Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Review: "X-Men: Apocalypse"

So here is the other other big Marvel Comics film franchise, though don’t expect any crossover between mutants and Avengers anytime soon.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” is a big, rousing, sprawling and often messy epic, the sixth in the series and the fourth directed by Bryan Singer. (Not including the “Wolverine” spinoffs.) Still, it hits its themes of alienation and xenophobia solidly, brings in an effective new villain to threaten humanity and gives us some entertaining super-vs.-super scraps.

I liked it about as much as I did “Captain America: Civil War,” which plumbed similar subject matter. What’s different here is that with the previous film, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” the entire franchise has been retconned, i.e. reimagined with an entirely different flow of history and events.

Essentially, they hit the “Restart” button on the X-Men. This is their first adventure in a new universe.

Part of this was simple logistics: the actors playing Storm, Jean Grey, Beast, Cyclops, etc. were getting a mite long in the tooth to play characters who are supposed to be stuck in that comic book realm of perpetual late 20s to early 30s. (Let’s face it, watching Kelsey Grammer trying to hump around in a blue suit was getting downright embarrassing.)

So now the cast is led by Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult as Mystique, Professor Xavier and Beast, respectively. We also introduce a bunch of new actors to take over other roles: Tye Sheridan as Cyclops, who has uncontrollable killer beams projecting from his eyes; Kodi Smit-McPhee as transporting shadowman Nightcrawler; and Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, a telekinetic/telepath with untapped power.

The story is set in 1983, 10 years after the last movie. Humanity has begrudgingly come to accept the existence of super-powered folk. Though, as one character notes, “Just because there’s not a war doesn’t mean there’s peace.” Mystique, previously a villain, is actually held up as a role model by many young mutants, such as Storm (Alexandra Shipp), here a fledgling thief in Cairo.

Meanwhile, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has moved on from his vengeful ways, working as a humble steelworker in Poland, and even has a wife and young daughter. But, as always with him, dark urges beckon.

Events are brought to a head with the resurrection of Apocalypse, though he does not call himself that, an ancient being who regards himself as the father of mutants. Over the centuries he has transferred his consciousness into new mutant bodies, acquiring their abilities. Played by Oscar Isaac in impressive purple/black armor and makeup, he’s determined to cleanse the world of weakness and rule those he deems strong enough to live.

The story (screenplay by Simon Kinberg) is all go-go-go. We jump from one threat to the next, one confrontation to another. Along the way there will be many deaths and wholesale destruction, including Xavier’s entire School for Gifted Youngsters.

Quicksilver, who made such an impression in a brief spot in the last movie, gets a bigger role here, again played by Evan Peters. He can move so quickly that to him it seems the rest of the world is moving in slow motion – even bullets and explosions. If you thought his hyperactive exploits were impressive last time, wait till you see how he lends a hand now.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” is a big, big movie -- 2½ hours long, dozens of characters. I haven’t even mentioned who makes up the Four Horsemen. If you’re like me, you may lose track of the names and faces. Plus there are brief cameos, including a certain bestial fellow with a harsh point to make. From a pure entertainment perspective, it gets the job done.

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