Latest X Men film is bigger but not always better.
There’s a knowing gag made by a character during this film about third movies in series always being the worst and in a way it turns out be the case. The standard being high already means that X Men Apocalypse is still a very good film (we’re not talking X Men Last Stand or anything) yet it lacks something at its kernel. It may well be that we have just seen too many X Men movies now because some of the dilemmas and arguments are familiar beats. To try and overcome this the film also makes some rather untenable leaps notably during the visual standout Quicksilver sequence. This character’s keynote scene in Days of Future Past was both funny and clever. Here, the same admittedly impressive trick is shown again yet the whole thing is extended and becomes unlikely. However fast he can move, surely he could not achieve all he does in such a short time? Just as the kitchen scene in the last film symbolised how fleet of foot that movie was this one shows how comparatively sluggish this one is in danger of becoming. That being said, it’s still a very cool thing to watch.
If the lynchpin of the first set of three films was Wolverine, then for these ones, however much they might suggest it’s Charles Xavier, it is really Eric Lehnsherr. The erstwhile Magneto can be found living in Poland with a wife and child with whom he intends to stay forever having turned his back on his metal bending past. Being the kind of film it is you know this won’t end well and sure enough a chance accident opens the door to more tragedy. The narrative does lather it on but Michael Fassbender is one of those actors who can make you believe anything. He draws on the human tragedy behind Lehnsherr’s bad deeds and it is a compelling sell. His intellectual differences with Charles remain and these are good scenes; James McAvoy really does have something of Patrick Stewart about him as the character ages and we also get to find out just how he lost his hair.
The film starts intriguingly well paralleling Magneto’s hiatus with the re-awakening of our ancient antagonist. He seems to be the first ever mutant who has survived by swapping bodies every so often but has been trapped underground which we see in a gripping Stargate influenced opening set up. He’s played by another of those actors who can seemingly turn his hand to anything; Oscar Isaac. Over the past couple of years he’s convinced me as a moody folk singer, a chirpy Star Wars fighter pilot and a dodgy scientist but a blue skinned super powerful mutant is a harder challenge. If there’s any life in this character at all it is Isaac who brings it somehow managing to convey contempt, ambition and interest with subtle facial movements. Like Magneto though our enemy is eventually overcome by the need for big action sequences and the possibilities of a more philosophical edge are lost. Surely there is time for a more in depth look at both character’s worldview.
Apocalypse (we’ll call him that though the film gives him an unpronounceable Egyptian name) wants to cleanse the world (not entirely sure why) at the cost of considerable collateral damage; Magneto’s own experiences should make him less prone to just signing up and basically saying `ok I agree`. Where the film also misses an obvious turn is when it denies Quicksilver the opportunity to reveal his parentage, Given the earlier events this just smacks of `we’ll save this for another film` rather than supporting what the film is about. As well as this the villain’s powers seem to fluctuate depending on the exigencies of a particular situation. He can launch all the world’s missiles but instead of using them to wipe everyone out he lingers along about in the desert as if waiting for the film’s climax.
Elsewhere there is a similar lack of focus. Apocalypse has three other helpers about whom we learn very little and whose primary function seems to be to stand about looking menacing until the final 20 minutes. If he’s got Magento, why does he really need the others? The sundry pupils at Xavier’s Academy seem to have no powers at all and have to be rescued. Remember back in the first couple of original films where we saw glimpses of all kinds of powers the kids had? Yet at the end they quickly rebuild the previously demolished Xavier mansion. Perhaps they’ll lend their services to reconstruct all those buildings we see being demolished by Magento about which there is not a word. Even Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique becomes a less interesting character this time round. One character has a prominent role and then is killed off in a moment we don’t even see properly.
Some characters do make more impact; Kodi Smitt- McFee’s Nightcrawler is rather fun and adds a comedic sheen to even the most perilous scenario. Sophie Turner makes an impressive Jean Grey though her actions at the end suggest we’ve abandoned the time line of the first three movies altogether now. Though she gets very little to do, Alexandra Shipp’s Storm is a promising find for any future X Men films set in this era. Despite his character's unlikely acts, Evan Peters remains a lively addition which the serious tone elsewhere needs.
The grandiose opening, the Quicksilver moments and a sequence set back at Striker’s research facility are as good as anything in previous films. The climax is taut and gripping with a real sense of jeopardy. Yet overall Apocalypse feels weighty and lacks that something special that made its two predecessors much more than just impressive spectacle. Overall it feels as if in the race to be bigger and faster something of the character of the previous two films has been sacrificed.