‘I’ ON CULTURE
The next franchise summer film is here, X-Men: Apocalypse, and while it is a good film, it lacks the grace and fun of the recent Captain America: Civil War.
The stories are remarkably alike: good superheroes/mutants against bad, although the earlier film makes it clear that differing opinions do not make people natural enemies; they can simply disagree. In this new movie, the bad guys are going to destroy most of the world — that simplifies things.
The film takes place in the 1980s, about 10 years after the previous film X-Men: Days of Future Past. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) are running their school for young mutants. Young Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) is brought there when his eyes suddenly become lasers. Right from the start, he gets involved with Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) who is not yet Dark Phoenix but has the strongest powers of anyone.
Other mutants are wandering the world. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) rescues Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from a German nightclub where armed thugs force him to fight. And Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is living quietly with a wife and daughter in Poland until he uses his powers to save some fellow workers. The police come for him but kill his wife and daughter, and he kills all of them.
The scene shifts to Egypt where CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) is present for a religious ceremony that wakes the “first mutant,” Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), who has been buried for thousands of years. He recruits a couple of other mutants and gets Magneto to join. He provides enough extra power to his four followers (presumably the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) to help him to “cleanse” the planet — i.e., wipe out just about everyone. That sets up the overall battle between good and evil that spans the whole film.
The cast is really good. McAvoy is very good as the leader of the group. Fassbender and Lawrence are both standouts, as expected. The three are among the best young actors around. Fassbender’s sorrow as he sees his daughter killed is heart-rending.
Turner, Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, is superb as the conflicted Jean, incredibly powerful but fearful of hurting someone. Smit-McPhee, buried under blue makeup as Nightcrawler, provides incredible charm. He looks strange but, boy, is he a fun teenager. Evan Peters, as Quicksilver, steals the movie as he did in Days of Future Past. He manages a nice bit of comedy even in the middle of serious situations.
This movie, and all the X-Men films, lack the charm of other movies in the Marvel Universe. I think the problem is that while the heroes and superheroes are exactly that, lionized by the public in their films, the mutants are considered different and dangerous.
Four of the mutants are taken hostage by the army during this film; they are able to escape because Wolverine (a short cameo by Hugh Jackman) is also imprisoned there and he disrupts the whole place.
Even more confusing is that in some cases, there is a very fine line between villainy and heroism. Wolverine is violent, a killer, but is a hero. Magneto may be considered a villain, but he is a concentration camp survivor whose family is murdered by the Nazis, and then he sees his new family killed. Mystique is sometimes good, sometimes bad. On the other hand, Superman and Spider-Man, etc., are always heroic.
In this film, director Bryan Singer makes a clear-cut choice. Apocalypse, whose face looks not quite human, wants to kill us all. There is no charm at all, no quick lines to mask his intentions. The only one of his disciples we learn much about is Magneto, who is probably the only decent one of them. And for the good guys, you have the adorable Lawrence and a group of talented young kids. This is not Game of Thrones (despite Turner); the good guys are going to win.
In summary, this is a good summer movie. It is not a fantastic film, but it provides plenty of fun for two and a half hours. We enjoyed it.