Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mutants, Take Us Away

It must be nerve-racking trying to make a movie about amazing phenomena these days when every month seems to bring the spectacle to end all spectacles. 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse is an adequate X-Men film. It retreads a lot of familiar territory and has some lousy dialogue but there's nothing especially bad about it, it features great performances and has a good story.

The usually affable and charming Oscar Isaac plays villain here as the eponymous Apocalypse, an ancient Egyptian, ultra-powerful mutant. He's okay, not as amazing as he is in a Poe Dameron type role. But the plot makes Apocalypse feel plenty threatening as he manages to overpower every mutant and put Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) in his usual role of Professor in Distress. Olivia Munn is more interesting in the almost silent role of Psyloche, the character whose history in the comics is a complex tale of a white Englishwoman having her personality transferred into the body of a Japanese woman. Yet Munn has Vietnamese/Chinese/Caucasian heritage! Someone call Margaret Cho!

Despite the lack of racial purity, the great thing about Munn is you can sense how much she loves being here. I love how she was keen on wearing the original costume and in her few bits of dialogue she comes off as sharp and dangerous. She owns the action scenes later in the film as the performer whose facial expressions seem most connected to the special effects.

The standout scene of Days of Future Past belonged to Quicksilver (Evan Peters) whose slow motion run showed the kid being amusingly flippant with his incredible power. Apocalypse has a similar scene designed to be even more amazing and funny as Quicksilver evacuates the whole Xavier school for Mutants mid-explosion while the Eurythemics' "Sweet Dreams" plays on the soundtrack. The film also devotes more time to his story as Magneto's long lost son.

But Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has a whole new family in Soviet Russia in this film which is set during the early 80s. Fassbender sells the desperate devotion he has to the family and humble life he's trying to eke out as a steel mill worker. The film goes back once again to Auschwitz to touch base with the original motivation for his mutant versus human philosophy, something that was startling and effective when Bryan Singer filmed it in his first X-Men film. Now, I suppose it is necessary to get to Magneto's emotional perspective but it is starting to feel a bit repetitive. A scene with his family being confronted by a group of Soviet police, though, would be perfectly adequate without it, especially with a potent line delivery Fassbender reportedly improvised.

The film introduces some new versions of old characters. Sophie Turner plays Jean Grey now and she helps make a climactic scene with her and Professor X pretty satisfying.

My favourite character in the comics was always Storm who was generally short-changed in the original Singer films. Alexandra Shipp replaces Halle Berry, which is not a step down. I can't really tell if it's a step up because she's barely a presence in Apocalypse. Which is inevitable--there are so many characters in X-Men, they can't all have the spotlight or even nice, memorable moments. I just wish it wasn't my favourite character who was getting consistently sidelined.

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