The post is the updated copy of the review published in Mag the Weekly on May 28, 2016.
And For Our Next Show, We Bring (Humdrum) Apocalypse to the Screen — Again
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
In the heart of X-Men: Apocalypse – the latest part of the second X-Men trilogy that sounds both as ominous and dreadful as its title – there is a small gem of an action sequence with Quick Silver. Like in the last movie – X-Men: Days of Future Past, perhaps the second most memorable X-Men movie of all time – the speed-demon mutant, played by Evan Peters, zips across the location (this time the X-Men’s mansion), saving a lot of students, some in the nick of time, while having a bit of fun in the process. Sprightly written, and well executed, the sequence comes to us with an important message: even if the title bodes of evil, if the movie is having fun the audience will have fun.
Now, if only the filmmakers – director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg (with story guys Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris), took this advice, it would have been wonderful day at the movies.
I’ll be honest: the X-Men franchise has been a strange little oddity in my personal findings. Initial reactions have always failed to grapple my interest in almost every title except Days of Future Past and the classic X2 – both adapting complicated story arcs from the comics. The rest of the fodder, which I have slammed (including Wolverine spin-offs with Hugh Jackman), seem a spot more forgivable the second time. The movies, although still at fault with narrative and technicality, feel okay-ish, and I chalk their second-viewing adequacy to human nature’s tendency to give a thumbs-up to familiarity. (This same logic applies to Batman V Superman as well). I have no doubt Apocalypse will “feel” better a few months down the line.
Three thing won’t change though: Oscar Issac’s bland turn of one of the most important mutant villains in comic-dom, the frail paint-by-the-numbers screenplay and the direction that has anything but “direction”.
Mr. Singer, quite like the X-Men has a fluctuating filmography that spikes up and down in excellence. Actively a big movie director, he still lacks a flow of coherency and visual-oomph when framing action. This problem now seems to have seeped over to his blocking of scenes (blocking refers to how the actors, and the camera in relation, are laid out of set). The set-ups are unimaginative, and routine, focusing on the tried and tested (and done to death) technique of reverse shots (corresponding cameras pointed at actors faces when they are in conversation) that inter-cut between different angles. Not only is this technique (popularized by television production) flavorless, it leaves no room for a director to indulge in the creative aspects of the job.
This point brings me to another argument when talking about event motion pictures: can you be creative when making tent-poles? (um, ask Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis; even, directorially speaking, Marvel mucks up this job – see the shots in any Avenger movie).
A lot of variables, including time and money, of course, come to play. However, for a film shot for five months, (mathematically, that’s barely one minute of screen-time recorded per day), one does have the luxury to craft the movie.
In Apocalypse, a lot of money goes to digital artists, who tear up the digitally created cities that obviously need to be, um, torn down, because, well, that’s the way action movies function. Apocalypse, the baddie, is purportedly the immortal first mutant born on Earth, with a lot of abilities, including ramping-up other’s mutant powers. He enlists four mutants as his horsemen of doom – Magneto, Angel, Storm and Psylocke (Michael Fassbender, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp and Olivia Munn) – revs them up, and launches a dud nuclear strike over the world. The X-Men, with new recruits, of course, save the day, while heatedly discussing if their actions actually make a difference in the world.
The characters mull over their existence in the world, are driven by dreams and revenge (which X-Men movie doesn’t highlight these positions?!?), but respect and peace forever eludes them – just like they do the audience.
X-Men: Apocalypse has good performances (especially by Nicolas Hoult and James McAvoy). That ain’t worth much on a failing ship, but hey, any floating log will do when out in the ocean.
Rated PG-13 for the usual end-of-the-world superheroics.