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Friday, May 27, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse



X-Men: Apocalypse's mutant power is an overwhelming sense of deja vu. When En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), the first, handsomest (until he turns blue), and most powerful mutant known as Apocalypse, awakens from a 3600 year slumber, he plunges the X-Men into an adventure where they end up doing a lot of things they've done in prior X-Men movies. Stop me if you've heard this before: Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is kidnapped and held hostage for his mutant psychic abilities. The X-Men are captured and brought to a base in Alkali Lake, where Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) was created. Wolverine goes into a beserker rage, carving up the troops of his arch nemesis William Stryker (Josh Helman) with his adamantium claws. (All greatest hits from X2: X-Men United.) Xavier and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) take turns quoting their closing dialogue from the first X-Men movie 16 years ago (which is, confusingly, 17 years in the future from this episode, set in 1983). And there's all the usual stuff to X off the list in an X-Men movie: new students joining Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, visits to Cerebro underneath the X-Mansion, and plenty of callbacks to stuff that happened in X-Men: First Class, which happened 20 years prior to the events in Apocalypse, though nary an X-Man nor anyone else in that movie has aged a day. (Xavier makes mention of non-mutant Moira MacTaggert's, played by Rose Byrne, uncanny ability to look exactly as young 20 years later, and the movie moves on.) On the other hand, an X-Men comics tradition finally occurs in a movie when the X-Mansion is destroyed. Luckily, Magneto and young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) have the mutant power to be contractors.

Working from a screenplay from Simon Kinberg that crams a ton of mutants into an under cooked tale, director Bryan Singer busily checks in with the exploits of his ever-growing, under-serviced cast of mutants. X-Men: Apocalypse tells us that Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, not feeling the blues and spending most of the movie looking like her movie star self) has become a mutant folk hero since the climactic moments of X-Men: Days of Future Past, when she saved President Richard Nixon from Magneto in 1973. Lots of young mutants have her poster on their wall, including a young Storm (Alexandra Shipp), who lives as a sneak thief in Cairo, Egypt. Other than recruit a young Nightcrawler (Kodi Smith-McPhee) and bring him to Xavier's School, Mystique has precious little to do in the movie, except fail to sweet talk Magneto from destroying Cairo, get choked by Apocalypse, and then become the X-Men's drill sergeant. Mystique does find time to make jokes to Beast (Nicholas Hoult) about getting a "War Plane," a canny reference to Hoult starring as a War Boy in Mad Max: Fury Road. We meet young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), the newest student at the Xavier School, who's just learning to control his mutant optic blasts. Cyclops in turn meets Jean Grey, the future love of his life, and host of the all-powerful Phoenix Force, which Apocalypse shoehorns in as another major plot point, setting up a second swipe at telling the "Dark Phoenix Saga" in a future X-Men movie.

When Apocalypse awakens, like Ivan Ooze did in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, he finds he missed the Black Plague, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Brady Bunch Reunion. Like Ivan Ooze, he finds the modern world wanting, and decides to destroy it, so he can rule it, or something. Apocalypse's logic is hazy and he's not much more than a collection of villainous platitudes. Unlike Ivan Ooze, Apocalypse isn't funny and he isn't much for idle chatter when he recruits his helpers, the Four Horsemen, who are Magneto, Storm, the metal-winged Angel (Ben Hardy), and the ridiculously hot Psylocke (Olivia Munn), who makes purple telekinetic swords and whips. To work for Apocalypse means a lot of standing around and not saying anything, hence the Horsemen turn out to be as dull and uninspiring as their leader. Apocalypse steals the world's nuclear missiles, thousands of them, and strands them all in space; an idea Superman (Christopher Reeve) wouldn't have until 1987 in Superman IV. But mainly, Apocalypse just wants to kill everyone. He's cool with the strongest mutants surviving. If any of this sounds like a good idea or not to Storm, Psylocke, Magneto, or Angel, they don't vocalize it. Turns out Apocalypse, with his ill-defined mutant powers of teleportation and making walls consume people like they're frozen in carbonite, is the shits as a world conqueror. What Apocalypse is great at, however, is designing super villain costumes. He personally gifts his Horsemen with new duds, and they all look smashing (especially Psylocke). Apocalypse could have been the mutant Tom Ford, but alas, he thinks too small.

Like the Johnny Appleseed of mutants, Magneto has been spreading his seed around, not just fathering Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who, like in Days of Future Past, steals the show with his speed but in a sequence that is somehow both more elaborate and perfunctory, but also having a new family in Poland, where he works in a steel mill. Having gone completely apeshit in 1963 and 1973, Magneto is right on schedule with his homicidal tantrums when he is discovered by local authorities who murder his family. Once more, an X-Men movie becomes about saving Erik's soul, and saving the world from scary Erik, until Charles is able to remind Erik of their bromance and he finally calms down. So Erik's good for another decade, all pals with Charles and Mystique again at the conclusion of Apocalypse until his next inevitable meltdown in 1993. As for Charles, perhaps the strangest choice in Apocalypse turns out to be the secret origin of how Xavier loses his hair: Apocalypse trying to transfer his consciousness into the world's most powerful psychic somehow snatched Xavier's edges bald. Did Apocalypse realize if he'd succeeded, he'd have been in the body of a paraplegic? No matter, he's probably got a mutant power for that.