Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Third Time Is Not the Charm

If I had written about X-Men: Apocalypse right after I saw it, it might have been a more positive review. There are some fun moments in it, and my general sense leaving the theater was that it had been kinda-decent enough. But it turns out that what is good about the movie has a short half-life, and begins to fade before you even make it out of the theater parking lot.

If I were being spoilery, I could give lots of specifics about where the movie goes wrong, but I think they all pretty much come under one umbrella: character. This movie does a terrible job with its characters, almost across the board.

The movie introduces several new characters to the mix, who have never appeared in any of the previous X-Men movies of either cast. Olivia Munn plays Psylocke, an ass-kicking villain with... I guess psionic powers? Maybe? Whatever her character does, the movie could not have done a more perfect job of confusingly entangling those abilities with those of the arch-villain, Oscar Isaac's Apocalypse. The purple energy of her conjured weaponry seems to the same as the purple energy of the portals that the assembled baddies use to globe-hop and fill their ranks... but it turns out that the portal thing is his power, not hers. What does Psylocke do in this movie? Nothing that justifies Olivia Munn turning down Morena Baccarin's part in Deadpool for this, if you ask me.

Apocalypse may have the more substantial role, but his character is even more murky to someone who hasn't read the comics. He's found in a desert, and the first thing we see him do involves tiny tan particles whirling around. So... I guess he controls sand? Much later in the movie, it turns out he has some kind of generalized molecular manipulation ability (I think), among many other powers. But it's his actions I question more than his abilities anyway. The movie tells us that Apocalypse's M.O. is to assembled the four nastiest mutants to be his minions. Yet one of the people he selects is someone he finds literally broken, who actually just lost a fight we saw earlier in the film. Another is a lowly street urchin who can't even help themselves without getting into trouble -- which he witnesses firsthand. Apocalypse does not know how to pick 'em.

But there's really not much good happening with the returning characters either. Everyone has either the wrong character arc, a half-complete arc, or no arc at all. Cyclops is set up for a journey of self-acceptance that should culminate in him leading the X-Men, but Mystique swoops in to steal that arc from him. Quicksilver is on a journey to find his father Magneto, but (small SPOILER here) inexplicably decides not to talk to him when given the chance. Magneto himself has a family-minded arc of his own, one that starts out strong, but then ultimately winds up mired in some unexplained rapid fire changes of emotion. So on down most of the line.

So don't look for a story that satisfies here, or even one that makes sense most of the time. You'll have to be content with some fun action set pieces. The climactic battle does a good job of giving just about everyone a good hero moment. Wolverine has a solid cameo. (I'd have called that a spoiler, but they gave it away in the trailer.) There are several great mind/space-bending moments with Nightcrawler.

And once again, as with Days of Future Past, Quicksilver gets the best scene of the movie. There might be a certain repetition to the sequence after the previous film, but it works all the same because it's the one scene that perfectly melds character with action. It's not just a fun three minutes of high-speed photography, sight gags, and CG, it's a sequence that captures Quicksilver's personality (in a way the Age of Ultron version of him, I'm sorry to say, never did).

All told, X-Men: Apocalypse is every inch the Big Dumb Summer Movie. Much of the action lands. You see things blow up, and some of it is fun. But it's a series of set pieces hung on a rickety skeleton, a threadbare story with characters lacking internal consistency or logic. Certainly, I've seen many worse Big Dumb Summer Movies than this. But that doesn't change the fact that this is far and away the worst of the three "new class" X-Men movies. I give X-Men: Apocalypse a C.

No comments: