X-Men: Apocalypse

“At Least We Can All Agree The Third One Is Always The Worst”

The above line is uttered by Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) about halfway through the movie, when she and a few other character leave a cinema screening of Return of the Jedi. It’s one of numerous strange self-aware moments within the film. If this had come out a year after Deadpool it could easily be assumed to be a rip-off of the superior film’s meta sense of humour. Instead it comes across as strangely self-satisfied and almost arrogant. Considering her character is telepathic it almost feels like she was reading this viewer’s mind…

10 years after the stand-off with the Sentinel prototypes at White House the X-men have never been so far apart from each other yet have never been so strong individually. Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters is full of mutants, with Professor Xavier himself (James McAvoy) and second is command Hank Mccoy (Nicholas Hoult)  keeping a close watch on telepathic protegee  Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and new recruit  Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) as both re struggling to control their powers. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) has become a loner/nomad/mercenary helping other mutants.  Erik Lehnseer(Michael Fassbender) is now a married man with a young daughter. But when immortal physic mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) rises from a millennia -long sleep  his awakening will have consequences for the world’s population of humans and mutants alike. 

How do you like your squash? I personally like it strong and full of flavour. I don’t like it weak – diluted and lacking in flavour.  That’s my problem with this film. To use this clunky analogy for all it’s worth the cordial (the good stuff) is diluted by too much water (i.e characters, plot and action). Although the ‘too-many-characters-may-spoil-the-broth’ did cause Civil War a bit of a stumble, in the case of this film it forces the film to fall flat on its face. Repeatedly.

Fatal Flaw Time: Characterization is almost completely abandoned in favour of action and set pieces. For fans of the franchise, or any of its other incarnations, we witness one dimensional versions of the characters we know and love. Lawrence as Raven/Mystique spends the majority of the film either wearing a pinched expression of exasperated  discontentment. McAvoy’s dialogue is reduced to  platitudes and mawkish ponderings. Sheridan does little to win favour for Cyclops in the versus Wolverine debate. Turner is okay as Jean Grey but her American accent quickly steals audience focus for all the wrong reasons. And, alhough it was great to see a cool AF version of Jubilee (Lana Condor) hanging around I’d rather her not even have been there as she is bitterly unused. Talk about how to (metaphorically) prick-tease a Fan-Girl!

Then there’s the villains. Fassbender has some incredibly emotionally and engaging sequences but is then too frequently forced to fade into the background. Isaac is criminally wasted, hidden under rubbery prosthetics with a character whose character and abilities are far from defined. The three new characters who join Magneto as the Four Horsemen are completely overwhelmed – Ben Hardy as Angel is ill-served, Olivia Munn as Psylocke weirdly reminded me of this sketch by Mitchell and Webb in terms of OTT villain-face and Alexandra Shipp as Storm seems more than interesting enough but underused. The villainous plot they hatch is of such a scale that is almost becomes bland (think the final 30 minutes of Man Of Steel) and completes overwhelms its characters.

Though, in fairness it’s so overstuffed with characters  it’s almost unsurprising, although not forgivable. The motivation of the characters is devoid of reason and the plan itself lacking real purpose. The plot is also so full of holes (talking Swiss cheese territory here) that it becomes incoherent. There’s nothing new or interesting with the plot, it takes some irritatingly familiar paths, that this film feels tired and bloated in comparison to its counterparts. It’s also so unbearably serious, akin to SvS:DoJ in terms of getting ‘dark’ confused with ‘murky’. 

In fact, upon reflection, the only franchise contribution I enjoyed and I am truly thankful for is that of Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler. He is given some of the film’s funniest, sweetest and most moving moments. He’s a real joy to watch and probably the only reason I would risk the (inevitable) follow-up. What I can’t forgive the film for is a sequence that occurs just after the Jean Grey’s line about trilogies. After a rather wonderful and emotional sequence that has been delicately woven the tension is completely destroyed, totally sledgehammered, by a shift in tone that is so jarring it is unbearably stupid.  It’s a sequence involving Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters – who totally stole the show in Days of Future Past  in the space of 10 minutes of screentime) that I would have undoubtedly loved at any other point in the film. But, straight after such a well-executed and pathos-filled sequence, it is utterly wasted and even made me resent his character. By the end of the film my faith in him was somewhat restored though my love for him has been somewhat tainted. Such an inconsistent moment reflects the very nature of the entire film.

As a teacher I’ve found the true power of saying the following phrase and it’s the only phrase I can find that fully articulates my feelings towards this film. It’s not that I’m angry X-Men:Apocalypse – I’m just disappointed.

2 stars

 

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Meh. Vanilla. It’s okay.

The three statements above are the three different ways I’ve answered the question, ‘What did you think of Batman V Superman?’ in the past 14 hours. Although there are aspects of the film that are good and entertaining that is just what they are, aspects. The film overall is a bloated disaster – 151 minutes of too many ideas fighting for screentime which end up being incoherent and underdeveloped. Instead of a typical review, in which my thoughts on the film would be as nonsensical as the film itself, I’m going to use a list to let my great ideas have an organisation and a flow (lesson to the film-makers there…)

The good

The visuals

Aside from Cineworld at the o2 Arena screwing up the calibration of the sky superscreen (having forced the audience to watch all the ads, trailers and 25 minutes of the film with only one eye open as the projection was out of focus, they then decided to stop the film and spend 15 minutes reformatting before restarting the film. Cineworld have done not anything to compensate for this screw up and literal headache) when watching this film you can see where the money went. In fact, I suspect that is what director Zack Snyder wants us to do. The fights are big and brash, the costumes and special effects are spectacular. The cityscapes are breath-taking (if of debatable geography). In terms of big screen spectacle, it’s all here. Some sequences appear straight out of a comic book in terms of iconography and style, such as when Superman arrives at a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration and he is being aligned as a Messiah-eque figure.

MESSIAH

 Batman

Whilst I was initially in the ‘Say No To Ben Affleck as Batman’ camp, I did begin to change my mind when the first trailers and posters arrived. As a lover of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns I could see how Affleck’s portrayal would be most similar to Miller’s Batman. A Batman who is aged, haggard and embittered by battle.(The image below shows the film’s main link to the 1986 seminal comic book.) For the most part in this movie it works. Affleck is charismatic enough as Bruce Wayne and imposing enough as Batman. It’s almost a shame that he didn’t get his own standalone movie prior to this one to fully establish his character, though perhaps the decision to open this movie with yet another retelling of the Wayne shooting/origin story indicates to us that a standalone Batman movie may have possessed little originality. 

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Wonder Woman

I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that Gal Gadot plays Wonder Woman/Diana Price. The trailers gave that one away long ago, yet the film treats it as though it is a secretrading by hinting then having a big reveal that is slightly unnecessary. Though she may not look exactly like the Wonder Woman from the comics I used to read (she’s rather slim-line in comparison to the Golden age version) she does possess a lot of power and successfully shares the screen with her male counterparts (as opossed to having them steal the limelight). The moment when the three are first united did induce a real Fangirl moment for me, seeing the Trinity together. In fact I would happily argue that she steals the show from the broody boys…

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Easter eggs

There are many moments in this film that are for the fans, moments that casual fans may get but not appreciate or may not even ‘get’ at all. I’m not going to state them fully here, just in case you’re reading this and want to avoid spoilers, so I’ll write them out but fill in the gaps. I liked seeing ………… in the ……….. I also loved the use of …… to show …………. Finally, the appearance of ……….. in the ……….. was an excellent yet subtle touch. These three aspects alone got me more involved in the next film than the film I was currently watching. By the way, there ARE NO AFTER CREDITS SEQUENCES. Don’t sit through all the credits it’s pointless (Hey Sam if you’re reading, yes I am referring to you here!)

Soundtrack

I don’t think you can go wrong with a Hans Zimmer soundtrack.His collaboration here with Junkie XL is immensely successful. The score for this film is beautiful and emotive, something I would actively choose to listen to outside of watching the film which I don’t often think/do. My personal favourite is the rather aptly-named ‘Is she with you?’ 

The bad/ugly

Superman/ Lois Lane

I know it’s cool to hate on Superman, but I am quite fond of him. To some he may represent archaic ideas of patriotism, but so does Captain America and that guy walks around wearing stars and stripes. Yet Dupes has never had the cinematic renaissance that Batman has had twice (1989 and 2005). The 1970s/80s films are enjoyable yet of their time, Lois and Clark was entertaining yet cheesy, and Smallville was ocassionally good if rather tween-y.In more recent years, Superman Returns was long and dreary whilst Man Of Steel was interesting yet lost its audience in the overlong battle-heavy final sequences.  Batman V Superman is not his movie either. Poor Henry Cavill spends most of the movie showing off his range of emo frowns. It’s that or rescuing Lois Lane THREE times. It’s all Amy Adams gets to do in the movie, which is a real shame as she is an incredible actress playing a character with incredible potential. 

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Dreams

Of all the time-wasting nonsensical moments in the film, it is the dream sequences which really stand out for all the wrong reasons. There’s no entry point into them, you’re suddenly immersed in them with no idea of what is going on in them. Then the character wakes up and the audience is even more confused abiut what is going on. If the plot was more coherent it would be less problematic, but as the plot is so stodgy and indecifrable the moments just confuse as opposed to enhance what is going on in the main event.

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The plot

Speaking of the plot, very little of it actually makes sense. Motivations are blurred from the outset with very few that are actually convincing or believable. It feels like this is a Batman movie forced in with a Superman movie, the story jumps between one then the other without any link. Moments drift, storylines are picked up then dropped and things happen without explanation. I’m going to stay intentionally vague on this one to avoid further spoilers. Let’s just leave this with saying that everything is miscalculated and heavy-handed. Ultimately it’s a very hollow 151 minutes of things happening for little reason or care.

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‘Hello darkness my old friend’

A schism has formed over this movie between critics and fans. As someone who considers themselves to be both, I think the main argument over the ‘darkness’ of this film is flawed. I’ve read a lot of reviews talking about how this film is ‘too dark’ and fans retaliating with ‘the comic books are dark, it’s how it should be’. My answer to this? No. Yes some of the comic books are dark. Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, Jim Starlin’s Death in the Family and Jeph Loeb’s Hush (to name but three Batman story arcs) are dark, haunting and Gothic. Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy is dark, haunting and Gothic. Batman V Superman is not dark, haunting and Gothic. It’s murky and shallow. Its darkness is artificial and synthetic. It’s a wannabe-emo in contrast to the aforementioned masterpieces. It pouts, moans and frowns. It tries to make important statements and points but these are empty and ill-informed. It’s like wearing a band t-shirt when you don’t really know the band (one of my biggest pet peeves). Having your actors grimace and setting most of the action at night, fighting for ‘what is right’ does not a maketh a ‘dark’ movie. A coherent plot, one with depth, does.

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Lex Luthor

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor appeared like a strange choice since it was first announced. This was embraced by Zack Snyder who promised great things, new take on a classic archvillain. In the comic books Lex Luthor is a charismatic business magnate who is physically powerful and formidable. He is shown to be a true threat to Superman. Charismatic, powerful and formidable are not phrases one would associate with Eisenberg. So perhaps this would be a refreshing new take on the character? Nope. It’s Jesse Eisenberg playing  Heath Ledger playing the Joker as Lex Luthor. He is weedy, has daddy issues and rambles. Everything he says is either shouted or mumbled. His hand mannerisms are twitchy and strange,  dominating each frame. This man is no threat but a nuisance who gets in the way. To use his performance as an analogy for the entire film – it’s devoid of depth and is ultimately lacking. 

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