Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Although the "X-Men" franchise is one that is in danger of running out of steam due to the fact that a new chapter pops up every other year and has been doing so for more than a decade-and-a-half, this latest one - despite the inclusion of a few silly sequences - is a pretty good one. And this is mostly due to the fact that it has such a top notch cast, all of whom make the characters come to life more than the script would require them to do so.

There are too many characters and back stories and plot twists to lay out here, but suffice it to say that an ancient Egyptian with super powers (played by a game Oscar Isaac, whose character is given a majority of the silliest sequences) who may be the first mutant comes back to life and - since this is a summer blockbuster - the fate of mankind hangs in the balance. For once, I'd like to see a blockbuster with lower stakes - say, for instance, the fate of a two-mile radius is in danger. I digress.

Isaac's character - whose name keeps changing, but let's call him Apocalypse since at least one character does the same - is introduced in one of the picture's goofier scenes when the Egyptian is buried under a mountain of rock after a ritual is thwarted. Some thousands of years later, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, bringing the right amount of gravitas) is overseeing the training of pupils at his school for mutants, which includes some familiar characters in the form of new faces - such as Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as Cyclops and Kodi-Smit McPhee as Nightcrawler.

Magneto (Michael Fassbender, always great) is given some new depth as we find him living in the woods of Eastern Europe, working at a mine and living with a new wife and child. Tragedy again strikes - how many can this guy take, seriously? - and the newly risen Apocalypse enlists Magneto and a few others (including a spunky Alexandra Shipp as Storm) to help him with his world dominance and the like.

An amusing element of the film is how it is set in 1983 during the heart of the Cold War and, similar to other X-Men films, uses the time period for thematic relevance, in this case the nuclear arms race. A Eurythmics song is also put to good use.

Not surprisingly, all of this adds up to a lot of sturm und drang in the picture's second half. And although I'm a little worn out on these type of apocalyptic blockbusters and super hero movies in which a band of few battles a maniacal superpower for the fate of all mankind, I had a pretty good time with this one. It helps when you care about the characters.

So, no, "X-Men: Apocalypse" doesn't exactly take this genre into uncharted territory, but it does a mostly solid job, thanks to a very good cast playing characters that are given a little more depth and personality than you'd typically expect for this type of thing. Bryan Singer, who directed this latest X-Men movie and has contributed several films to the series, is obviously the best pick to keep this franchise going - as I'm very sure it will.

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