X-Men: Age of Apocalypse (A Review)

Posted: 06/08/2016 in Uncategorized

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Well, I have finally seen Age of Apocalypse and I am still pondering two questions? 1. Why was this so poorly, critically reviewed? 2. Why aren’t fans attending this film en masse?  For the sheer scope and magnitude of what was attempted; both Bryan Singer and all involved should be lauded.  I will not say this venture was perfect, but good Lord, they essentially brought a mutant god to the big screen, brought in a multitude of X-Men characters and presented numerous stand-out performances with the promise of an incredible future end game and story lines for the next decade in one fell swoop.

I will open with the negative as the majority of my review will be glowing. I did not think the mutant cage match sequences in Germany added much other than giving Mystique/Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) something to do, namely her ongoing rescue mission continuing her journey thematically from Days of Future Past. Yet again, the presentation of Angel (Ben Hardy) failed. I don’t know why this long time fan favorite and member of the original core group causes so much trouble for writing teams and directors alike. The transformation of Angel to Arc Angel via Apocalypse’s intercession, however, was bang on. We just don’t have any investment in him honestly and as such find it difficult to care about him. This film’s version was no better or worse than Ben Foster’s more pacifistic rendition in the excremental “Last Stand”. Visually, he popped off the screen but didn’t accomplish much else.  I do give a kudo to Bryan Singer for dropping Metallica’s “Four Horseman” blasting out of Angel’s speakers as he meets with Apocalypse and his new acolytes.

The second sticking point was the near messianic depiction of Mystique. I have become a fan of Jennifer Lawrence since American Hustle and have enjoyed her version of Mystique, especially in Days of Future Past. Here, however, she is presented as too much of an ideal. She is the bridge amongst all mutants and the only one able to reach Magneto (Michael Fassbender) despite the fact that he had no compunction about attempting to assassinate her in DOFP. The students at Xavier’s School for the gifted worship her. Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) cites her as her inspiration as does Storm/Ororo Munroe (Alexandra Shipp). Her rancorous behavior around Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is meant to be her hard fought/won independence but comes off as haughty and opinionated. “Humans still hate us Charles, they are just more polite about it…” indeed. She is not meant to carry this film, but there was certainly a push to do so up to and including her “evolving” from not being part of Charles’ universe to becoming the team’s nascent leader.  I get the point. Xavier’s perspective is too pacifistic, bordering on naive. He wants his school to grow into an institute of learning to include both human and mutant alike, seeing a peaceable universality governed by reason. Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto’s perspective is brokered by loss and pain, beginning in Auschwitz and escalated in Poland. His view is purely vengeful. She sees a need to create soldiers as well as students and I get that. She just didn’t sell it well enough by my reckoning.

Now, on to the good…and there is so very much of it. McAvoy is Professor X. His empathy, humor and powerful performance throughout – assures us that he will remain so for years and x-film projects to come. Even his inevitable physical transformation into the more familiar variant of Prof.X is seamless and brilliant really. All of his interactions with his students are superb. His relationship with Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) is that of a peer rather than a pure mentor and that transition has occurred organically over the course of three films. The later exhibitions of McCoy’s agility and strength as Beast took the character to a new level. Lucas Till’s Havoc/Alex Summers joined the dynamic quite nicely including teasing Xavier about his intentions toward Moira MacTaggart (Rose Byrne). The presentation of Xavier’s abilities, particularly while amped up by Apocalypse was fantastic. The darkening eye effect, oft used of late, worked unquestionably here illustrating both the corruption of the villain’s reach and the profundity of his power. A later face to face between Xavier and Apocalypse in which he engages him in the “astral plane” presented in the frame work of Charles’ house was outstanding. So many shout outs to previous work occur including a re-visitation of the “does it keep you up nights” speech between X and Magneto that never, ever gets old….ever….

Michael Fassbender is Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto. His attempt to live a normal life after the incidents in DOFP provides him with some peace via his marriage to Magda (Carolina Bartczak) and a daughter, Nina (T.J. McGibbon). This is a story of mutants, however, so we know a happy, sunny existence is not in the cards for Magneto. Nonetheless the moments that ensue are duly heart wrenching. Fassbender’s performance with his family and later while re-visiting Auschwitz is a stellar, including the cathartic moment Apocalypse affords him.

Evan Peters as Peter/Quicksilver produces more smile inducing glee than most film forays have mustered in the past ten years. His now understanding his connection to Magneto, and attempting to reach out to Xavier and his people, yields to one of the most absolutely stunning visual moments in the film, trumping even his exceptional star making turn in DOFP. Peters sells it…and sells it well. Quicksilver is bright, funny and there is so much heart presented with this character that one simply can’t look away when he is on screen.

The new crew: Tye Sheridan as Cyclops, Codi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler and Sophie Turner as Jean Grey are absolutely superb. Sheridan brings an angry vulnerability to the role of the young man who will eventually become the X-Men’s leader. His connection with Jean is immediate and the two have an effortless chemistry. The initial demonstration of Cyclops’ power is astounding and is softened by Xavier’s “favorite tree” comment. Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler works on every level, injecting a bit more humor than his earlier depiction by Alan Cumming in X-Men United. (I am not drawing any unfavorable comparison here as Cumming absolutely slayed his performance). Nightcrawler’s posing for his passport photo was just plain hilarious. His presence in the film is pushed to mvp status which again worked on all fronts.

Sophie Turner is Jean Grey. I have long been a fan of Famke Jensen’s depiction…even in the horrific Last Stand, but Turner makes this role her own. She has a quiet reserve that befits someone feeling like an outcast and harboring so much conflict within. Jean’s connection with Scott occurs naturally generating an immediate empathy and bond between the two. Her presence in the film is a game changer, including her eventual involvement in the denouement and the duly earned “All is revealed” segment from Apocalypse.

This segues nicely into Oscar Isaacs as the film’s big bad. From the opening sequence setting up who he is and how he is essentially immortal, Singer succeeds in bringing this long time uber villain to the big screen. There have been so many complaints from his appearance compared by many puerile minds to a character from Power Rangers to his voice not being imposing enough. Really? He looked the part. The demonstrations of his power, especially with his first meeting with Storm and later meeting with Magneto, were masterful. His actions are so casual, a practical afterthought, and this dismissive-ness assures that the horror that occurs seems all the more resonant and profound. His voice is duly alien, altering even more when the occasions called for it. He presented a fantastic menace particularly with a phenomenal scene with nuclear warheads. Isaacs is an Oscar level actor and his performance in this movie is honestly flawless.

The cameo performance by Hugh Jackman is so breathtakingly good. His appearance was a poorly- guarded secret. The context of it however yields an incredible payoff and the question of why the hell is Bryan Singer not front-of-the-line for direction of all Wolverine films. Honestly. This segment was straight out of the pages and could yield a film all its own.

There is just so much to process with this flick. There is so much set up, so much potential to be had. Honestly, AOA is a love letter to fans, gifting any familiar with the lore with more caveats than one can absorb. A general audience is equally gifted with a damn fine, daring cinematic experience. Go and see this, will ya? Age of Apocalypse is assuredly outstanding and unquestionably well worth your time. An end credit scene can be summed up with one word which offers so much awesomeness to come…”Essex”:)

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