Saturday, 4 June 2016

X-Men Review: The Good, The Bad, and the Ridiculous

Last night Eve and I went to see the new X-Men film, Apocalypse.

Image result for apocalypse x menSet in 1983, the film deals with the awakening of an ancient mutant, En Nabah Sur aka Apocalypse. Now, this is one of my favourite X-Men villains, so even though I never got around to watching Days of Future Past I wanted to see the new film. The fact that it had Archangel and Nightcrawler, who are my favourite X-Men, in was a bonus. It was sort of like getting all my presents at once, everything I could have wished for in an X-Men movie.

Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.

Warning, here be spoilers.

Hokay, starting off let's talk about the good things in the film. The whole thing is nice to look at, with well designed sets and costumes. Fox have even managed to make Apocalypse look good, transforming his armour into something that looks like it might have escaped from the Stargate universe with lots of nice detailing. The pyramid set is nicely put together and looks suitably austere. In a similar fashion, the teleport bubbles he uses to travel around look nice and work well in the context of the film. Similarly, the Magneto arc is nicely initiated, showing him hiding in plain sight with a new family. The way his daughter's powers are portrayed is nice, and the pivotal scene in his arc is handled well, even if it does feel rather cheap, and is rather 'women in refrigerators', using death as an inciting effect.

There are many nice character designs in the film, as I say its very pretty to look at, and in particular Angel and Nightcrawler look very good (while I'm afraid that Beast still looks as awful as he did in First Class). The transformation scene where Angel gets his metal wings was nicely done, with a touch of horror where they changed. I found it interesting that Mystique spent pretty much all of her time looking, um, not blue, which I can only attribute to the fact that Jennifer Lawrence is playing her and the filmmakers want her mush front and centre rather than hiding it behind blue makeup.

Despite this, I feel that perhaps too much attention was spent on how the film looked, because frankly the story was rubbish, running on convenience and coincidence rather than hard plotting and with dialogue that felt slight and uninspired. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the MCU but it felt rushed and inconsequential as if its only purpose was to get the characters to that all important end fight with Apocalypse. Many of the strands in the movie were unclear, I didn't realise the significance of Storm's arc until I talked it over with Eve, and I still feel that it feels arbitrary and plastic.  The Horsemen felt as if they were criminally underused, as did a number of the X-Men.  The promise of the cage fight between Angel and Nightcrawler (glossing  over the biblical imagery) was great, it was a huge shame that in the end Angel proved to be a one note thug with no more character to him than a packet of Smarties.

In addition, the scene at Alkali Lake felt entirely gratuitous and the inclusion of Wolverine another of those oh so convenient coincidences. There was no need for the scene to happen, or for Striker to be in the film at all, and it was, frankly, lazy.

The final fight with Apocalypse was disappointing, where it felt like it should be epic it seemed to mostly be Apocalypse standing very still and taking a beating. Hardly the  most compelling cinema.

The problem with the character was that he was too loosely defined, all we ever really know about him is that he's very powerful and that he has weird technology, which is never really explained (in contrast to the comics where he's linked to the Celestials - those huge figures in Guardians of the Galaxy who  are shown wielding the Power Stone). Perhaps that would work okay elsewhere, here it felt like he was a Swiss Army Mutant, having a superpower to pull out of his butt for every occasion and as a result being quite boring to watch. In theory, godlike power sounds great, but it's not actually much fun to watch if you want to see characters struggle and grow.

Quicksilver had a similar problem, superspeed being presented as a cure all for almost everything, and though the scenes dedicated him were nicely put together he felt overpowered, almost as if he could have carried the film on his own back.

And then there's Jean.. did we really need the Phoenix to put in an appearance already? Unless you're going to do anything with it (which given that the next film will likely be set in 1993 seems unlikely) all you're doing by introducing it is making the character completely about that thing. Is that needed? I don't think so , it just demeans the other things that Jean Grey is about.

Beyond that, I found myself wondering why Moira McTaggart didn't just slap Charles once her memories were restored, and why Apocalypse's actions were enough to set the X-Men up as a superteam again, it felt a bit arbitrary and as if Fox were shrugging and mumbling something about a franchise. The film felt recycled, and as if they have no new ideas. I was bored by all the flashbacks and almost groaned at some of the action. Is there an X-Men film where Cerebro doesn't get hacked, or where the plane doesn't blow up? Perhaps it's just familiarity but the whole thing felt tired, and even if we're just waiting for the splash pages (aka the big fight) there wasn't really anything to look at.

All in all, I was disappointed in this film, and I feel that it shows that Fox don't really know what they're doing anymore, seeming to favour cramming more and more characters in to make things look busy rather than letting characters shine. I will long and hard before committing to going to see another of their superhero film