“Apocalypse”, while fun, doesn’t evolve the X-Men franchise

The X-Men franchise has had a rough history on film. For every X2 and First Class that exceeded audience’s expectations, a The Last Stand or Wolverine: Origins would come along to remind us that in the wrong hands, the franchise could become another in a list of forgettable action films. After the exceptional Days of Futures Past 2 years ago, expectations are high for X-Men Apocalypse to continue the upward trend the more recent films have had. But while the newest entry does deliver some good action and a plenty of fan service, Apocalypse succumbs to the common mistake of being too much style over too little substance.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t individual parts of the film that manage to shine through its problems. The films recasting of popular characters Jean Grey, Cyclops and NightCrawler all deliver believable interpretations on these established characters. most of the best moments are focusing on how these young mutants look at the struggle for acceptance in the film’s society, and all of the actors manage to establish their own take on the character, simultaneously bringing something accurate to the source material, while not feeling like a retread from what we saw in the first 3 films. It’s clear the filmmakers knew these were the best performances, as the film often takes extra time to flesh out these new mutants, likely setting them up to take over the franchise in the future.

Sophie Turner, Kodi Smith-McPhee and Tye Sheridan, respectively.

Additionally, theres a surprising amount of variety in the film’s action set pieces. From 1-on-1 cage brawls, to full scale war, its clear a lot of time was put into showing how these different sets of mutant powers would face off against one another. the highlight once again goes to the films Quicksilver slow-motion sequence, as Quicksilver saves many mutants from an exploding building, set to the tune of Eurythmics‘s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)“. Much like the similar sequence in DOFP, the scene blends a good mix of action and comedy, while simultaneously characterizing Quicksilver to those unfamiliar with his character.

But while the film isn’t skimping on action, its the lack of motivation and consistency behind it that ultimately brings the film down. at 2 1/2 hours long, the lack of character most of our villains have is somewhat baffling. while Apocalypse has his moments (we’ll get back to him later) and of course Magneto is given a fair bit of the plot, the other 3 Horsemen come off as shallow and one note. Fans looking forward to seeing the return of Storm and Angel, as well as the introduction of fan-favorite Psylocke, will find that they aren’t so much characters as they are catalysts for later action set pieces. Storm and Psylocke present the biggest issue, as the film doesn’t try to hide the fact that Storm will join the X-Men in the end at all, and Psylocke is given 2 lines of dialogue and no motivation. Were these side characters, these issues could be forgiven, but it stands as a major fault that these are present in the films main villains.

Speaking of main villains, Apocalypse gets held back as a villain from a lack of presence and overall threat. While Oscar Isaac does his best to deliver a good performance, there just isn’t much of Apocalypse in the film centered around him. There are some villainous moments, to be sure, but most of his screen-time involves posturing, screaming about how great of a villain he is, and having his Horsemen do his work for him. And while its easy to easy to jump on a bandwagon of hating something, the makeup on apocalypse really is distractingly bad, often getting in the way of Isaac’s performance during many of the films close-up shots on his face. While it may seem like a nitpick, its an important detail that turns what should be a terrifying villain in film into a villain more befitting of a television series, bringing with it the feeling of how fake and unreal the film is.

For being the first mutant and a god, you’d think he could make himself look less rubbery….

 

Then, there’s Magneto. To be sure, Michael Fassbender’s Magneto and James Mcavoy’s Professor X are still the highlights of this series. But while Fassbender still delivers a good performance, the film has a large disconnect between the characters actions and our sympathy for him as an audience. Towards the end, once Magneto has joined with Apocalypse, he orchestrates a worldwide catastrophe that is likely responsible for thousands of deaths. But because our characters like him, and he changes allegiances in the end, all of this is simply forgotten. Its a strange thing to see a film push a Man of steel/Avengers 2 level event under the rug, and only serves to further push the lack of stakes present in Apocalypse.

Ultimately, the biggest failing of Apocalypse is in its lack of risk or tension it presents for our heroes. Despite the characters saying that they are “going up against a god” or that “this is war”, the film never presents these as a danger to our heroes. Without spoiling anything, nothing changes from the films opening to its ending, say for a few new characters introduced. In the end, the film seems aimless, trying only to fill out a checklist of things fans expect in an X-Men film, including 20 minutes in a Weapon X facility that only happen to force in a Wolverine cameo. For a film that runs as long as Apocalypse does, the fact that no sense of progression is felt stands as the film’s biggest fault.

By not focusing on the strengths of previous films, namely the discussion on racial prejudices and overcoming fear, Apocalypse stands at a crossroad, too good to be considered a bad entry, but not good enough to be anything more then a serviceable action film. Days of Future’s Past was a reminder that Super Hero films can be more then just CGI people saving the world from shallow threats that last one film. They can tackle real issues about people, and work in tandem with spectacular action to deliver something more meaningful then the typical summer movie fare. What’s so disappointing about Apocalypse is how it instead takes the easier road, delivering a simple film that begins and ends without challenging its audience in the slightest. Anyone looking for a summer blockbuster will certainly get it, but shouldn’t expect anything close to what this series is known to be capable of.

 

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 6.5 Forced 80’s References out of 10

 

 

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Earth’s Mightiest Films: Andy’s Marvel Films Ranking

It’s truly remarkable what Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios have managed to accomplish in Only 8 years. Marvel Studios didn’t just create a universe of comic book films, but combined itt with a comic book level of continuity, with each film tying into the next as one continuing story, sometimes bringing together conflicting genres of film in the process. But with every story, there can be high and low points; for every idea like Iron Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy that worked, there are some that didn’t quit hit their marks. With Marvel’s third phase of films beginning with last week’s Captain America: Civil War, lets rank each entry to the MCU, starting at what many consider to be the worst….

#13- Iron Man 2

If anyone tells you that bigger always means better, show them Iron Man 2 and watch them retract their argument. while War Machine’s introduction was well done, and there was plenty of action in the third act, the film suffers from its inability to balance all the things it wants to be. As an Iron Man sequel, the characters feel less developed, and most of the films best moments don’t hold up to the quality of its predecessor. As a set up for the first Avengers film, the few scenes with Nick Fury and Black Widow feel disconnected from the rest of the film, and increase the already bloated films running time. Even as an action film, the second act drags with almost an hour of no iron man or fight scenes, and two forgettable villains that disappear for large stretches of the film. While not unwatchable, there’s a reason why the future of Marvel’s film plans was very much in question after Iron Man 2 was released.

#12- The Incredible Hulk 

Like a lot of films on this list, I don’t think that The Incredible Hulk is a bad film. Some of the action is good, the Hulk looked great, and it helped get the bad taste of the Ang Lee Hulk film out of audiences mouthes. But if I had to use one word to describe this 2008 reboot of the Hulk, it would be forgettable. Everything from the wafer-thin characters, to the non-existent plot, to the villain who doesn’t show up until the third act, nothing really leaves an impact on the viewer. For a film about a giant green man destroying everything in sight, it’s baffling how the film manages to make none of this interesting. The Hulk may proclaim that he’s the strongest there is, but for his introduction in the MCU, The Incredible Hulk is fairly weak.

#11- Thor: The Dark World 

Sometimes, actors who really embody their roles can help elevate an average film. Such is the case with Thor: The Dark World, a film that survives on the strength of its main characters. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are well regarded as the definitive portrayals of Thor and Loki, respectively, and much of the films focus is on their shaky relationship. While these scenes keep the audience relatively entertained, too much time spent on boring human characters, a predictable plot, and the weakest villain in the MCU with Malaketh prevent The Dark World from being anything more then an average action film. Simply put, come for the action, stay for Thor and Loki, and hope they get better in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.

#10- Ant-Man

Being totally honest, I have no idea why the world went crazy for Ant-Man. Sure, Paul Rudd was funny, the shrinking scenes were fun, and a lot of the comedy works. But everyone overlooks things like the simplistic plot, forced family drama between Hank and Hope Pym, and the forgettable and non-present villain YellowJacket. Obviously some of this has to do with the departure of original director Edgar Wright, and the tough job replacement director Peyton Reed had with finishing the film on time. For his efforts, the film is a fun summer blockbuster, but nothing more or less then that, in one of Marvels’ safer outings.

#9- Iron-Man 3

While many were disappointed that the third in the Iron Man series didn’t surpass the prior year’s The Avengers, there’s a lot to admire in Tony Stark’s final solo outing. The darker tone worked to the films benefit, helping to increase the stakes, while also making the more comedic moments stand out. Downey Jr. gives a more layered performance as well, delivering a more vulnerable Tony Stark, and helping plant the seeds for the kind of character we’ve seen grow in Age of Ultron and Civil War. But while the action and performances were stronger, the story was surprisingly simple, relying on gaps in logic and a twist that unfortunately leads to yet another weak Marvel villain. Director Shane Black’s take on the Iron Avenger is certainly the MCU entry i’d suggest people give another shot, but not without admitting some significant flaws.

#8- Thor

Even as a comic book fan, I know the character of Thor is a hard sell, let alone making him work in the same universe as his fellow Avengers. So, much to many peoples surprise, the original Thor didn’t really try to be a super hero film, but focused more on being a pseudo-Shakespearean family drama. While the film boasted plenty of fantasy action set pieces, and a great lead character in Chris Hemsworth, the best moments are in its smaller, intimate conversations between characters. The material is full of enough fantasy tropes that were it not in the right hands, the camp factor could outweigh any emotional resonance with the viewer; Luckily, the cast does a tremendous job of making larger then life characters relatable, with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Anthony Hopkin’s Odin as the standouts. Ultimately, the many strengths Thor has far outweigh a slow 2nd act and forgettable human characters, delivering one of Marvel’s better cinematic outings.

#7- Avengers: Age of Ultron

True, Age of Ultron was considered by many to be a disappointment, not living up to the success of the first film, and containing the similar issues with Iron Man 2, such as too much time setting up future Marvel Films. But for everything going against this 2015 sequel, a lot of new and returning things worked incredibly well. The entire cast is well balanced, giving each character enough focus and screen time, while still making room for newcomers Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and the Vision. James Spader brings plenty of character to main villain Ultron, even if his plan isn’t one hundred percent clear by the films conclusion. Most notably, Joss Whedon’s script and direction manage to bring back more of the first films wit, humor and fun, while still helping create a slightly darker and more mature tone. While not the sequel we deserved, Age of Ultron did right by its Marvel name, and helped end Phase 2 on a relatively high note.

#6- Iron Man

The one that started it all, its surprising how many people have forgotten how good the first Iron Man was. Robert Downey Jr.’s career-saving portrayal of Tony Stark helped singlehandedly kick off the MCU, but it’s director John Favreau that really steals the show here. Modernizing Tony Stark, while keeping true to the character’s origin story, helped bring a faithful interpretation of the Iron Avenger to the big screen. And while Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane is yet another average marvel villain (noticing a pattern here?), it’s not enough to distract from how well Iron Man holds up, even after 8 years of other Marvel films.

#5- Captain America: The First Avenger

I was already excited for a Captain America film before The First Avenger came out, but my anticipation grew when it was announced that the film would be a throwback adventure film. Captain America‘s biggest strength lies in its earnest homage to pulp adventure films from the 30’s and 40’s, where the heroes are larger then life, and the villains are bad without any shades of moral complexity in them. That sounds strange to say, and it does hold the film back slightly, but its in the films first act where everything gels together, all thanks to Chris Evans. The film takes its time to introduce audiences to pre-super soldier Steve Rogers, helping elaborate on what makes Cap such a morally righteous character, without turning him into a boy scout in the process. The believability of Steve Rogers helps the audience invest in the more silly comic book aspects of the film, from Cap’s shield, to Red Skull and Hydra, and especially the films ending. Sure, it’s slightly predictable, and doesn’t exactly push the envelope, but the film is a great example of how Marvel Studios is the best in Hollywood at translating characters to film.

#4-Guardians of the Galaxy

2014 was arguably Marvel’s best year for films, and Guardians was the kind of great film that was a perfect storm for everything audiences wanted. A fun science fiction film, an oddball ensemble comedy, and a super hero film all manage to blend together in equal measure throughout guardians. While most will remember Rocket and Groot as their favorite characters, Chris Pratt’s surprise turn as the action lead Starlord manages to balance being a badass and buffoon well. Even as the least “Marvel” Marvel film, Guardians of the Galaxy was that rare comic book movie that both nerds and general moviegoers can enjoy.

#3- The Avengers 

That this movie exists is a miracle in itself, but The Avengers was revolutionary in so many different ways. The culmination of the previous Phase 1 films, and combining several different genres into one, it isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that a film like this had never before existed. But were it not for Joss Whedon’s fantastic script and direction, every actors perfect portrayals of each famous character, and lots of surprising moments that audiences didn’t see coming, the film could have just been a fun but flawed experiment. But thanks to hiring the right people, and everyone bringing it on every department, The Avengers is a film that defined 21st century film-making, and has put the word “Cinematic Universe” on the mind of every Hollywood studio since its release.

#2- Captain America: Civil War

With Marvel’s latest outing, if the first Avengers film can be seen as culmination of the first Phase of films, then Civil War is the end of 8 years worth of character development. With Captain America and Iron Man’s ideological differences reaching the tipping point, every word exchanged and punch thrown carries more emotional weight then most summer blockbusters. Fantastic dialogue exchanges and character beats are in equal measure to big action, with already established heroes sharing screen time with new blood like Tom Hollands Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther. Without getting into potential spoilers for this recently released film, Civil War feels like a tragic ending point for the MCU fans have grown to love, but an exciting springboard into the different directions and films to come.

#1- Captain America: The Winter Soldier

There’s a reason why everyone who sees Civil War has been questioning whether it surpasses Captain America: The Winter Soldier; and while Civil War was a remarkable accomplishment for Marvel, The Winter Soldier still stands as one of the best made films of the 21st century. On almost every level, from the spy themes, to the introduction of the Falcon and Winter soldier, and the many twists and turns, the film already stands among the best films in the MCU. But what makes this my favorite film is its characterization of not just Captain America as the soldier, but as Steve Rogers as well. Questions like why he stays a soldier in a time with no clear enemy, and what the price of freedom ultimately is, are pondered over, leading to a fascinating character study on what many consider a one-dimensional character. Among the other impossible things The Winter Soldier manages to accomplish, it’s the way they turned what was many’s least favorite Avenger into the most complex and inspiring characters that shows why Marvel are making some of the best films of the 21st century, and why The Winter Soldier is my favorite Marvel film to date.

“Civil War” Stands as Marvel’s Most Mature Film Yet

At this point, the Marvel films are known to come with a certain level of safety. Everyone loves them, everyone sees them, and the films can end up somewhat critic-proof. For every Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: the Winter Soldier, there’s a Thor: the Dark World or Ant-Man, playing it safe to cash in on brand recognition. With the start of Marvel’s third phase of films, expectations are high for the seeds planted in previous films to start paying off. And while Captain America: Civil War handsomely rewards longtime followers, it manages to provide a thought-provoking look at our favorite heroes that even newcomers will love.

After an international incident leaves the world questioning the place of enhanced heroes in the world, the United Nations create the Sokovia Accords, which would make The Avengers have to follow the UN’s orders. With each member making up their mind on the accords, a line is drawn between Captain America and Iron Man, taking the sides of anti and pro the accords respectively. Further complicating things is Cap’s old friend Bucky (aka The Winter Soldier), whose possible involvement in a bombing has drawn the attention of the worlds governments, namely King T’Challa aka the Black Panther. Throw in a new villain in Helmut Zemo, and the introduction of Spider-Man into the MCU, and theres certainly not a lack of things going on in the films 2 1/2 hour runtime.

With the task of being a sequel to the previous Captain America film, a pseudo-sequel to the previous Avengers film, an adaptation of the Civil War comic and the beginning of Marvel’s third phase of films, Civil War has a lot of different expectations to live up to. Were the Russo Brother’s not at the helm of directing, the film could have easily faltered in its translation of the seminal comic event. Luckily, as they showed when they directed Captain America: the Winter Soldier, the Russo Brothers are among the best directors working in Hollywood right now because of their ability to juggle tones in equal measure. While Civil War is certainly a darker and more tragic super hero tale, it’s doesn’t forget that it’s still a Marvel film, providing a number of fun fight scenes and well-placed jokes in between the dark subject matter.

Thanks to the well-written script, Every character receives a good story arc and some standout moments. While certain characters may be placed in specific roles  (e.g., Ant-Man and Spider-Man are mostly relegated to comedic relief roles), the motivations for why everyone chooses Cap or Iron Man’s side is made clear, and stays in line with what we know of each character. This does become a little too obvious in the beginning, as the first half of the film is packed with numerous scenes of different Avengers debating what they think about the Accords, almost tipping over into overkill. Thankfully, the conversations really highlight how talented the main cast is, and eventually transitions naturally into the more action-heavy second half.

Speaking of action, if you’re someone who hasn’t been keeping up to date on the Marvel films, and are only looking for a good summer action film, Civil War delivers in spades. Keeping in line with the darker tone of the film, fights are far more physical and brutal, with characters like Black Panther out for blood. The fight scenes combine the best of CGI, with beautiful graphics that show off Spider-Man and other superheroes in their best iterations yet, and plenty of hand-to-hand choreography, highlighted in the multiple fights between Winter Soldier and Black Panther. The highlight of the the film, a 10-15 minute Airport fight scene with the entire cast, stands as one of the best action scenes of the 21st century, and is a marvel to behold on the big screen.

Marvel’s Hidden most of this scene’s greatest moments, btw.

None of that action matters, however, if the audience cant identify with the characters. Thankfully, Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans fully embody Tony Stark and Steve Rogers respectively, and their differences in ideology lead to great discussions on who is “right.” While the film is titled “Captain America: Civil War“, the merits and flaws in both character’s arguments are made clear, which is likely to lead to several different arguments for people being #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan. Even at the films end, which thankfully doesn’t reset to everyone being friends again, neither side is declared a “winner”, and the debate between these two sides are clearly going to remain a big issue in future Marvel Films.

The rest of the cast does a fantastic job with their characters, so i’ll just highlight the standouts. Chadwick Boseman does a great job with Black Panther, whose fighting prowess doesn’t forgo his more charismatic and royal qualities. Tom Holland is the best on-screen adaptation of Spider-Man we’ve had to date, constantly quipping and acting as a teenage superhero would, and thankfully commits the “with great power…” speech audiences have grown tired of. Finally, as much of the plot concerns Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, Sebastian Stan’s portrayal deserves special recognition. The tragic nature of Captain America’s brainwashed friend is brought to the forefront of Bucky’s arc, as Stan portrays a man who must atone for his actions, even when he wasn’t in control of them. This is made more important in the film’s third act, which see’s Evans, Downey Jr. and Stan give their most faithful portrayals of each character to date.

Our two new characters are unsurprisingly the highlights of the film.

Without getting into spoilers, my only problem is with the films main villain, Helmunt Zemo (Inglorious Basterds‘ Daniel Brühl). While Brühl does a good job with his role, and Zemo certainly stands as one of the better Marvel villains, his inclusion still feels somewhat unnecessary. By the end of the film, the conflict between Iron Man and Cap feels like it was inevitable, so having a villain try to orchestrate the films’ events felt like it was simplifying things. Making matters worse, the film keeps his motivations a mystery until the very end, causing many crucial scenes to leave audiences confused until the film third of the film.

Captain America: Civil War isn’t just one of Marvel’s best films, but their most mature. Despite the number of super heroes and quips throughout, Civil War is ultimately concerned with telling a tale of two men who want the same thing, yet let pride and personal feelings get the best of them. But even for viewers who haven’t seen every Marvel film to date, the abundance of action and character moments are sure to hold viewer’s attention long after the credits have finished rolling. On par with The Winter Soldier as the best Marvel film to date, Civil War is the next step in the evolution of not just super-hero films, but Summer blockbusters in general.

 

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 9.5 More Times I Want to See This Out of 10