Monday, 14 November 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and Oscar Isaac

Director: Bryan Singer

144 minutes (12) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
20th Century Fox blu-ray region B

Rating: 8/10
Review by Christopher Geary

A fantastic tale of gods and men, and a few monsters too, this begins with the betrayal of a despotic ruler in ancient Egypt. Millennia later, director Bryan Singer stages a revival of the mightiest in another Cairo sequence, combining quirky tributes to Indiana Jones, and Kubrick’s 2001, when a long-buried golden pyramid is reactivated by sunlight. Following on from the franchise prequels Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class (2011), and Singer’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014), X-Men Apocalypse is yet another super-team flick, of more than two hours, but I’m rather sad to report that this new adventure for mutant-kind does not really get going until halfway through.

With its returning cast intact and several new characters introduced, the first section has an unfortunate tendency to wallow in soap operatic tragedy, and teenage fantasy sitcom, as reclusive Erik, alias Magneto (Michael Fassbender), has his secret identity exposed by an inadvertent yet wholly instinctive act of heroism; while nervous student Scott, soon to be aliased Cyclops, finds his eye-beams make an amusing mutant metaphor for puberty. Meanwhile, that Egyptian super-villain, nameless but easily identifiable as Mr Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), recruits powerful allies including weather-controlling punk-goddess Storm, a heavy metal Angel, and warrior woman Psylocke (Olivia Munn) wearing just the sort of costume that, for once, does justice to the over-sexualised artwork of superhero comics.

Of course, Wolverine makes a quick guest appearance. How else could any X-Men movie get away with all of that ultra-violent mayhem and the requisite slaughter of henchmen? Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark from Game Of Thrones) is great as the telepathic Jean Grey. And, as teleporting devil Nightcrawler, Kodi Smit-McPhee steals the comic-relief limelight. It’s good to see Rose Byrne is back as CIA agent Moira MacTaggert. She is effectively the viewpoint character to express suitably quizzical amazement, as mortal sidekick involved with mutants. Standout sequences include another rescue run-around for Quicksilver; the demolition of Auschwitz by Magneto; and a wholly surrealistic, climactic battle of psychics in astral form.

It seems a shame that this movie is set in the arbitrarily chosen year 1983 and not 1985. If Quicksilver is such a big fan of Rush, why the hell didn’t the writers change the setting by two years? Classic tracks, Time Stand Still and/ or Marathon (both from Rush’s album Power Windows, 1985), would have made far better/ more appropriate soundtrack songs to a speedster’s heroics than such tiredly insipid electro-pop as Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), by the Eurythmics. For that matter, any sci-fi movie that deals with astonishing X-Men’s super-powers can and should be given plenty of artistic licence when it comes to rewriting history, so there seems no easily discernable reason why said Rush tracks were not used here. I mean, it was one thing to neglect Rush’s song Ghost Rider, for either of the Ghost Rider movies, but when the Canadian band are specifically name-checked by a prominent character’s T-shirt, it’s quite unforgivable to miss such an obvious opportunity to promote Rush's music in a major cinema production. Is there a Hollywood boycott of Rush songs?

My ranting about soundtrack songs aside, Singer does very well at orchestrating epic levels of destruction and power-plays throughout, and the scale of super-team action sequences are all superbly rendered by John Dykstra’s visual effects company. In every way that really matters X-Men: Apocalypse is a successful addition to its Fox franchise. The movie aims for the creative peak of superhero cinema, exploring the meanings of messiah and madness in a world turned upside down, and nearly hits its elusive target.

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