The latest X-Men movie suffers from a lacklustre villain, but the rest of the cast fires on all cylinders.
May 20, 2016
Before Batman squared off against Superman and the Avengers started fighting amongst themselves, another group of not-so-average folks brought their battles to the big screen. Since 2000, the X-Men franchise has charted the many clashes and intermittent truces of Professor Charles Xavier, his friend-turned-nemesis Magneto, and their respective groups of disagreeing mutants. Sixteen years later, they've graced nine films, including the original trilogy, two Wolverine spin-offs, two other excursions into the characters' backstories and this year's smash hit Deadpool. With such a sizeable history, of course their latest conflict seems familiar. But it also feels every inch its own.
Indeed, there has always been a specific vibe to the X-Men movies: outcast-oriented dramas mixed with bombastic action, while always retaining a distinctive emotional core. Director Bryan Singer is at the helm of his fourth instalment, while writer Simon Kinberg is back for script number three. It should therefore come as no surprise that the '80s-set X-Men: Apocalypse once again charts outsiders looking to find their place in a makeshift mutant family.
Ten years after the main events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, Professor X (James McAvoy) yet again locks horns with Magneto (Michael Fassbender), with the recently unearthed Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) — an ancient, god-like being considered the first-ever mutant — the cause of their latest conflict. The former is intent on stopping the new threat, re-teaming with CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) and later shape-shifting mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). The latter, in the wake of his own personal tragedy, once again embraces his destructive streak and sides with the fresh force of global devastation.
With teenage incarnations of Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) also featured, X-Men: Apocalypse doesn't lack in subplots, characters or attempts to set up future sequels. Nor does it miss any opportunity to thrust a CGI-heavy fray to the fore, or to sprinkle in a few much-needed doses of humour – particularly when returning favourite Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is involved. Instead, the one thing absent is the added element the film so obviously strives for: a heightened sense of grandeur. Conveying the personal stakes motivating the main players may not be an easy feat in such a busy effort, yet it's something the movie achieves in a touching manner. Dialling up the gravity of the entire situation proves far less simple or successful.
Sadly, the titular villain is the main culprit weighing the feature down. If X-Men: Apocalypse shines whenever the usual suspects share screen time, it lags when the newfound enemy starts making big speeches. In stark contrast to the actor's typical output, poor Oscar Isaac is barely allowed to make a mark, with his makeup and digitally altered voice sapping his natural charisma. Thankfully McAvoy and Fassbender continue their stellar form across their trio of prequel films, while Peters once again threatens to steal the show. When you're watching them, you're in vintage X-Men territory, even if the movie desperately wants to be something more.
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