X-Men: Apocalypse (Bryan Singer, 2016)
As the film begins, we hear a familiar, English-accented voice (James McAvoy, aka the younger version of Charles Xavier/Professor X) intone the history of mutants on our planet. Is it possible, after 8 previous movies featuring various members of the X-Men universe, that we still have more to learn about how we got here? Apparently so, though as the tale progresses we discover that the (here, slightly altered) old adage holds very much true: plus ça change, plus c’est le même film (“the more things change, the more it’s the same movie”). There may be a new villain, introduced in this opening (set in 3600 BCE, although accompanied by medieval chants), but ultimately the outcome is no different than in most of these many iterations of the superhero genre: the fate of the world will be at stake; cities will be reduced to rubble; at the last minute, our protagonists will get their act together and triumph.
I have recently written, on this blog, about my increasing fatigue with the current state of the blockbuster universe, and this new entry into the X-Men canon changes nothing in my attitude. That said, as tiring as it may be to see the same ideas and dramatic arcs (and flying debris) recycled ad nauseum, this particular movie offers up a particularly appealing cast, thereby rising (slightly) above the maelstrom of deafening sameness that rules the day. Unfortunately, it’s the new player in the game – Oscar Isaacs (Ex Machina), as Apocalypse, our baddie, normally such a dynamic presence – who gets most lost in the madness of CGI and makeup, thereby adding nothing to the proceedings. He’s also hampered by a script that leaves him nothing to do but glower menacingly. It’s a good thing, then, that McAvoy and company are as fun to spend time with as ever.
After that first sequence, in which it turns out that the fate of the world has always been in the balance, and cities have always been on the verge of destruction, we flash-forward to 1983, where none of the mutants we met in X-Men: First Class (set in the early 1960s, during the Cuban Missile Crisis) look a day older than they did back then. I’ll have what they’re having, please! After the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, Professor X and Magneto have once more gone their separate ways, the one to manage a school for the gifted (read: mutants), and the other to live incognito in his native Poland. Both McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland), as X, and Michael Fassbender (Macbeth), as Magneto, bring their usual energy to the screen, and are as watchable as ever. Soon, they will each have to choose a side in the battle of good and evil about to erupt when Apocalypse is resurrected from his 5600-year-old grave.
Along for the fun, games and mayhem are many familiar faces, including Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Rose Byrne (Spy), Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road) and, my favorite, Evan Peters (Elvis & Nixon) as the wise-ass Quicksilver. Some new faces – young actors playing characters we first encountered in X-Men, director Bryan Singer’s first turn at the helm, back in 2000 (this is his fourth X-Men movie) – include Tye Sheridan (Joe) as Cyclops, Sophie Turner (Barely Lethal) as Jean Grey, and Kodi Smit-McPhee (Slow West) as Nightcrawler. They’re good, and help make up for the waste of Isaacs. All in all, then, though I would never make the claim that this is anything other than pro forma big-budget filmmaking, it has its occasional charms, and is not entirely without wit. The impending end of the world (yet again) may be a snooze-fest, but along the way we can at least share a few moments of (occasional) interest.