Review for X-Men: Apocalypse
2016 was a bit of a funny year for movies, especially when it comes to comic book movies. The biggest hitters were the comparatively unlikely Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool, while the most anticipated tent-pole movies like Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad fell flat, critically speaking if not in terms of box office. There comes a point in a movie franchise, where the title is just so big, or the franchise so extensive that they become critic proof. The same is true for X-Men Apocalypse, the third in the rebooted X-Men Saga, or at the time, the eighth X-Men movie overall, including the three original, and the two Wolverine movies (now three).
I was looking forward to X-Men: Apocalypse, having been pleasantly surprised by First Class, and while aspects of Days of Future Past fell flat for me, I was still eagerly anticipating Apocalypse. That’s because the X-Men reboot films have been taking a whistle-stop tour of the decades, the sixties and the seventies, and with Apocalypse, they were going to hit my favourite decade, the decade that taste forgot. And then the reviews started rolling in. Forget watching it in the cinema, or even buying the Blu-ray day one, I’d wait for a bargain bucket on this one, as it seemed that Apocalypse had attained the same degree of critical disdain as Suicide Squad and the Superman movie.
The first mutant, Apocalypse rose to power in ancient Egypt, only to be betrayed by humans choosing not to worship a false god. Now in 1983, he’s risen once more to find a world fallen even further from his ideals, where the petty, weak, and insignificant humans have all the power. The only thing to do is to reshape the world in his image. That means wiping out the old world first. For that, he needs his Four Horsemen, four of the world’s most powerful mutants. While in the US, under the aegis of Charles Xavier, there is a degree of peaceful co-existence, elsewhere there are plenty of mutants downtrodden and persecuted by society for Apocalypse to recruit from, among them, Psylocke, Angel, Storm, and a recently bereaved and angry Magneto. All that stands against them are Charles Xavier’s fledgling X-Men.
A recent movie gets an impeccable transfer on Blu-ray, and I’m left searching for nits to pick. The digitally shot movie gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, with a thunderous DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround English track. X-Men Apocalypse looks fantastic, the image is clear, colours are consistent, and all of the action, the splendid production design, and the big budget effects come across without incident. The same is true for the audio experience, which tries to shake your subwoofer apart when explosions hit, when buildings fly apart, when the world shakes. Having said that, the dialogue remains clear throughout, and the iconic X-Men music is present and correct. It’s a great surround experience. You also have a DD 5.1 English audio descriptive track, DD 5.1 Spanish and Portuguese, and a DTS 5.1 French track, with subtitles in these languages too.
You get one disc in a Blu-ray Amaray, wrapped in an o-ring slipcover that merely replicates the sleeve art. Inside, you’ll also find the usual Ultraviolet digital copy details. It expires at the end of 2019.
The disc boots to an animated menu and it’s also a disc that holds its place in the player’s memory after it’s ejected.
There are 12 deleted scenes on this disc, with optional introductions to each scene from Bryan Singer. Thanks to a Play All option, this all runs to 28:11.
There is a 7:56 Gag Reel on the disc, one of the rare genuine funny ones. But... So... Much... Green-Screen!
The Wrap Party Video offers 4:46 more goofing off.
The making of material is in X-Men: Apocalypse Unearthed, 6 featurettes that run to a total of 63:58.
There is an audio commentary on the film from writer/director/producer Bryan Singer, and writer/producer Simon Kinberg.
There is a Gallery with Concept Art and Unit Photography.
Finally there are trailers for the film, two theatrical and one teaser. All of the extra material is in HD format.
My first reaction to watching X-Men Apocalypse was that it wasn’t that bad. It certainly wasn’t as bad as some of the reactions and reviews that I’ve read about it, and I was having a blast watching it, another dose of mutant super-powered action, brilliant effects, and a driving pace. I had fun watching this film, just as I do with most comic book and sci-fi action movies these days, as thrilling a ride as any theme park roller-coaster. And once again, the second that the end credits had rolled, the doubts started flaring up, the little niggles, and the disappointments.
My most immediate disappointment was with the setting, and it was a problem that reared up its ugly head for the second time following Days of Future Past. First Class was a great period flick that really lived up to its 1960s setting, when it came to costumes, production design and music. Days of Future Past’s ‘present day’ setting was ten years later, 1973, but there was very little of the 70s about it, and that happens again in Apocalypse, which feels nothing like it’s set in the 80s, not in the look of the film, not in the costumes, and certainly not in the music (the end credits reveal only two songs licensed). There’s a trip to the mall that seems like a quick, obligatory burst of the period, and hit of Knight Rider in Quicksilver’s basement, but that’s about it, although I did appreciate Nightcrawler’s Thriller era Michael Jackson get-up.
However, my strongest disappointment was with the writing, which tried to do too much, and succeeded narratively and emotionally at very little. That’s despite this being the longest X-Men movie to date at almost 2 and half hours. The basic story should have been sound, Apocalypse waking up to the 20th Century, and picking up where he left off 5 and a half thousand years before, trying to take over the world. It boils down to the X-Men versus Apocalypse, and the film should have coalesced around that. But the film tries to do too much, including a rather pointless diversion to Alkali Lake just so the requisite Wolverine cameo can occur. You have the new recruits to the X-Men being developed, young Cyclops and Jean Grey among them (Nightcrawler just gets lip-service, while Jubilee is wasted... again). Among the four horsemen, Magneto’s story arc is strong quite necessarily, while Storm’s conflict gets some development, but Psylocke and Angel may as well not even be there.
This is a film that has its mind set on the confrontation between Apocalypse and the X-Men, and it will do whatever it takes to make it happen, including some moments that seem very contrived. The way that Magneto loses his family is the sort of thing that could make a character come off the page and hunt down a writer, it is that stupid. Then again, you can balance the stupidity with the cool, and for the second movie running, it’s Quicksilver who gets the best scene, zipping through the X-Mansion. Visually, X-Men Apocalypse is exciting, but I’m not buying any of the character beats, I didn’t sense any burgeoning attraction between Scott and Jean, I didn’t get the whole Moira Charles thing, I didn’t see why Storm or Magneto changed their minds at the end, or indeed why they hooked up with Apocalypse’s doomsday plan in the first place. I didn’t get why the world didn’t really freak out once this movie had its version of Judgement Day. Just like any big-budget disaster flick, this is all about seeing the landmarks get wrecked.
Don’t get me started on the timeline, and it’s nothing to do with the reset that happens in Days of Future Past. These are films that take place over two decades, yet no one seems to age. And the age gap between the Summers siblings gives me a headache. Alex Summer’s fighting in the Cuban missile crisis in 1963, and little brother Scott joins Xavier’s academy in 1983. That just doesn’t make sense, unless there are about ten siblings in between that we don’t know about.
The X-Men movies used to have a degree of smart to them, no doubt conveyed by the gravitas of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, but they gradually drifted towards stupidity, troughing (the opposite of peaking) at The Last Stand. With First Class, I had thought that they had got the smart back again, but the previous film and this one reveal it to be pseudo-smart. Like so many summer popcorn movies X-Men Apocalypse is a film to appreciate while you watch it, just don’t waste any brain cells on it afterwards, as you might wind up thinking that it’s worse than it actually is; brilliant, stunning, entertaining, and wholly vacant fun.