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For centuries, mankind has wondered at the origin of the Egyptian pyramids.  Well, wonder no longer, because it turns out that the ancient Egyptian culture, so advanced in so many ways, was dragged up from the mud pits by a mutant.  Apocalypse, mutie zero, spawned all the supernatural, advanced examples of evolution we now know as X-Men.  After rising from a millennia-long nap, Apocalypse is a bit dismayed at the way the human race has grown to dominate the world he once ran.  Knowing there is strength in numbers, Apocalypse seeks out his own kind; his “children” to come to his side to eliminate the pesky homosapiens completely.  This position lands him on the completely opposite pole from Charles Xavier, who, 13 years after establishing a touchy détente with the US government to end their persecution of mutants, has established his institute for the young and strange, teaching them to control their powers and be one with humankind.  His old compadres, Erik Lehnsherr, AKA Magneto and Raven Darkhölme, as was Mystique, have mostly gone underground; the former living a quiet family life as a miner, the latter dedicating herself to helping endangered mutants around the world.  When Apocalypse rises and begins to gather his clan, the trio’s differing philosophies clash once again as they must choose to join Apocalypse or destroy him.

Who knew there was so much crying in comic books?  Am I watching a superhero movie or a telenovela? So... much… emotion…. Instead of concentrating on the action or current threat brought on by the awakening of the first mutant, X-Men: Apocalypse plays up the push and pull relationships from the previous film, including the Gordian knot between Xavier, Mystique and Magneto, the lingering affections between Mystique and Hank “Beast” McCoy, and really, I could not care less.

More time is spent on the characters’ emotional traumas than in properly introducing the neophytes who will become huge players, like Psylocke and Angel.  What I cannot abide is how action suffers at the cost of the drama, like less thought was given to the climactic battle scenes than a very long subplot about yet another family loss for Magneto.  A big addition to the lore is young Storm, Apocalypse’s first recruit, and in another show of disregard toward the action, I could see the wires pulling her awkwardly through the air as she fought the X-Men.  However, when that battle comes to a head, Singer continually cuts back to the powerful Mohawked mutant sitting safely away from the action, watching it all with a stupidly dropped jaw.

Possibly the most tragic oversight is in how very unimpressive our main big bad is.  The first mutant, Apocalypse, who ruled at the time of the pharaohs – who apparently was Pharaoh – whose ultimate goal is the complete elimination of the human species, is a cinematic dud.  He’s short, he’s not scary, his motivation is not compelling, he doesn’t do anything that makes the audience gasp, and most egregiously, the make-up on the character looks ridiculous.  He looks like a cross between a green Muppet and a ventriloquist’s dummy with these strange lines running down the corners of his mouth.  In this age, when you can turn 51-year-old Robert Downey, Jr. into his 20-year-old self pretty seamlessly, surely they could do more for the main character of an X-Men movie than cheap latex body paint?

I was also disappointed at the mediocrity of a moment I’d been waiting for in the X-Men series since we had a glimpse of it in the 2003 film (I’m not going to acknowledge the 2006 Brett Ratner fiasco, even though there is a snarky allusion to it in this film… I wouldn’t laugh too hard, Mr. Singer). Unfortunately, there is the poor casting choice of Sansa Stark, I mean, Sophie Turner as psychic Jean Grey (Who this film proves without a doubt that, yes, she really is just a bad actress, it’s not just how Sansa is written).  Turner has all the fire and magnetism of a wet Kleenex, and all the emotional heft of one, as well.  Abetted by the unremarkable special effects around the big event, it’s all – like most of the film - incredibly ho-hum.  

Even the uniformly great James McAvoy, back again as Charles Xavier, can’t carry the weight of the ballast script (Though my one connection to the movie’s insistent emotion came when I mourned the loss of Xavier’s Duran Duran-perfect coiffure).  Michael Fassbender, who has been looking less and less engaged in each subsequent film since 2011’s zippy First Class, bottoms out here, giving a surprisingly rote, phoned-in performance.  To her credit, Jennifer Lawrence gives a good effort as Raven/Mystique, but one can sense her trying to keep her feet under the film’s schizophrenic nature, as it unsuccessfully tries to balance the character’s emotional life with requisite (I daresay obligatory and possibly unwanted, in the minds of the writers, who would rather manipulate sentiment endlessly) noisy action.

The movie’s two sparks of life come at the frantic, blood-soaked entrance of our old standby, Wolverine, as we meet him shortly after he went heavy metal at the hands of his old pal, Colonel Stryker.  Feral and frightening, he cuts a gory swath through his captors and has a fateful first encounter with Jean, the woman who would become his great love.  Our other jump start feels like a cheat because it’s a shameless rehash of a superior sequence in the last film.  Quicksilver returns just in time to save the inhabitants of the Xavier school after Apocalypse’s infiltration of Charles’ global mutant monitor, Cerebro, becomes explosive, racing against time itself to physically carry and toss the kids out of the estate as fire consumes it.  Evan Peters owns the puckish, wisecracking speed demon and I looked forward to his every scene.  Strangely, as Singer was so committed to hammering us over the head with the characters’ personal stories, here’s where he should’ve done more.  This time Peter (Does Disney own the name Pietro?) Maximoff knows his pappy is Magneto, but we don’t learn how he found out, and for all the talk of fighting for one’s family that’s thrown all over the script, they don’t seem to mean Quicksilver’s.

Ultimately, it’s time for Bryan Singer to step down from this franchise and make way for a fresher take.  The cracks in his vision that began to show with Days of Future Past, which lumbered compared to the rejuvenated and exciting First Class, burst into a chasm of fun suck here. Singer gave X-Men a good start and a great sequel, but that was 16 years ago in a much emptier superhero movie landscape.  The sense of magic and spectacle combined with the firm hand at pacing, narrative and action needed to create a successful comic book movie simply isn’t in Singer’s grasp.  He instead replaces it with this leaden, relentlessly turgid soap opera that one can tell he thought he could get away with by playing the “emotion” card, or saying he wanted a deeper or different take on the characters.  Trouble is, people don’t come to X-Men or any other comic book movie to cry into their tissues for 2 hours and 20 minutes.  Drama is, of course, necessary to some extent for us to feel a connection with the characters, but that is essentially a by-product:  We want to see super-powered beings doing things no one else can do.  We want bombastic action.  We want to see other worlds we’ve never imagined before.  We want fun.

Fun is extremely thin on the ground with X-Men: Apocalypse.  This film, despite the far too few sparks of life courtesy of Hugh Jackman and Evan Peters, is a drag, pure and simple.  Its ham-fisted, overemotional script, completely bereft of charm or ingenuity, its utterly unremarkable villain and second-rate special effects make it the least successful of the recent Marvel entries.  And yeah, you can tease about the Danger Room as you’re leaving, but I’ll only be interested again when the director and writers of this particular universe are replaced.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 10th, 2016

 

 

 

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