‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ Review

xmen_apocalypse_ver18

Director: Bryan Singer

Writers: Simon Kinberg

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Olivia Munn, Alexandra Shipp, Ben Hardy, Lucas Till, Josh Helman, and Lana Condor

Synopsis: With the emergence of the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse, the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: There is a post-credits scene.*

 

This year has been a great year for comic book/superhero films. All of them different in their own way, and all of them will have their fans and detractors, but the mistake that everyone should avoid making is trying to compare the films in how each handled their subject matter, characters and plot. Is it completely wrong to do so? Probably not. But like I said, all the comic book/superhero films are done in their own way. Saying that, I hate that I’m making the comparison, but for the sake of making a point I guess, X-Men: Apocalypse, like Captain America: Civil War is a culmination of the last two X-Men films (First Class and Days of Future Past). What does that all mean? Well let’s find out.

new-trailer-shows-how-x-men-apocalypse-can-change-the-film-series-895617

The film starts with what could be called the origin of Apocalypse (Isaac), set in the Nile Valley in 3600 BCE. However, something happens that seals him inside a pyramid until, of course, 1983, when he is set free. Seeing what the world has become, he sets out to find his followers, The Horsemen. Meanwhile, Charles Xavier (McAvoy) has opened his school with Hank (Hoult) as one of the professors. He also deals with new students like Jean Grey (Turner), who is afraid of her powers, and new student Scott Summers (Sheridan), who has just discovered his powers at the expense of a bully and bathroom stall. Raven/Mystique (Lawrence) is now seen as a public figure amongst humans and mutants, thanks to the events of Days of Future Past.

Finally, Magneto has moved on with this life and has a family, but with Apocalypse now awakened and finding his new Horsemen, Magneto gets dragged back into the world he thought he left behind. What follows is this new group of X-Men trying to stop Apocalypse from building a “better” world.

Like I, begrudgingly, mentioned earlier, one of the things X-Men: Apocalypse shares with Captain America: Civil War is that it is a culmination of the films before it. A good chunk of the film is built up from the events of First Class and Days of Future Past, so Apocalypse does feel like a true sequel to both films and a film you will appreciate more if you’ve seen both films, and know you’re previous X-Men movies history. There are some nice callbacks to the previous films and several subtle nods that fans can appreciate sprinkled throughout.

MV5BNzVmMjhkNDAtZmIxMi00NWZhLTk4MGMtZDY4OGJlZGYyNDM1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1__SX1214_SY535_

The film itself is held together by the cast. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continue to prove that they are worthy successors to Patrick Stewart’s beloved Professor X and Ian McKellan’s Magneto. Fassbender has the better arc of the two at the beginning of the film, but gets a bit lost in the shuffle by the third act. Nicholas Hoult’s Hank/Beast is more of a background character this time around and Jennifer Lawrence does the best she can with what she’s given, but does take more a leader role by the end of the film that makes sense and isn’t shoehorned in. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver has, once again, a standout sequence and his own arc, that gives him more to do this time around, but it doesn’t go anywhere – at least in this movie, maybe?

The new cast holds their own against the veteran cast, and gives us a great hope for future X-Men films with this cast – at least for me. Tye Sheridan gives off a good vibe as Cyclops, while Sophie Turner gets some of the meatier material as Jean Grey. However, one of the big highlights is Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler, which we are introduced to in a mutant fight club along with pre-Horseman Angel (Hardy). Lana Condor has a brief appearance as Jubliee, but doesn’t go anywhere really.

hqyqxvfnbce8jfpwptqn

As for the rest of the Horsemen, Alexandra Shipp’s Storm is the first one introduced and the most interesting out of the three since she has her own story before she becomes a Horseman. Olivia Munn’s Psylocke is just a bit disappointing, only in that she doesn’t have too much going on before hand and it feels like she joins just for the hell of it. One of the good things is that he’s actually in the movie, and she’s one of the few that actually wears her comic book outfit.

When it comes to Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse, Isaac owns it. Obviously, when images of him came out, Ivan Ooze was getting thrown around – which I hated – but seeing the costume in action and Isaac actually playing the character is great. One of the different between Apocalypse and other villains we’ve seen in the films is that Apocalypse doesn’t see himself as a mutant. He comes from a different time and sees himself as a God. That’s why he doesn’t care about anything or anyone that stands in his way, which is what makes him, arguably, the dangerous person the X-Men have dealt with to this point. And since the film is called Apocalypse, he does cause a lot of destruction.

which-x-men-are-apocalypse-s-4-horsemen-712923

X-Men: Apocalypse does have some flaws. Some emotional beats could, and at one point should, have been stretched out. Like I previously stated, some characters aren’t completely developed, which is one of the missteps that every ensemble film does, so you really can’t hold that against the film. Even some return characters like Lucas Till’s Alex Summers/Havok, Rose Byrne’s Moira Mactaggert and Josh Helman’s William Stryker which have their moments but are put on the backburner to develop the newer characters. Not a knock on the film, and something that is completely understandable, but still a bummer.

I wouldn’t consider this a spoiler, but if you haven’t seen the last trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse, then maybe avoid this part. Wolverine does make an appearance in the film, and while it was awesome to watch him literally claw-up Stryker’s men. It did feel a little forced. I had no problem seeing Jackman in this especially knowing that this is one of his last performances as the character, but the scene felt like a way to lead into potentially Wolverine 3, and make us the audience know that Wolverine is a lot more dangerous, potentially, in this new timeline that was created thanks to Days of Future Past. It also adds a little more depth to the end-credits scene. Also, the scene pushes the boundary of PG-13 rating that could get fans excited for Wolverine 3, if they go the rumored R-rating.

MV5BMjMxODIxNTIwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTk0MTY0NzE@._V1__SX1214_SY579_

All in all, X-Men: Apocalypse is another good edition to the X-Men franchise. It’s fun, has great humor, and entertaining. Is it the best one? Well, that’s up to you, but the cast is once again solid. There are some real highlights and standout sequences, but the film does have some missteps that don’t hurt it, but are noticeable. If you’re an X-Men fan, you’ll get a kick out of the callbacks and nods.

X-Men: Apocalypse

4 out of 5

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Review

dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_ver6

Dir: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Nick Thurston, Judy Greer, and Gary Oldman

Synopsis: A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth’s dominant species.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

The Planet of the Apes franchise has gone through a lot from; ahead of its time, shocking, good, bad, weird and terrible. It has touched on political issues and questions that no one dared touched, but has also shown us how far people will go to do what they think is right. The original series came out before I was born (but I have watched and appreciated them) and then saw the horrible Tim Burton Planet of the Apes. Luckily, the series rebooted and gave us the excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes giving us not just a brand new series but giving us fresh new opportunities. Does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continue that? Quick answer, yes. And gives us a hell of a lot more.

 

The movie starts off giving us a quick and eerie rundown of how mankind has been ravaged by the “Simian Flu” followed by a war that left only small modest groups of human colonies.  Ten years later, Caesar (Serkis) and his apes have grown and thrived in the woods.  They’ve become smarter, self-sufficient, built a home, and have a tight-knit community built on laws such as “Ape Shall Not Kill Ape” and “Apes Together Strong.”  Caesar leads his community with wisdom and has also become a family ape with his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer), newborn child, and son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston).

 

However, Caesar’s life is disrupted when Malcolm (Clarke), his wife Ellie (Russell), his son Alexandra (Smit-McPhee) and others accidentally stumble into the apes’ territory while trying to repair a dam that will supply power to their colony.  Caesar must then decide if he can protect his apes through isolationism, a tenuous truce, or agreeing with his chief lieutenant Koba (Kebbell), who wants to start a war against the humans.

 

One of the great things about the movie is director Matt Reeves does not make us wait to see Caesar and the apes. After eerie opening, we see the apes right off the part. Matter of fact, the movie spends time more with the apes than the humans. Caesar’s people communicate through a mix of limited speech, signing, and body language. The ape children attend school, where Maurice, the orangutan from Rise and Caesar’s trusted adviser, teaches lessons like how to write and one that I stated earlier “Ape Shall Not Kill Ape.”

 

Although the movie has many standouts (which I will get to them later) the main standout is Andy Serkis as Caesar. This time around Caesar is older and wiser. He bears the weight of the world on his shoulders. With every body movement you can feel the responsibilities that he is wrestling with, regarding not just leading his fellow apes but also taking care of his family and guiding his elder son into adulthood. Serkis is one of the masters, if not the master, of motion capture and his turn as Caesar this time around with the help of WETA is truly one of his best works.

 

The dynamic between Caesar and Clarke’s Malcolm is a strong arc in the movie. The two have much in common, as Malcolm is also trying to protect his family and his people. It’s an uneasy truce that’s made between the two, but it comes from a shared understanding that they’re both working for the same thing — for family, for community, and for the future.

 

Of course some of the apes don’t agree with helping the humans and those are lead by Koba. While played by stunt performer Christopher Gordon in the first film, Reeves recast the role with actor Toby Kebbell. The probable reason is that Koba is a key player in the events of Dawn, and Kebbell gives Serkis a run for his money in the performance-capture acting and is much more than one-dimensional. Koba has pledged himself to Caesar ever since he freed him from the experimental laboratories of the first film, where the ape was operated on hundreds of times by human scientists. His hate for man is strong, and you can’t really blame him. He shows Caesar the scars from the human mistreatment.

 

The relationship between Caesar and Koba is just one of the many remarkable, textured character back and forwards of the film. Koba is given to outbursts as he questions Caesar’s approach to the humans, but when Caesar rebukes his old ally, Koba begs for forgiveness with an extended hand and a posture of supplication. Caesar embraces his friend’s hand with sympathy, accepting his apology as he understands the complexity of the situation and Koba’s misgivings. It’s a strong moment, but it becomes so much more as it’s repeated a couple of more times throughout the film, with each slight variation on the same interaction informing us greatly about how the relationship between the two is changing.

 

While the ape actors are great, including a string of lesser known performers including Konoval and Nick Thurston (who plays Caesar’s son Blue Eyes), we can’t overlook what WETA has done here. This movie is full of apes, and they’re very often in exterior locations or engaged in battles or riding freaking horses! All technically complex and next-level stuff. Oh, and the apes on horses? There are certain unforgettable shots on this front that make that very concept as cool and thrilling as it must’ve seemed when the original franchise came out. Reeves also utilizes the WETA magic to create some truly beautiful images. Much of this stuff gets into spoiler territory, but it truly is beautiful to see.

 

As for the human cast, it is hit and miss. Jason Clarke is great as always as he sees Caesar trying to basically do the same thing but under different circumstances. Clarke’s Malcolm sees the apes as more than just “animals” as Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus does. Keri Russell has her moments here and there but overall doesn’t do much and the same can more said for Smit-McPhee. Gary Oldman however is unfortunately underused in this. While he does have some strong moments he disappears for a chuck of the film and even when he returns he isn’t nearly as strong as he could have been.

 

Matt Reeves, who takes over for Rupert Wyatt, really expands the world that Wyatt had only developed. Rise was also filled with more obvious homage’s to the original series, Reeves holds back and makes the occasional and subtle references like using bits of the original score and an ending that is very Planet of the Apes. Although, there are some similarities of other huge moments of the original series that might be lost on the causal Planet of the Apes fans but to the hardcore fans – or ones that binged watched the series before watching Dawn – those will stick out.

 

Ultimately, the great Planet of the Apes movies all share one very important element: a willingness to examine and contemplate the issues facing the real world. And Dawn certainly falls into this category. While the always-relevant notions of family, friendship, and the responsibility to protect both run deep in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, there is much more here as well for those who are willing to look. I won’t say what they are here just in case you want to see them unfold in the film yourself but all of these concepts are left to ponder.

 

All in all, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does what the best of Hollywood genre movies can do — it’s exciting, thrilling, and visually amazing to look at. But it’s so much more than that as well. Reeves is a great addition and arguably has made a better movie than Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But this movie belongs to Serkis and Kebbell who give amazing performances, and all through motion capture.

 

Hail Caesar!

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

5 out of 5