Back Comments (2) Share:
Facebook Button

Feature


After thousands of years, Apocalypse – the world’s first and most powerful mutant – has awakened to find a world led by humans. Intent on cleansing the Earth of mankind, he recruits a group of mutants to create a new world order. In a desperate race to save humanity, Professor X leads the young X-Men in an epic showdown – against an unstoppable enemy – that will determine the fate of the world. (From Fox’s official synopsis)

 X-Men: Apocalypse
Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men franchise was an early contributor to the rise of superhero-driven blockbusters, but has struggled to maintain a loyal following as Marvel Studios-branded films have taken over the market. Following the disastrous X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), the series needed to reinvent itself, but took a backwards route to redemption by returning to director Bryan Singer, the architect of the first two movies in the series, and making even more prequel movies. Though a pretty large contingent of fans and critics have (perhaps rightfully) resented this retreat to a decade-old status quo, the new ‘prequel trilogy’ – X-Men: First Class (directed/co-written by Matthew Vaughn, 2011), X-Men: Days of Future Past (directed by Singer, 2014), and X-Men: Apocalypse (also directed by Singer, 2016) – has thoroughly embraced the comics it is based on in ways those earlier movies avoided. I agree that all three movies have been messy, overstuffed, and awkward, but the heavy-handed allegories, circular soap operatic drama, and nonsense continuity all scratch a very specific itch for me. Apocalypse is easily the messiest, most overstuffed, and awkward of them all, but I enjoyed almost every good and bad choice Singer & Co. made.

I’m not crazy – I can recognize the fact that this movie doesn’t work, at least in objective terms. The problems took root when the filmmakers decided they needed to escalate the scope and magnitude of the film beyond the star-studded, time-breaking Days of Future Past. En Sabah Nur, aka: Apocalypse, is the obvious choice of villain, as he is the most overpowered member of the X-Men’s rogues gallery. He is basically the X-Men universe’s equivalent to Thanos, who will menace the Avengers in a couple of years, and Darksied, who will menace the Justice League a couple of years after that. It’s difficult to confine a character of this magnitude to a live-action movie (even one with as many digital effects as this), but the bigger issue is that his master plan – as in the only plan the character ever seems to have in any entertainment medium – is just a more drastic version of the plan Magneto has in X-Men 2, and the one Sebastian Shaw has in X-Men: First Class: kill all the humans and let the mutants inherit the Earth (in the first movie, Magneto is trying to turn humans into mutants, which will kill them).

 X-Men: Apocalypse
Singer appears to acknowledge this when Apocalypse successfully releases the entire world’s nuclear arsenal, because this was Shaw’s exact plan only two movies ago. Only, instead of destroying the nations of the world with their own weapons, he sends them into space and leaves the humans defenseless against his destructive mutant powers. Here’s the thing, though – it’s probably the best scene in the entire movie. It’s brash, campily melodramatic, and operatically tinged with blaring Beethoven music. Shortly after, the second best scene appears and it is a blatant callback to Quicksilver’s show-stopping Days of Future Past rescue. Meanwhile, Magneto is given a new reason to return to his villainous ways, leading to yet another chance to redeem himself to Charles and Raven, culminating in a hilariously apt expression of his loyalty – a giant metal X in the ground. Somehow, this movie thrives the most when it recycles the previous movies’ greatest hits. It’s completely illogical, but I can’t muster the strength to resist the charm of repetition when it comes to the X-Men. Although I don’t expect anyone else to share this sentiment, I do expect fans of the X-Men, through generations of comics, cartoons, and movies, to admit that this series has flourished by retelling the same six or seven story arcs over and over. Perhaps these movies just jumped the gun a bit?

On the other hand, Apocalypse served a second purpose for the franchise – it rebooted a group of popular/central characters that had been missing from the films since X-Men 3 (2006) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. While Vaughn’s film was entitled First Class, it was more of an origin story for Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique (yes, I understand the double-meaning of the phrase ‘first class’). Apocalypse is the movie that actually introduces a new ‘class’ of young mutants and this is where Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg (along with Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, who get ‘story-by’ credits) bit off more than they could chew. Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Nightcrawler aren’t miscast or even badly written, but they’re overwhelmed by the magnitude of the main story and gravely underdeveloped, despite having a major part to play in the final battle (it’s telling that their only scene working as a team is housed within a glorified Wolverine cameo). Worse, the only scene in which they’re allowed to interact outside of the ongoing battle, was a group bonding trip to the mall that was cut before release. I suppose Singer assumed that the audience already understood what they needed to know about the characters from the other films, but we really don’t, because this is a very different iteration. The biggest casualty is probably Jean Grey. The film tries to convey that she is already harboring the Phoenix Force and that she is very close with Charles in literally one scene, before the two are separated. This robs the big deus ex machina, where Charles goads her into unleashing the Phoenix on Apocalypse, dramatically inert, especially for audience members that aren’t already aware of the events of X-Men 2 and X-Men 3.

 X-Men: Apocalypse
Singer has never been the flashiest director, but the structure of his scenes is usually tight and cut for maximum impact, at least when he’s working with editor/composer John Ottman. On the other hand, he has a history of letting ridiculously large, special effects-driven movies get away from him. His worst case scenario was Jack the Giant Slayer (2013), which went over-budget and was delivered late, yet still looked incomplete. Overall, Apocalypse is closer to Jack the Giant Slayer than X-Men 2. Several sequences appear unfinished in terms of their pacing, architecture, and special effects (I rarely care about these things, but the digital doubles used during the final battle are really dopey), while others – the aforementioned nuclear attack that closes out the second act, for example – are pitch-perfect, almost mechanical. Could Singer have polished the entire film to this level of shine with a longer production schedule? Perhaps. Since I actually enjoyed all of this malarky, I’m more inclined to hope for an extended cut, like the Rogue Cut version of Days of Future Past. There’s little chance of fixing some of the sloppier action sequences (no one wants to put that much effects money into a movie that barely turned a profit), but the deleted scenes available on this Blu-ray reveal a more robust version of the Jean/Cyclops/Nightcrawler story. Perhaps there was even more beyond that. I’m happy to treat this series as a very expensive television series with long breaks between seasons. As long as I can pause for bathroom breaks, I’ll take a 3+ hour-long X-Men: Apocalypse.

 X-Men: Apocalypse

Video


X-Men: Apocalypse was shot using Red Epic Dragon cameras and was one of the few 2016 releases to be shot in native 3D, rather than converted into 3D in post. It is being released 4K Ultra HD, but this review pertains to the 2D, 1080p, 2.40:1 Blu-ray (there is no 3D BD announcement at this time). This is a highly detailed, super-complex transfer with almost no compression issues, aside from some low level noise throughout the darkest backgrounds. It is the most ‘digital-looking’ of all the X-Men films in terms of its sort of uncanny clarity (I’m genuinely surprised by how many effects were achieved in-camera, because the movie appears so CG-heavy), but Singer and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (who has shot every single one of Singer’s X-Men movies) ‘correct’ the issue a bit by keeping the palette eclectic and the shadows dynamic. They avoid exclusively recycling the steely blues that have more or less defined the palettes of this series by using a lot of golds and yellows. The desert environment lends itself to this, though the particularly yellow sequences tend to be the ones with the weakest digital effects. In edition, there is a big hue contrast between the warm X-Mansion grounds, the lewdly-lit mutant underground, and the cold prisons of the Weapon X base.

Audio


X-Men: Apocalypse is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound and meets the expectations of a studio-driven, tentpole superhero movie. Familiar mutant-powered sound effects are mixed in with new noises – Apocalypse’s ‘sand power,’ Psylocke’s psychic knife, Angel’s metal wings – in both subtle and outrageously loud ways that don’t overload the speakers or overwhelm the clean dialogue. Highlights include the punchy opening sequence, Apocalypse’s super-bassy ‘rebirth,’ Wolverine’s break-out (which occurs mostly in the stereo and surround channels), and, of course, the super-powered climax. As I mentioned in the Feature section, I regard editor/composer John Ottman as Singer’s secret weapon throughout his career. His original X-Men 2 themes are still the only post-Danny Elfman Batman superhero themes I can remember without being prompted and his compositions elevate Apocalypse’s music beyond any other 2016 superhero movie’s. The film’s finest musical moment is, of course, not an Ottman composition, but a movement from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Old Ludwig Van has rarely sounded better on home video.

 X-Men: Apocalypse

Extras


  • Commentary with Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg – The director and co-writer sound-off about their story concepts, technical aspects of filmmaking, various inspirations, and say very nice things about the cast & crew. Singer’s commentaries are always good and he seems quite comfortable in the process. Kinberg isn’t as comfortable, but he has plenty to offer in terms of plot structure. This is a very good commentary overall that doesn’t account for any of the film’s harsh criticism, probably because they recorded it very shortly after final cut was finished.
  • Twelve deleted/extended scenes with optional introductions by Bryan Singer (28:11 with intros, HD) – Again, most of the deleted footage revolves around the younger mutants and the movie would’ve been better had these been included. The moments where Moira recalls things that Xavier erased from her memory, on the other hand, were rightfully deleted.
  • Gag Reel (8:20, HD)
  • Wrap party video (4:46, HD) – Not a video of the wrap party, but a video that was shown at the wrap party.
  • X-Men: Apocalypse Unearthed documentary (1:03:58, HD):
    • En Sabah Nur: Setting the Stage for Apocalypse – The cast & crew discusses how the events of Days of Future Past changed the timeline and what they wanted to achieve with the new movie.
    • Clan of Akkaba: Apocalypse and His Horsemen – Apocalypse’s history as a character and the casting/designing of Apocalypse, Storm, Psylocke, and Angel.
    • Answering the Call: Assembling the New X-Men Team – Casting/designing the new Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Nightcrawler, including audition tapes.
    • The End of Times: Creating a New Age of Apocalypse – On the ‘80s period setting and other production design.
    • Unlimited Powers: VFX, Stunts, and Set Pieces – The title pretty much explains this one. Focus is placed on the Quicksilver rescue sequence and the climatic battle. Some time is devoted to shaving McAvoy’s head bald.
    • What’s Next? – A quick wrap-up and hints at where the next movie may go.
  • Concept art and photo gallery (auto and manual advance options)
  • Trailers


 X-Men: Apocalypse

Overall


X-Men: Apocalypse is a sloppy, textbook example of how the scope and scale of modern superhero movies buries coherent narratives and sympathetic characters. But it’s also precisely the kind of unabashed melodrama and formulaic storytelling that X-Men comic books thrive on. In the end, I really enjoyed this movie, in spite of its many objective shortcomings and find it curiously re-watchable. The Blu-ray looks and sounds as good as anticipated, even with loads of special features taking up disc space.

 X-Men: Apocalypse

 X-Men: Apocalypse

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: