Sunday, May 22, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

The accepted critical thinking on ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ is that:

1. It’s the same old “battle for Erik Lenscherr’s soul” story pace ‘First Class’ and ‘Days of Future Past’;

2. The Auschwitz bit is really tasteless;

3. The Quicksilver set piece is merely a reprise of the one in ‘Days of Future Past’;

4. Too many characters are thrust into one movie without development;

5. The finale is sprawling and incoherent.

Maybe I saw a totally different cut of the film, but I enjoyed the hell out of ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’. Granted, it might not have the sharp stylishness of ‘First Class’ (which I still regard as a Bond movie with mutants) or the timeline-jinking audacity of ‘Days of Future Past (which I still consider a horribly clunky title); nor is it as keyed into its period setting as those two. But it develops the themes of family, mistrust, politics and absolute power present in the preceding instalments; it brings Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into the new timeline in fine style; and it turns its mutants vs. mutants storyline into a commentary on political manipulation, menticide and man’s inhumanity to man. In this respect, just as ‘Days of Future Past’ earned itself major kudos for obliterating the fuck-awful ‘Last Stand’ from the chronology, ‘Apocalypse’ assimilates everything ‘Last Stand’ tries to be and does the job properly.

Only the mainstream reviewers would have you think otherwise, so in lieu of the more traditional Agitation review, let’s have a look at that quintet of critical carping and subject each item to a validity test:

1. The Professor X (James McAvoy)/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) conflict is the dynamic upon which the franchise is founded. It’s like Bond/Blofeld or Batman/the Joker, and for my money the new X-Men timeline ups the ante on the conflict by grounding it not in the differences between Professor X and Magneto but the battered and compromised but still salvageable friendship between Charles and Erik. Throwing all of that away just to have Magneto as an all-purpose villain would be akin to flushing the crux of the franchise’s human drama down the shitter;

2. Yes it is, but this is the third film that explicitly references Auschwitz and (a) the sequence is shorter than in ‘X-Men’ or ‘First Class’; (b) nobody carped about using the Final Solution as a plot device in those two films; and (c) it’s where Magneto’s powers and his anger were forged so of course it’s where Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) would take Magneto to ensure his complicity;

3. Quicksilver (Evan Peters) having a big set piece where time seems to slow down as he casually moves people and objects across a spatially intense chess board is basically what Quicksilver fucking does and having him in the movie and not giving him that moment would be like having Blofeld in a Bond movie and not giving him a crack at world domination, or not letting Inspector Morse have a pint while he listens to some Wagner. Or not letting Inspector Regan clobber a suspect. Or not letting Scottie beam anybody up. You’d be missing the fucking point. Besides, the context, logistics and outcome of Quicksilver’s race against time are drastically different from ‘Days of Future Past’.

4. True to a degree, with Storm (Alexandra Shipp) locked into a narrative arc requiring a last reel volte face that never quite seems earned and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) given some visually iconic moments but criminally underused; but the same can be said of ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and again nobody seemed to complain about the overstuffed and – let’s be honest – unsuspenseful airport showdown.

5. No more so than any finale in any superhero movie ever. In fact, it didn’t seem to drag on anywhere near as long as the ‘Hulk’ finale (in which I zoned out as two screensavers threw ever larger objects at which other), the ‘Age of Ultron’ slugfest or the double denouement of ‘Batman vs Superman’. In fact, I’d say that ‘Apocalypse’ is the paciest of this year’s triptych of two-and-a-half hour comic book adaptations. (Assuming that neither ‘Suicide Squad’ or ‘Doctor Strange’ will be grasping for such epic running times.)

In addition to the above, factor in Jennifer Lawrence finally making Mystique her own, stepping out of the shadows of both Magneto in terms of the character and Rebecca Romjin-Stamos in terms of performance; Fassbender nailing a squirmily inevitable moment where Magneto, trying to live a normal life, is pushed back onto a vengeful and destructive path; a Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) cameo that gives us the character as a vessel of pure animalistic rage; CGI that serves the story rather than swamping it; and a genuinely chilling scene, scored to the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, where Apocalypse prompts a simultaneous launch into space of all nuclear missiles.

All things considered, it’s only the foul-mouthed and fourth-wall-breaking loveability of ‘Deadpool’ that’s stopping me from proclaiming this as the best superhero movie of the year. Sorry, Cap.

1 comment:

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Hey Neil, we fully agree on this one! I enjoyed the hell out of it, and like you I feel maybe a bit more then Civil War, though I'd have to see them both again to make that judgement. This one was fast paced, the effects work was awesome, and Fassbenders story arc was solid! Agree on all your points, can't take those elements away, its' what makes this movies what they are. Honestly feel it is the best in the franchise so far. Synger has this franchise figured out, he knows it inside and out and by know he's learned what works and what doesn't, all that experience is what produced this fine comic book film.