MOVIE BUFF-ET: X-Men Apocalypse suffers under the weight of its super-hero competition

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

In a very real sense, director Bryan Singer is the father of the modern super-hero films that so dominate the landscape of movie theaters around the world.

It was the success of his X-Men in 2000 that paved the way for Sam Raimi’s trio of Spider-Man films and the impetus for Warner Bros. to re-launch Batman under the guidance of Christopher Nolan.

Those successes prompted Marvel to open its own studio to better exploit its cadre of super-powered intellectual properties for itself. Sixteen years, more than a score of films and billions of dollars later, super-heroes stride across the big screen with regularity. Current and coming attractions for movie theaters read like a fan-boy’s pull list at a comic-book shop. Singer didn’t create the big-budget super-hero film, but he and his version of the X-Men was the catalyst.

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  • A Bigger Splash (R) 2 hrs.
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Evidently that’s a heavy burden to bear.

Singer’s latest venture into the world of mutants, X-Men Apocalypse, isn’t a bad movie, but it does seem tired and weary of the super-hero game, possibly like its director does. It doesn’t favorably compare to the Russo brothers’ Captain America: Civil War on the emotional spectrum, it lacks the car-crash appeal of the juicy mess Zack Snyder made with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and it doesn’t step near the naughty and violent territory Deadpool marked for itself in the first of this year’s slate of super-hero flicks.

It might not be exactly fair to compare all those movies. I get that films should be judged on their own merits, but with so many super heroes crusading for our time and money, it’s hard to exercise the tolerance and understanding that the X-characters have advocated since first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963.

Had Singer produced a film of this magnitude in 2000, it might have made even more money than the original made. In many ways, it’s a superior product, but it does lag behind the competition.

In the last outing, X-Men: Day of Future Past, a new timeline was established when the future consciousness of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) took over his past body to avert an assassination that would have had cataclysmic consequences in the future.

Thankfully Singer doesn’t explain all that in this film; however, it does lead to about an hour of introductions and re-introductions of the film’s massive cast. In this reset, the characters of Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) are recast with younger actors and to varying degrees they play pivotal parts in the movie.

However, the familiar trio of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) remain the heart and soul of the film. McAvoy and Fassbender offer credible work, but this may be the worst performance of Lawrence’s career. Her character is supposed to be a hero for the younger set of mutants, but she fails to achieve anything close to inspirational with her line readings.

Perhaps the most interesting and perplexing portion of the film is the prologue, set in ancient Egypt and featuring the Oscar Isaac as the film’s heavy Apocalypse. He is the first mutant and is supremely powerful. It’s entertaining how he is mummified and brought out of hibernation in the 1980s, but his motivation for wanting set the world aflame once he’s awake isn’t fully detailed. I am, therefore I destroy?

The film tells rather than shows pertinent facts with ponderous monologues and a metric ton of exposition that lays waste to any momentum the film attempts to build.

Apocalypse recruits his Four Horseman, one of which is Psylocke (Olivia Munn), who truly looks like she stepped off the comic-book page as the character, but other than a few moments in a couple of fight scenes, she isn’t given much to do other than stare intently into the camera.

The special effects rival its misused cast as the film’s greatest asset. The movie really does look great. Quicksilver (Evan Peters) shows off his time-stopping super speed in a scene that perhaps goes on for too long, but it remains a great gimmick for displaying the character’s power.

The movie offers a fair share of humor and fan service including an appearance by Jackman, and its climax boils back down the relationship between Xavier and Magneto. However, it comes off more as a cinematic checklist than an actual story worth telling.

There have been rumbles that Singer might step away from the directorial chair in future episodes of the franchise. It might be time. Singer’s effort here makes him seem weary of the slog. A new guiding hand, perhaps Deadpool director Tim Miller, might be exactly what’s needed to inject further life into the X-franchise.

Grade: C

Classic Corner

State of the Union

There are more highly regarded pairings of Katherine Hepburn (Mary Mathews) and Spencer Tracy (Grant Matthews) than Frank Capra’s 1948 political drama State of the Union, but none of them as applicable to the current political climate.

Like Donald Trump, Tracy’s Grant Matthews is a successful businessman who has presidential aspirations. He’s boisterous and brash like Trump, and seen as an unconventional but popular dark horse, who has a chance to push his way onto the political landscape. Matthews is convinced to run for the Republican nomination by newspaper owner Kay Thorndyke (Angela Lansbury), who is secretly his lover, and political strategist Jim Conover (Adolphe Menjou). They love Matthews’ charisma and connive to mold Grant into a candidate who can win.

To have a chance at the nomination, Grant must reunite with estranged wife Mary (Hepburn), for public relations purpose. While exasperated by her husband’s philandering ways, Mary believes he has to core qualities to be a fine president. The film’s title, of course, is a play on the state of the nation and the state of the main characters’ marriage. The film’s conflict revolves around the compromises a presidential candidate and his family are willing to make for the campaign and just where they draw those lines.