Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

As a long-time fan of the X-Men movies, I had hoped to see Apocalypse before now, but, well, life.

Apocalypse, Psylocke, and Magneto in X-Men: ApocalypseAlso as a long-time fan of the series, I had kind of mixed feelings going into the movie. On the one hand, yay, new X-Men. On the other, Apocalypse honestly didn’t look all that interesting compared to most of the past movies.

I was right to be concerned, but the good news is it’s still a decent movie all told.

In case you’re somehow unfamiliar with the story, X-Men: Apocalypse deals mainly with the titular character, the first and most powerful mutant. Apocalypse is an immortal being who has achieved nearly limitless power by absorbing the abilities of dozens of other mutants over many centuries. Entombed beneath the earth for thousands of years, Apocalypse has now been unleashed, and he plans to destroy human civilization as we know it and rule over what remains as a god.

Apocalypse is one of the main problems with the movie. Despite his vast power, he is ultimately an incredibly dull villain. He has no nuance, no motivation the viewer can sympathize with.

And honestly he’s just not that crucial to the story, strange as that may sound. If you removed Apocalypse from the movie that bears his name, not all that much would change.

Really the story is about Magneto. Again. It’s pretty much a retread of Magneto’s story to date, especially his arc in Days of Future Past. He’s angry at humans and wants to destroy the world, but Charles and the X-Men still believe he can be redeemed.

Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, and Cyclops in X-Men: ApocalypseIt’s a powerful story, and Michael Fassbender is a fantastic actor, so if you’re going to retread a story, you could do a lot worse than this one. I feel very torn because we have seen all this before, but it’s still such a compelling story.

The other big problem with Apocalypse (the movie, not the character) is that it spreads itself incredibly thin. It introduces over half a dozen new mutants, and also reintroduces Moira McTaggert… for some reason. Seriously, Moira spends the entire movie just standing in the background and looking shocked. She does nothing.

Moira is the most egregious example of a character included just for the sake of saying they’re present, but she’s far from the only one. Other than Magneto, none of Apocalypse’s “horsemen” (half of which are actually more horsewomen) get any real development, and a lot of the good-side mutants are about as undercooked.

I think a particular missed opportunity was not delving more into Nightcrawler’s spirituality. His faith is so important to him, and Apocalypse is pretty much the definition of a false idol. You’d think they could have made something out of that. But no, he’s another character who’s just kind of there.

Also, did anyone really want to see a young Cyclops? Does anyone actually like him at all, come to think of it? I think we pretty much all agree he’s the lamest of the X-Men by far.

Quicksilver saves the day in X-Men: ApocalypseOn the other hand, there are some pleasant surprises here. Quicksilver has gone from a character I usually remember exists to possibly one of my favourite mutants. He’s basically just nothing but awesome and ass-kicking through the whole movie.

There are also some surprise cameos by a couple of old favourites that add some real spice to the movie.

While they don’t get as much attention as they should due to the bloated cast, the core X-Men cast members — Xavier, Beast, Mystique — all put on strong performances again. Xavier, in particular, has some truly spectacular scenes this time around. I’ve never seen that character properly angry before. It’s terrifying.

Finally, something else that impressed me about Apocalypse was its special effects and cinematography. Not just the technical quality of the effects, but the creativity and artistry with which they’re used. This is a beautiful movie to look at.

So Apocalypse is one of those weird movies that’s kind of crappy in some ways but also really good in others. It’s all over the map, but on balance, I’d say it’s more good than bad.

It’s definitely not on par with the last couple of X-Men films, though.

Overall rating: 7.4/10

Retro Review: The Wolverine

I finally got around to signing up for Netflix, so you can probably expect an increase in movie and TV reviews on this here blog in the coming weeks.

A promotional image for The WolverineFirst, I’m going to be talking about The Wolverine. This is one of the movies I missed out on seeing in the theater due to my current geographical isolation, and boy, do I regret it.

This could be considered a sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but really it’s quite a standalone story. It hits a good balance between being connected to the plots of other X-Men films but not requiring knowledge of them to understand what’s going on.

As the story begins, Wolverine is wandering without focus or cause. His life has gone on for too long. He has suffered too much, and lost too many people close to him. In particular, his is constantly tormented by visions of Jean Grey, whom he killed.

It is in this state that a woman named Yukio finds him. She has been sent by her master, an aging Japanese magnate named Yashida, to bring Wolverine to Tokyo so that he may thank the mutant for saving his life during the Second World War.

Upon arriving in Japan, Wolverine learns the situation is somewhat more complicated. Yashida believes his technology can transfer Wolverine’s healing powers, allowing Wolverine to become mortal while saving Yashida’s life.

Yukio in The WolverineIt doesn’t take long for things to start spinning out of control. The Yakuza is making attempts on the life of Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko; Yashida’s corrupt son, Shingen, has his own dastardly schemes; and throughout it all, Yashida’s doctor, a serpent-like female mutant, is also plotting something nefarious.

The plot borders on the overcomplicated at times, and you might get a little lost if you don’t pay close attention, but everything comes together by the end, and overall it’s a refreshing change of pace from the overly simplistic plots you tend to see in superhero films.

And this is the great thing about this movie: It’s smart. It’d be very easy to just make a mindless blockbuster about beating up bad guys — especially with a character like Wolverine — but there’s some depth here.

Wolverine’s character arc is once again a demonstration of why the X-Men are my favourite superheroes: They’re human first, and superhuman second. Wolverine is not some flawless archetypical hero; he has pain, he makes mistakes, and he has plenty of rough edges.

The supporting characters are strong, as well. I was especially fond of Yukio, who is portrayed as brave and spunky but also vulnerable and human.

Hugh Jackman as the title character in The WolverineThe more fantastical elements of the story are also handled well. By superhero movie standards, The Wolverine feels relatively grounded. The use of mutant powers and sci-fi technology is sparing — at least until the end, and they build to that, so it doesn’t feel jarring.

Maybe it’s not Shakespeare, but it’s a long way from being mindless action. It hits the right balance between entertainment and emotion, approachability and depth.

That’s not to say there isn’t still a lot of action. This is a Wolverine movie, after all. There’s plenty of slashing, stabbing, roaring, and bleeding. I was particularly fond of a very inventive and spectacular (if thoroughly implausible) fight sequence atop a bullet train.

In case it wasn’t clear by now, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. That said, it did have some flaws.

The biggest flaw was probably Wolverine’s relationship with Mariko. It felt very forced and cliche, as these things often do, and Wolverine and Yukio are such an obviously better match.

Mariko was a pretty underwhelming character in general, actually. She doesn’t really do anything or display much personality, and she mainly exists as a prize for Wolverine to chase.

Mariko in The WolverineMy other complaint would be that Yukio deserved way more screen time than she got. That girl was badass.

Still, these issues aside, The Wolverine was an excellent movie. I highly recommend it.

Overall rating: 8.8/10 I hear there will be a sequel, and this pleases me greatly. I just hope Yukio is involved.

As an aside, I think part of the reason I loved this movie is because it reminded me of my books in a lot of little ways. Yukio looks and acts like a Japanese version of Leha, Wolverine’s guilt and regret was greatly reminiscent of Leha’s struggles in Human Again, and the villain is pretty much Garribis.