Sunday, May 29, 2016

Summer Cinema: X-Men Apocalypse

The summer cinematic superhero season continues as X-Men: Apocalypse is poised to pass $200 million worldwide by the end of the long Memorial Day weekend. It's been an interesting road for the genetically mutated and wondrously powered X-Men after Fox bought the screen rights from Carolco's bankruptcy and placed Bryan Singer at the helm with Wolverine at the forefront. 2000's X-Men was the first of it's kind and with Spider-Man, ushered in the big budget comic book era we currently live in. Back then comic book movies were still wildly uneven and X-Men was given a decent if unspectacular $75 million budget and a mid-level cast of familiar faces and strong actors if not box office stars like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Halle Berry. Production was stopped twice and it's July box office success was a bit of a shock. Afraid to truly embrace the comic book nature of bright costumes and whiz bang action, X-Men tries to ground things in reality, makes being a mutant akin to being a suppressed homosexual or tortured prisoner of war and the costumes are very The Matrix-esque with black leather replacing blue and yellow tights.

Fox has always chased the stars as X2 put Halle Berry's Storm up front after the actress won an Oscar. The same happened after Jennifer Lawrence went supernova in The Hunger Games and all of a sudden the shape shifting henchman Mystique was now a lead character. Minor character Gambit, played by Taylor Kitsch in Origins: Wolverine was now going to be a standalone film starring Channing Tatum, hot off of Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street but after diminishing returns on Jupiter Ascending and Magic Mike 2, the project has seemingly gone quiet. While X2 became a standard of quality in the genre, X-Men 3 suffered from a troubled production which saw Bryan Singer jump ship to DC and Warner Brothers for the ill fated Superman Returns, replacement Matthew Vaughn left shortly before production was to begin and Brett Ratner was brought in last minute, smashed two scripts together and became the franchises' whipping boy even though his effort is totally watchable and leaps and bounds better than Origins: Wolverine.

First Class breathed new life into the franchise by taking the action back to the 60's but the film grossed less than the four films that preceded it. Fox made the wise move of blending the original X-Men trilogy with the new cast while more or less rebooting the series with Days of Future Past and grossed a franchise high $747 million bucks. Then the long gestating Deadpool turned the genre on it's head with a modestly budgeted, foul mouthed and violent R-rated juggernaut to become the highest grossing film in the series. Now comes X-Men: Apocalypse where our heroes and villains battle a powerful mutant from Egyptian times. We're reintroduced to the likes of optic blasting Scott Summers aka Cyclops, super telekinetic Jean Grey and the blue skinned teleporter Nightcrawler who are now youngsters in the 80's. Sitting in the darkened theater I was surprised how much I enjoyed the film. No X-flick has truly been great but after 16 years, it seemed like they were finally embracing the comic books and Apocalypse was the X-Men'iest film to date. While some might be frustrated at the shoe horned number of characters in the film, they're all given their five minutes, even if that means no one gets to stand out or really shine. I just had fun watching so many characters, many in costume, flying and jumping and running and fighting while using their powers in a world that was finally simply presented instead of explained.

Sure you could nitpick about lack of character development or epic-ness and questionable CGI but overall I had an excellent time and would see it again. Though for a film set in the 80's there's a distinct lack of neon, synth, Dazzler and awesomely 80's as hell Longshot, the dude with spiky blonde hair, a mullet and a black leather outfit. On an even more personal level, I was just happy to see Cyclops not be the bitch of the series like James Marsden's version was in the past. I laughed out loud when we got a glimpse of his 90's style outfit where straps, pouches and shoulder pads were all the rage. Franchise fatigue has definitely set in for the X-Men as reviews have not been kind and box office grosses coming in lower than projected. Contracts for stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence are all fulfilled. Fox is already focusing on a Deadpool sequel, X-Force and The New Mutants but young Cyke, Jean and Nightcrawler Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner and Kodi Smit-McPhee are all signed on for at least two more films. The stage is set for a kinetic and action packed, more contained story set in the 90's so here's hoping we get it.


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