May 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

Slap bang in the middle of X-Men Apocalypse I came to a perplexing realisation: the film's titular villain, Apocalypse, isn't too dissimilar to Simon Cowell. Now let me give you some context. Apocalypse travels the world looking for mutants that he can mould into his followers, and once he finds the right people he kind of spruces them up a bit, complete with awesome weaponry, kick-ass costumes and, most bizarrely, new hairstyles. Throughout Apocalypse, all I kept thinking of was the fact that this is pretty similar to what happens to X Factor contestants when they reach the live finals. When you come to this realisation in the middle of the film it becomes difficult to take anything you're watching seriously. Yet, even before this idea popped into my head, and even if I look at the film away from this strange simile, X-Men: Apocalypse is really not a good film. In fact I'd go as far as saying it is one of the laziest superhero movies I have ever had the misfortune of sitting through.

Let's get through the plot first. In Ancient Egypt the world's first mutant, Apocalypse or En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), is moving his consciousness to a new body. He is betrayed, however, and winds up trapped within the pyramid until 1983 where he is unintentionally awakened when Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) finds his resting place. Apocalypse escapes and believes that humanity has lost its way in the world, and so decides to gather up four accomplices  - including Magneto (Michael Fassbender) - in order to revert the world to its ways before it all went wrong. But he's not particularly nice about it, so the X-Men - Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult)...etc - decide to team up and stop him. And, to be frank, it's all about as rote, dull and predictable as it sounds. There's not one surprise lying in wait, not one fresh or exciting narrative thread buried inside, and not one spark of the film trying to be anything more than a CGI-ridden mess.

The absolute worst thing about Apocalypse, though, is how lazy it is in every last respect. The film seemingly can't be bothered to target an even remotely engaging story. The film can't be bothered to create its own character motivations or thematic ideas: any time director Bryan Singer wants us to feel emotional, he has to resort to a flashback to a prior instalment in the hopes that we'll feel anything. The film also doesn't seem concerned with even the most basic film-making skills: there are moments in which the lighting changes from dusk to dawn between consecutive shots, there's a sequence in a cave in which one shot is lit with an orangey hue yet the rest of the sequence is a kind of dim grey. Even the CGI appears to have been slapped on last minute and not appropriately rendered. There's absolutely no sign of the film existing for organic and meaningful reasons. Granted, not every superhero film needs deep seated values or powerful thematic content, but Apocalypse exists for monetary reasons rather than to tell a new story, and the film doesn't make any attempts to hide it. It's about as cheap and lazy as blockbuster film-making can be.

This total lack of any thematic framework or character motivation is an enormous burden on the film, though. Singer puts a ridiculous amount at stake in the film's bombastic final act, yet without these thoughtful characters to root for it's difficult to care whether or not Apocalypse does destroy the world. There's that, too: Apocalypse himself just does not work as a villain. His origin story is rote and formulaic, his ideas are cliched and thinly sketched, his appearance is frankly pathetic, he's terribly written, and despite his grand plan to destroy the world he poses about as much threat as a ladybird. The film's script - penned by Simon Kinberg and the first of this rebooted franchise not involving Matthew Vaughn - is ridden with cliches to the extent that in the final act I successfully predicted the second half to more than a handful of lines. There's even a little hint of meta humour as one character jokes that "the third film is always the worst", but the moment is so misplaced and poorly executed that it remains unclear whether they're laughing at X-Men: The Last Stand or slyly acknowledging their own mess of a film. Following on from the mind-blowingly brilliant Days of Future Past, a film that really foregrounded compelling character arcs and featured a stunningly complex script, this feels woefully disappointing.

Pretty much all the film has going for it is its cast. There are far too many characters here, resulting in a deeply uneven film that leaps from tone to tone with no regard of how it's transitioning, but the film boasts a handful of excellent actors, most of whom give performances that transcend their sloppy writing. Fassbender is given some of the most cringe-inducing lines in the film, but he still convinces as a damaged soul trying to find his way. Charles Xavier bounces from a devastated trainwreck of a man to a fumbling idiot, but McAvoy somehow keeps the character likeable. Likewise, Jennifer Lawrence is such a compelling performer that she transcends Mystique's endless moping, Rose Byrne is fun and laid back enough to move past her bland CIA agent, and Evan Peters is just as giddily enjoyable as Quicksilver that he works as a rare dose of energy for the film. His time-stopping sequence isn't as sensational this time around as it was in Days of Future Past, it's jarringly funny inside an extremely dark sequence, but compared to everything else it's a minor miracle, and easily the film's best moment. It's fun, inspired and enjoyable: in other words, it's everything that Apocalypse should be, and everything that Apocalypse isn't. Still, it's better than Batman v Superman.

To Summarise: Uninspired, sloppy and unforgivably lazy, X-Men: Apocalypse represents a majorly disappointing roadblock in a once blossoming franchise.

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