“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” (2016) Review

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” (2016) Review

Two years following the success of 2014’s “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, Marvel Entertainment released a new “X-MEN” film set ten years after the previous one. The movie proved to be the fourth one directed by Bryan Singer.

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” began in ancient Egypt, where the world’s first mutant, a powerful individual named En Sabah Nur, ruled by by transferring his mind into new bodies. Unfortunately, a group of former worshipprs betrayed En Sabah Nur aka “Apocalypse” by entombing him alive. They also killed his four lieutenants, the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, who tried to protect him. The movie jumped to 1983 Egypt where C.I.A. Agent Moira MacTaggert (last seen in 2011’s “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”) has been investigating a cult in Egypt that worships En Sabah Nur. Her accidental exposure his tomb to sunlight awakened the ancient mutant and produced a shock wave around the globe. Following his awakening, En Sabah Nur set out to recruit four mutants as his new “Four Horsemen”:

*Ororo Munroe aka “Storm” – an orphan and pickpocket from the streets of Cairo, who is able to control the weather

*Warren Worthington III aka “Angel” – a mutant with feathered wings on his back, who has resorted to participating in underground fight clubs in Berlin

*Psylocke – an enforcer for the black marketeer mutant Caliban, who is not only telepathic and telekinetic, but can also produce a purple-colored psychic energy

*Erik Lehnsherr aka “Magneto” – a Holocaust survivor and former friend of Charles Xavier, who has the ability to manipulate metal and control magnetic fields, and who is recently grieving over the accidental deaths of his wife and daughter by the Polish police

Apocalypse’s shock wave also caused Jean Grey, an adolescent student and mutant at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters to have a nightmare and momentarily lose control of her powers. When Charles Xavier attempted to investigate the power source he discovered that Moira was involved. Although her previous memories of them together were erased, Xavier meets with her to discuss the legend of En Sabah Nur. But when they become aware of the ancient mutant’s plans to bring about the apocalypse; Xavier and Moira recruit fellow mutants like Raven aka “Mystique”, Hank McCoy aka “Beast”, Alex Summers aka “Havok”, and Peter Maximoff aka “Quicksilver” to stop Apocalypse’s plans. Xavier students like Jean Grey, Scott Summers aka “Cyclops” (Alex’s nephew) and Kurt Wagner aka “Nightcrawler” also join the campaign to stop En Sabah Nur.

Let me be frank. “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was not well received by the critics and many filmgoers. I am not going to explain why they felt this way about the movie. Needless to say, I do not agree with this pervading view. I am not saying that “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was a great film. It was not. I believe the movie had some problems.

One of those problems is that some of the cast members were obviously too young for their roles. This certainly seemed to be the case for James McAvoy Michael Fassbender and Rose Byrne, who portrayed Charles Xavier, Magneto and Moira McTaggart. All three are in their mid-to-late 30s and portrayed characters who were in their early 50s (late 40s for Moira, I suspect) . . . with no make-up to convey their characters’ aging. Both Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult portrayed Mystique and Hank McCoy, who were slightly younger than Xavier and Magneto. But “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” gave a good excuse for their slow aging . . . Mystique’s blood. Another cast member who portrayed a character much older than himself (without makeup) is Lucas Till, who is at least 25 or 26 years old, reprising his role as the late 30s to early 40s Alex Summers. And finally, we have Josh Helman, who is barely 30 years old, who reprised his role as William Stryker, who must have been around the same age as Xavier and Magneto. Does Singer have something against aging in his “X-MEN” films? And if he wanted to maintain the same cast, could he have at least consider using aging makeup for at least five members of the cast?

Two, what was the point in including both Stryker and Wolverine in this movie? Why? They were not essential to the plot. Was it really necessary for Singer to convey that Stryker had ended up giving Wolverine adamantium after all? Despite the time change in “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”? What was the point? Could we at least have one “X-MEN” film in which Hugh Jackman does not appear? I also see that Singer, along with screenwriter Simon Kinberg, decided to include Stryker in this tale as a plot device to delay Hank, Raven, Peter, and Moira from reaching Cairo. Pointless. It was the most pointless moment in this movie. Finally, I had a problem with the “Four Horsemen”. Aside from Magneto, the other three were barely used. What was the point in showing how they were recruited by En Sabah Nur, when Oscar Isaac and Michael Fassbender seemed to be the only ones in scenes featuring the ancient mutant and his “Horsemen”, who had the most lines. It is bad enough that once again, Singer indulged in his penchant for ignoring minority characters like Storm and Psylocke. Then he includes Angel into this movie – who was shown to be younger than Storm, Scott and Jean in 2006’s “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND” – and barely give the latter any lines.

And yet . . . I still liked “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE”. In fact, I liked it more than I did “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. The 2016 movie had its problems, but it never seemed racked with so many plot holes like the 2014 movie did. Without the cloud of time travel hovering over the movie, the writing for “APOCALPYSE” struck me as a little clearer and a lot more straightforward. I can applause Singer for attempting to tackle something complicated as time travel. I simply believe that he, Kinberg and the other screenwriters did not handle it very well. On the other hand, the more straightforward narrative for “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” seemed to suit both Singer and Kinberg.

I did not care for the minor arc regarding William Stryker and Wolverine. And yes, En Sabah Nur’s plot to retake the world seemed a bit unoriginal. But Singer and Kinberg handled this story a lot better than they did the time travel plot for the 2014 movie. And to be honest, I rather liked it. I did not love it, but I liked it. I also liked the fact that En Sabah Nur’s plot had a surprising twist (well, one that I did not see coming) that did not involved his “Four Horsemen”.

I may not have a high opinion of “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. But the movie did provide some interesting consequences that played out in “APOCALYPSE”. One, both movies allowed Xavier and Mystique to become close again, following their estrangement in “X-MEN: FIRST-CLASS”. In one of the movie’s more interesting scenes, Mystique discovers that she has become something of a legend to some of the younger mutants, including Xavier’s students. The movie also allowed Jean Grey the opportunity to learn to utilize her “Dark Phoenix” powers with more control . . . and without Xavier trying to suppress her. Do not get me wrong. I am one of those fans who actually enjoyed “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”. But it was nice to see Xavier dealing with Jean’s powers with a healthier attitude. And although I was not impressed by how Singer and Kinberg pushed Storm into the background – especially during the film’s second half, it was nice to get a peek into her life as a young Cairo pickpocket before she ended up as one of Apocalypse’s minions and later, a student at Xavier’s school.

I certainly had no problem with the movie’s productions. I thought Grant Major did an exceptional job in not only re-creating ancient Egypt for the movie’s prologue and for the rest of it, the early 1980s. This is not surprising, considering Major’s work with director Peter Jackson on movies such as “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography contributed to the movie’s epic and sweeping look. Louise Mingenbach’s costumes, along with Geoffroy Gosselin and Anne Kuljian’s set decorations struck me as a solid reflection of the movie’s early 1980s setting. But the two aspects of the movie’s visual style that really impressed me were Michael Louis Hill and John Ottman’s editing, especially in scenes that involved En Sabah Nur’s entombing in the movie’s beginning and the X-Men’s showdown with the ancient mutant. I was especially impressed with the movie’s special effects, especially in the very two scenes that I had just pointed out.

The acting featured in “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” also struck me as impressive. Well, to be honest, there were only a few performances that really caught my notice. However, I certainly had no problem with the other performances. Of the four actors who portrayed En Sabah Nur’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, only one left no impression upon me – namely Ben Hardy, who portrayed Angel. The character barely had any lines and if I am mistaken, I could have sworn that Angel’s character was from a younger generation (that of Rogue and Iceman’s) – at least in the current movie franchise. I can also say the same about actress Lana Candor, who portrayed Jubilee. Not only did the actress barely had any lines, she was also portrayed as an Xavier student from Rogue and Iceman’s generation in a previous movie.

Although Alexandra Shipp, who portrayed Storm, and Olivia Munn, who portrayed Psylocke; were shifted to the background after their characters were introduced; both managed to impress me in the end. Shipp’s portrayal of the adolescent Storm struck me as rather lively and energetic. And Munn was effectively intimidating as the mutant enforcer, who becomes one of En Sabah Nur’s minions. The movie also featured solid performances from Rose Byrne, who returned as C.I.A. Agent Moira McTaggert; Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan as the adolescent Jean Grey and Scott Summers aka “Cyclops”; Kodi Smit-McPhee as the younger Kurt Wagner aka “Nightcrawler”; Lucas Till as Alex Summers aka Havok; Nicholas Hoult as Dr. Hank McCoy aka “Beast”; Josh Helman as William Stryker; and Evan Peters as the always amusing Peter Maximoff aka “Quicksilver”. If you are careful, you might also spot Hugh Jackman, Zeljko Ivanek, Ally Sheedy and of course, Stan Lee.

Only four performances in this movie really impressed me. One of them turned out to be James McAvoy’s portrayal of Charles Xavier aka “Professor X”. At first, McAvoy’s performance seemed solid . . . almost perfunctory. But once it became apparent that Professor Xavier’s fate was connected with with En Sabah Nur’s scheme, McAvoy skillfully portrayed the telepathic mutant with a great deal of emotion and pathos. Michael Fassbender proved to be equally fascinating as the emotionally battered Erik Lensherr. He did a great job in conveying Magneto’s reactions to the deaths of a family and peaceful life, and to being emotionally manipulated by En Sabah Nur. Jennifer Lawrence continued to impress me with her excellent portrayal of the complex Raven aka “Mystique”. I found it fascinating to watch the 20-something actress portray a character who had become battle hardened and mature after spending two decades fighting on behalf of fellow mutants. Many critics have complained about Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of the movie’s main villain, En Sabah Nur aka “Apocalypse”. Apparently, they could not get past the actor’s make-up or mask. Well, I could. And I thought Isaac did a pretty damn good job in portraying a villain who was not only something of an egomaniac, but also a world-class manipulator. And he did so with great skill and subtlety.

I am not saying that “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was one of the best movies from the summer of 2016. Nor am I saying that it was one of the best in the “X-MEN” movie franchise. But I certainly do not believe that it was one of the worst. As far as I am concerned, the worst in the movie franchise was released four-and-a-half months earlier. But I thought it was something of an improvement over the convoluted plot that seemed to mar “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, thanks to Bryan Singer’s direction, Simon Kinberg’s screenplay and an excellent cast led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.

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“X-MEN” Movies Ranking

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Below is my ranking of the movies I have seen from the “X-MEN” film franchise.  Warning: many may not agree with it:

“X-MEN” MOVIES RANKING

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1. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) – Bryan Singer directed this film about Army colonel William Stryker’s plans to use Professor Charles Xavier to destroy the world’s mutant population once and for all. As you can see, this is my favorite in the franchise.

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3. “X-Men: First-Class” (2011) – Matthew Vaughn directed this tale set in 1962 about the first meeting between Charles Xavier “Professor X” and Erik Lensherr “Magneto”, their creation of the X-Men and their efforts to prevent mutant villain Sebastian Shaw from using the Cuban Missile Crisis to acquire world domination. Despite the questionable costumes and a few plot holes, this was a big favorite of mine.

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3. “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006) – Brett Ratner directed this tale about the X-Men overcoming tragedy to deal with the resurrected and more powerful Jean Grey and Magneto’s continuing war on non-mutant humans. Many fans hated this film. I enjoyed it, although I found the pacing a bit too rushed. Enough said.

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4. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009) – Gavin Hood directed this movie about the origins of James Howlett aka the Wolverine and his relationship with his murderous half-brother Victor Creed aka Sabertooth and his first class with William Stryker in the 1970s. Another movie hated by the fans. And again, I enjoyed it, although I consider it lesser than the 2006 movie.

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5. “X-Men: Days of Future Days” (2014) – Directed by Bryan Singer, this movie is a time-travel adventure for Wolverine, who must convince a younger Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr to prevent Mystique from murdering a anti-mutant scientist, whose work will prove deadly for mutants within a half century. Great premise, but shaky execution. Too many plot holes, but still enjoyable.

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6. “The Wolverine” (2013) – James Mangold directed this atmospheric tale about Wolverine, still grieving over a recent tragedy, traveling to Japan to meet the Wolverine heading to Japan for a reunion with a soldier named Ichirō Yashida whose life he saved during the Nagasaki bombing at the end of World War II. He ends up defending Yashida’s granddaughter from the Yakuza and her avaricious father. Great Japanese atmosphere and interesting beginning, but it nearly fell to pieces in the last half hour.

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7. “X-Men” (2000) – Bryan Singer directed this first movie in the franchise about Wolverine and a young Marie aka “Rogue”’s introduction to the X-Men and their efforts to defeat Magneto’s plans to transform the entire population into mutants against their will. Enjoyable, but it felt like a B-movie trying to disguise itself as an A-lister. Also, too many plot holes.

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8. “Deadpool” (2016) – Ryan Reynolds starred in this reboot of the Deadpool character about the comic book hero’s origins and his hunt for the man who gave him an accelerated healing factor, but also a scarred physical appearance. Despite the sharp humor and fourth wall cinematic device, the narrative struck me as sloppily written and mediocre.

“KICK ASS 2” (2013) Review

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“KICK ASS 2” (2013) Review

The 2010 superhero action-comedy movie, “KICK ASS” barely profited at the box office, three years ago. Although it was well received by the critics, it barely made a dent into public opinion, until it was eventually released on DVD and became a cult favorite. 

Due to the increasing popularity of “KICK ASS” over the next two to three years, Universal Pictures decided to finance a sequel. The 2010 film was based upon the 2008-2010 comic book series created by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. The pair created two sequels to their creation – “Kick Ass 2” and “Hit Girl”, which this new movie sequel is based upon.

Following his retirement from being costume hero Kick Ass, Dave Lizewski discovers that life of a normal citizen does not suit him. He seeks Mindy Macready aka Hit Girl to train him in becoming a more proper hero. Because Mindy has promised her guardian Marcus Williams not to engage in vigilante activities, she secretly trains Dave in hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile, the now fatherless Chris D’Amico accidentally kills his mother with a tanning bed, when they argue over her apathy towards his father’s death. Now in control of his family’s money, Chris decides to re-invent himself as a super villain known as “The Motherfucker”, and swears to get revenge on Kick-Ass for the death of his mobster father, Frank D’Amico. Dave’s training with Mindy ends when Marcus discovers that she has been leaving the house as Hit Girl and hanging around with Dave. With Mindy no longer at his side, Dave joins a band of costume vigilantes called “Justice Forever”, led by a former Mob henchman named Sal Bertolinni aka Colonel Stars and Stripes. And Chris recruits his own band of followers, with the help of one of his father’s former henchmen named Javier.

Writer-director Matthew Vaughn, who wrote and directed the 2010 film, did not return as one of the screenwriters and director for“KICK ASS 2”. Instead, he, along with Brad Pitt, served as one of the movie’s producers. Jeff Wadlow was chosen to write the screenplay and direct “KICK ASS 2”. Mind you, I believe he did a pretty good job. But a part of me ended up longing that Vaughn had co-written and directed the film. Like many sequels, “KICK ASS 2” failed to be better or just as good as the original film. But it was not the disaster that some people claimed it was.

If I have to be brutally honest, Wadlow lacked Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman’s wicked and slightly off-kilter sense of humor. Even worse, Wadlow borrowed one of Vaughn and Goldman’s jokes from the first movie- involving bullets and flak jackets – that simply came off as tired, instead of funny and fresh. But “KICK ASS 2” did include some funny moments. My favorites included Dave’s first solo fight against a group of thugs, Javier’s constant chiding of Chris’ habit of giving some of his henchmen politically incorrect names, and Dave’s first meetings with fellow costume vigilantes Doctor Gravity and Colonel Stars and Stripes and other members of “Justice Forever”. I must admit that I found Mindy’s attempt to be a “normal” girl in order to placate Marcus’ anxieties rather amusing, but not exactly a highlight of the movie. But There is one particular scene I DID NOT find funny at all – namely Chris’ attempted rape of Miranda Swedlow aka Night-Bitch. Perhaps I should be grateful that Wadlow did not repeat Millar and Romita’s comic book sequence featuring the gang rape of Dave’s old girlfriend, Katie Deauxma. But I did not appreciate the humor featured in Chris’ failed rape attempt . . . or the fact that this scene segued into Miranda suffering a major beating by one of his minions.

Even before Chris and his followers appeared at Miranda’s home, the movie had already taken a darker turn with the bad guys’ brutal murder of Colonel Stars and Stripes. And during Miranda’s beating, another one of Chris’ minions, a muscular ex-KGB agent and convict named Mother Russia, murdered ten cops that appeared on the scene. This led to a crackdown on all costumed vigilantes by the police. And when Dave’s father confessed to being Kick Ass, the movie became even darker. Ironically, I found this dark plot turn beneficial to the movie. I believe it improved the movie – story wise. In fact, Dave’s reaction to his father’s death proved to be more realistic and satisfying than his reaction to his mother’s death in “KICK ASS”.

Although “KICK ASS 2” featured some pretty damn good performances, there were a few that stood out for me. One of them came from Aaron Johnson-Taylor, whom I believe gave an excellent performance as Dave Lizewski. Mind you, I had not been impressed by his performance in “ANNA KARENNIA”. I suspect that the critics’ negative reaction to that performance had spilled over to his performance in this movie. And I do not believe he deserved such unfair criticism. Chloë Grace Moretz was marvelous, as always, as the butt-kicking Mindy Macready aka Hit Girl. Despite my lukewarm reaction to her “MEAN GIRLS” story arc, I thought she conveyed a good deal of complexity and vulnerability in her portrayal of Mindy’s attempts to become popular and in the latter’s complicated relationship with godfather Marcus Williams.

Speaking of the latter, I really enjoyed Morris Chestnut’s performance as Mindy’s well-meaning godfather. Thanks to his portrayal, one could tell that Marcus meant well and had a great deal of concern toward his goddaughter. But at the same time, anyone could see that his feelings were ruled by fear. I suspect that many people had expected Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Colonel Stars and Stripes to be a copycat of Nicholas Cage’s performance as Mindy’s late father, Damon Macready aka Big Daddy. Fortunately, Carrey’s character proved to be a different kettle of fish, a charismatic leader who seemed to have better social skills and an intolerance for profanity. And the actor-comedian did a hell of a great job with the role. Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s continuing portrayal of Chris D’Amico proved to be a great surprise in this movie. Mind you, I had been very impressed by his comic timing in“KICK ASS”. I read somewhere that he had been uneasy over whether he could transform Chris into a darker character. Well, you know what? Not only did Mintz-Plasse managed to explore Chris’ darker traits, his character proved to be just as scary as Frank D’Amico in the first film. More importantly, the actor maintained Chris’ goofier persona at the same time.

“KICK ASS 2” also featured some supporting performances that I found impressive. Donald Faison struck me as exceptionally funny as the enthusiastic Doctor Gravity. John Leguizamo gave a warm and funny performance as Frank D’Amico’s former henchman and Chris’ present bodyguard, Javier. Ukrainian body-builder Olga Kurkulina proved to be surprisingly and effectively scary as Chris’ top henchman, Mother Russia. Garrett M. Brown had some wonderful and poignant moments with Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the very concerned Mr. Lizewski. And Lindsay Booth proved to be equally poignant as Miranda Swedlow aka Night Bitch, a victim of Chris D’Amico’s vengeance, who rallied at the end to support Dave and Mindy in the final showdown.

One would think I really loved “KICK ASS 2”, considering the amount of positive things I had to say about it. I did not love it or embraced it as I did the first film. It had some flaws I could not swallow, especially the attempted rape scene. But I feel that it was good enough for me to enjoy, thanks to Jeff Wadlow’s writing and direction, along with some fine performances from a cast led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.