Following on from Owen’s recent recommendation on the Failed Critics Podcast for the Vestron re-release of Brian Yuzna’s 90’s cult classic zombie film, Return of the Living Dead 3, this article takes a look at the undying love found only in this weird but wonderful genre.
“From the ashes of their world, we’ll build a better one.”
It’s been sixteen years since Bryan Singer brought the world the X-Men. It was a silly bit of fun that was pretty enjoyable. It gave us a perfect personification of fan favourite Wolverine and introduced a generation to the awesome abilities of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (if you were two years old when it came out, you’re old enough now to go watch Green Room – get to it).
Somehow, miraculously, even after a bloody awful second sequel, this franchise is the only one left from the super-cheesy noughties comic book films that plagued filmgoers for years. Now we find ourselves, if you count the Wolverine solo outings, with the ninth film in the series and some of us wondering what they can possibly do next.
Buried underneath the ruins of a destroyed pyramid, En Sabar Nuh – the world’s first mutant – has been imprisoned under the ancient rubble for thousands of years. Resurrected by a cult believing him to be an all-powerful God, the man we will come to know as Apocalypse (played by the suddenly everywhere Oscar Isaac) sets about recruiting his own personal Four Horsemen and putting plans in place to kick-start the end of the world.
Sinking his teeth into the strongest, most disillusioned mutants he can find, Apocalypse soon has an entourage that includes a young, impressionable Storm (Straight Outta Compton‘s Alexandra Shipp) ; the beaten down Angel (former Eastenders regular Ben Hardy); the power hungry, vicious Psylocke (Olivia Munn); and the world-weary, disenchanted Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Tapping into the anger and negativity in their lives, convincing these powerful mutants to work for him makes the wannabe-god a force to be reckoned with and together they waste no time in bringing about, well, the apocalypse.
Meanwhile, James McAvoy’s Professor Xavier is dealing with his own band of misfits in his now world famous school. But, when Apocalypse kidnaps the X-Men’s leader for his own ends, it’s down to Mystique (the returning Jennifer Lawrence) to rally the troops and fight the impending doom. Returning good guys Hank “Beast” McCoy (Nicholas Holt), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Alex “Havok” Summers are joined by a cavalcade of newcomers. Fresh to the First Class arc, if not necessary the franchise, the younger incarnations of Scott Summers, Nightcrawler and Jean Grey all join the fray and team up to take on the biggest, most powerful mutant that the world has ever seen.
Director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg have returned to the X-Men franchise to round off this particular story arc and, believe it or not, they’ve done an okay job of it. Now, I know this is going against the grain a little for this film, so maybe I should clarify that a little.
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of First Class or Days of Future Past. I don’t think they’re bad films, not at all, but I honestly believe that X-Men, as a franchise, has been treading water since the year 2000. Singer and 20th Century Fox found a winning formula when the first film was a hit all those years ago and as Fox have tried and failed over and over again to bring a decent comic book film to profit, they have refused to take any risks and change up the recipe with these films.
The biggest issue there is that when you’re averaging a film every two years and you’re not changing things up, the audience, no matter how die hard they are, will eventually stop going to see your films as a way to tell you that they’ve had enough of your shit. What made this trilogy – yes, I’m calling it a trilogy – worth a second look was the genius casting of Michael Fassbender in the recently vacated Ian McKellan role of Magneto. I’m still convinced that First Class is actually the quietly disappeared Origins: Magneto movie we were supposed to get; and as such, the story of Erik Lehnsherr and his change to the maniacal Magneto across the first two films is nothing short of riveting.
But after the reboot/timeline shift/whatever you want to call it, I was ready to write this film off as the worn out end of another trilogy, soon for the glue factory. But once again, while Apocalypse may not be the best film you watch this year, and it’s got some pretty glaring problems, but it’s a film I wouldn’t tell you to avoid. It’s almost worth the *phew* two and a half hours you’ll spend watching it.
As far as flaws, I’ve got to start with the most obvious one. Apocalypse himself. For what is supposed to be a terrifying, world ending bad guy, I genuinely couldn’t care less about him or his motives. The problem with these super-strong bad guys, the ones that are supposed to be unbeatable, is that by the time you get to the end of the movie you know full well that he’s gonna get his arse handed to him. Usually through the power of teamwork, or love, or a mutual fondness for hardcore pornography, or something. Either way, and this is another problem with this refusal to change the formula, you know you’re in for a happy ending when the forces of good triumph! And to be honest, Apocalypse is just a bit crap.
And man, this film is so very long. I mean it’s nearly two and a half hours. It’s an X-Men movie for shit’s sake, there’s just no need for it. So much is put on that screen with so little actually happening that I really, truly wondered on more than one occasion if I’d missed something, a plot point or bit of story somewhere. I wondered if maybe I’d slipped into a mini coma at one point and missed a chunk of exposition at around the half way mark. And if someone could explain Olivia Munn’s terrible, terrible costume, I’d really appreciate it. She looks awesome and bad ass when you first meet her, and she transforms into some weird vinyl clad monstrosity that isn’t half as titillating as the 12 year old boys in the costume department thinks it is.
But things aren’t all bad. In fact, the film has a few positives that elevate its standings quite a bit for me. Newcomer to the series and Game of Thrones alum Sophie Turner has a decent turn as the young Jean Grey. Much like Jennifer Lawrence before her, I was a fan of the actress originally in the role and Turner has managed to convince me that, yet again, I was wrong to doubt the younger replacement. Although, she has taken on the annoying trait McAvoy had in previous films of touching her face to indicate she’s doing a psychic thing; but it doesn’t detract from her performance and she’s rather good. It’s always good to see homegrown talent on the big screen, especially when she’s from your surrogate home of Northampton. Quicksilver’s return isn’t half bad either; he’s not overplayed and his super-speed shtick isn’t overused, but when it is used, it’s a wonderful, fun little bit of film.
As with the previous films though, the big hitter here is Michael Fassbender. I’ve really enjoyed watching Eric’s gradual change to Magneto over the years. Fassbender has always been convincing as the guy who’s trying, sincerely, to do good and is screwed with at every turn. Back at the turn of the century, McKellan’s role as the already jaded and evil Magneto was stupendous, but Fassbender makes you genuinely feel some sympathy for the mutant who is proven to over and over again that he won’t be accepted, even when he’s being the good guy. Long after these films are gone, the German-Irish actor’s role in them will be remembered as the defining part of this trilogy.
I went in to X-Men: Apocalypse with pretty low – okay, very low – expectations; but overall, I have to admit that it wasn’t as rubbish as I anticipated it to be. It doesn’t break any new ground, but it doesn’t quite hit the awful levels of X-Men: The Last Stand where it throws all the shit at the wall hoping something will stick. A rubbish bad guy and a severely bloated run time hinder a film that was actually pretty enjoyable. If I had to score it, I’d give it a solid 6/10.