Stephen Romei

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

X-Men: Apoca­lypse Na­tional re­lease

The word apoca­lypse cov­ers cause and ef­fect in the ac­tion-packed and amus­ing X-Men: Apoca­lypse, the fourth X-Men film di­rected by Bryan Singer. Apoca­lypse is the name of the vile vil­lain, a thousands-of-years-old mu­tant tyrant. Apoca­lypse, as in in­dis­crim­i­nate death, de­struc­tion and ruin, is also the trade­mark out­come for any place he ends up rul­ing. He’s played with phys­i­cal and men­tal me­nace by Gu­atemalan star Os­car Isaac, who was X-wing pi­lot Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens. “Who rules this world?’’ he asks at one point, full of in­tent to change the an­swer.

We first meet Apoca­lypse in a stun­ning preti­tles scene in which he is un­der­go­ing a sort of rein­car­na­tion in the Egypt he rules in 3600BC. He is be­trayed by heav­ily armed rebels and en­tombed in the pyra­mid that col­lapses on him. Post-cred­its we are in 1983, Apoca­lypse is awak­ened and, af­ter de­cap­i­tat­ing lo­cal ir­ri­tants with a hand­ful of dust, he turns his at­ten­tion to the broader world. He learns about the past cou­ple of thou­sand years of his­tory by lean­ing into a tele­vi­sion screen, which is a wry mo­ment.

He sees Ron­ald Rea­gan, the pope and per­haps an episode of the David Has­sel­hoff TV se­ries Knight Rider and de­cides the world is run by weak peo­ple, “blind lead­ers”, all of whom must be re­moved. He en­cour­ages a quar­tet of other mu­tants — Four Horse­men — to join him: hard-winged An­gel (Ben Hardy), tele­ki­netic Psy­locke (Olivia Munn), weather-con­trol­ling Storm (Alexan­dra Shipp) and, ev­ery­one’s favourite, metal-bend­ing Mag­neto (Michael Fass­ben­der).

This film is set a decade af­ter Singer’s pre­vi­ous in­stal­ment, X-Men: Days of Fu­ture Past, which in­tro­duced mu­tants to hu­man con­scious­ness and ended with Mag­neto at­tempt­ing to as­sas­si­nate US pres­i­dent Richard Nixon but be­ing stopped by shapeshift­ing Mys­tique (Jen­nifer Lawrence). This time around we first meet Mag­neto as Erik Lehn­sh­err, hid­ing his dif­fer­ences and work­ing in a fac­tory in Poland (he is a Nazi-era sur­vivor) and mar­ried with a teenage daugh­ter. These scenes are sweetly done, with hand­some Fass­ben­der show­ing his con­sid­er­able charm.

But things go very bad and Mag­neto makes an iron-willed come­back. The job of stop­ping Apoca­lypse and his army (small but well-weaponed) falls to the good mu­tants, most of whom are students at, or in­volved with, the up­state New York School for Gifted Young­sters run by Pro­fes­sor Charles Xavier (an ami­able James McAvoy). There’s Mys­tique, Beast (Ni­cholas Hoult) and the calm (so far, but wait for it) Phoenix (So­phie Turner). Two new­com­ers are op­tic beam-loaded Cy­clops (Tye Sheri­dan) and the long-tailed, tele­port­ing Nightcrawler (Aus­tralia’s Kodi Smit-McPhee, who is ter­rific).

In­deed it’s worth not­ing the Aus­tralian pres­ence in this Mar­vel Comics block­buster. As well as Smit-McPhee, glo­ri­ous Rose Byrne re­turns as mu­tant-lik­ing (maybe lov­ing?) CIA agent Moira MacTag­gert and — in 10 min­utes or so that are alone worth the price of ad­mis­sion — Hugh Jack­man’s Wolver­ine goes berserk for a bit. The throw­away line at the end of that is hi­lar­i­ous. The Syd­ney Opera House also makes a cameo ap­pear­ance, but not in a good way.

This film has an M-rat­ing but the vi­o­lence is su­per­hero movie-style rather than hor­ror story gory. There’s no sex. My 10-year-old core­viewer, who doesn’t like to see ex­plicit blood­shed, thinks it’s one of the best films he’s seen. I wouldn’t go that far, but then he has time on his side. He im­me­di­ately read up on the whole X-Men his­tory, which was use­ful, given my favourite child­hood comic strip was Frank Dick­ens’s Bri­tish buy­ing clerk saga Bris­tow.

X-Men: Apoca­lypse also fol­lows the present su­per­hero film trend to­wards in­ternecine con­flict, such as in Bat­man v Su­per­man and Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War. Here it is mu­tants ver­sus mu­tants. And al­though hu­mans and mu­tants have been at peace for 10 years, their re­la­tion­ship re­mains un­easy. Xavier be­lieves they can work to­gether; Mys­tique is not so sure. Mil­i­tary man Wil­liam Stryker (Josh Hel­man) hates mu­tants, but hu­mans are only in­ci­den­tal bad­dies here as Apoca­lypse and his acolytes clash with Beast and his bud­dies to earth-split­ting ef­fect.

There’s also a lot of hu­mour. Smit-McPhee is punky and funny; McAvoy’s Xavier is ter­rific in his love­struck woo­ing of Byrne’s Moira; Cy­clops’s early train­ing is a sight for sore eyes; Quick­sil­ver (Evan Peters) turns up for some rapid laughs; there’s a joke about Re­turn of the Jedi that seems a shot at a (non-Singer) X-Men film; and Mag­neto’s re­sponse when Apoca­lypse ar­rives at the Pol­ish fac­tory is, well, prob­a­bly what you or I would say in the same sit­u­a­tion.

The weak­nesses are the shal­low­ness of the con­flict, the one-di­men­sional na­ture of the vil­lains, es­pe­cially Mag­neto this time around, once he dons the hel­met, and the sheer cast of char­ac­ters. If you are not fa­mil­iar with the X-Men story it may pay to read up be­fore join­ing the ticket queue. But over­all it’s an en­joy­able and fast-mov­ing movie about mu­tants in all their mys­tery. I left want­ing more Wolver­ine, due to hap­pen with a third film next year, which Jack­man has in­di­cated will be his fi­nal time in lupine side­burns.

Michael Fass­ben­der as Mag­neto, top, and Kodi SmitMcPhee as Nightcrawler, left, in X-Men: Apoca­lypse

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