“X-Men: Apocalypse” movie review

XMenApocalypseEpic! It isn’t often that one word can sum up the screening experience of a movie, especially when going into the film, one had lots of hesitations that stemmed from the questionable trailers. Prepare yourself for the heaviest of the X-Men movies future or past. Probably the best feeling to take away from this one is the storytelling quality of the cartoon paired with Bryan Singer’s unparalleled handling of what is arguably the most successful Marvel franchise over the decades (that may be changing with the unprecedented popularity of The Avengers). While some may describe this movie as a failed attempt at reliving the glory days of the X-Men, I venture to say that there is enough evidence to support this being a strong third movie. As much as I enjoyed the movie–and do not mistake me, I did–there was a LOT going on in this movie and it came close to failing to effectively and successfully tell A complete three-act story. Just like in Batman v Superman, where Warner Bros bit off more than they could chew, 20th Century Fox came close to making the same mistake. Thankfully, the story was just strong enough to drive excitement and thrill through the minds and bodies of the audience.

X-Men: Apocalypse is the third movie in the Bryan Singer reboot (fourth installment if you count the original X-Men movie from 2000). The world of Ancient Egypt was once the center of the universe; and in that great empire, there lived the original mutant [Apocalypse] (Oscar Isaac). He grew in strength and power to the point that he ruled the world. After several of his fellow Egyptians betrayed him in attempt to bury him alive, he was cast into a deep sleep hundreds of feel beneath the surface. Due to a dedicated group of followers thousands of years later, Apocalypse was awaken and he has set out to reclaim the planet as his own and raise his children. Determined to build his mutant army, he begins to recruit the most powerful X-Men including Storm (Alexandra Shipp). When Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) encounters Apocalypse while in Cerebro and is captured, the still-fractured X-Men must go to great and nearly impossible lengths to rescue him and save the world. Teaming up with new student Scott (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Quicksilver (American Horror Story’s Evan Peters), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and Havoc (Lucas Till) will battle Apocalypse and his four horsemen including Storm, Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender).

What a cast! The quality of talent in and of itself is an outstanding accomplishment and is responsible for a great deal of the success of the film. Writers create characters and directors craft them, but it is the actor who ultimately brings the characters to life for the silver screen. Each and every actor is an excellent match to their respective characters. In addition to the actors we have been introduced to in past films, the newcomers quickly cement themselves in this and future movies. With so much material and less than three hours to deliver a movie that could be on par with the previous two and The Avengers films, it was vitally important to have an impressive cast that could win you over instantly. There simply wasn’t time for an actor to grow on you or to decide how you felt about a particular character. Each actor needed to his a homerun as soon as they stepped out of the dugout. I paid close attention to Sophie Turner because I was only familiar with her from Game of Thrones, and I just wasn’t sure how I would feel about her as one of the omega class X-Men (Jean Grey). Oh, I knew she looked the part, but could she pull it off??? And the answer to that is a resounding yes.

Much like Captain America: Civil WarX-Men: Apocalypse is nothing short of a superhero extravaganza. And although they are similar in many respects, there are two completely different tones in the respective movies. Are they both serious? Yes, but the former also includes comedic relief sequences and dialog (and yes, if you read my review, I found those to be poorly handled but I am not going to revisit that tarmac scene or the annoying Spider-Man in this article) while the latter retains the serious tone throughout the movie. However, it is successful in not becoming a parody of itself as was the case with Batman v Superman. I will state this: Civil War does boast a dynamic plot that flows smoothly the whole time, whereas Apocalypse flows smoothly most of the time, but at others, it does feel a mite bumpy. We could discuss symptoms of the problems all day, but the root of the problem is simply trying to tell too much story in one movie. To be honest, I have a felling that I am going to decide that I like X-Men more but that is likely because, in all fairness, I grew up with the cartoon. What works for X-Men, much like Captain America, is the fact that the audience does not need to be familiar with the comics in order to enjoy the movie. Singer makes sure that anyone who enjoys high concept comic book superhero action movies will enjoy this film. Well, that is, unless you happen to be a diehard comic book aficionado. This movie is simply exciting and visceral.

Memorial Day weekend will either be dominated by powerful mutants or charicatures from the other side of the mirror. Although X-Men will probably not perform as well as Civil War, I don’t think Alice has a chance of topping this quintessential summer blockbuster on the unofficial start to the summer. Unless you live here in Florida where summer started in March. Haha. Speaking of Florida, and in particular Orlando where MegaCon 2016 is being held, knowing that most of the theaters would be filled with cosplayers and enthusiastic fans, I had the challenge of finding a theatre in the area at which to watch the movie and not face cols out auditoriums and nose-bleed seats. I was successful in finding a small privately owned theatre in the vicinity and has the whole thing practically to myself. Running camera for a medical convention, so I am writing from the Rosen Shingle Creek instead of my condo in Tampa. It’s been quite nice to stay on site versus driving an hour here for the event each day. Happy Memorial Day!

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers2The Avengers: Age of DULLtron. Get ready for the first big movie to usher in the summer blockbuster season. Only, you will probably find you enjoyed the first Avengers better. Writer-Director Joss Whedon returns with the highly anticipated sequel to the 2012 smash hit. The Avengers: Age of Ultron is a mesmerizing, overly stuffed science-fiction/fantasy that will, in the end, leave you hungry and unsatisfied. Unlike the previous installment, this flashy yet underperforming sequel lacks satisfying plot development. It’s almost as if the movie is at its climax the entire time, with no apparent windup, little exposition, and nearly non-existent rising action. There are movies that are two-parters that have no business being split, and there are others that are one-movie that desperately needed its story to be told over two films–this is the latter. There was such potential in the story, but the plot was executed poorly. If the writers paid more attention to and spent more time on plot development and less time on funny one-liners and running jokes, which are quite appropriate and help keep the dialog balanced, then we may have had a better movie.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron takes us on an a high energy journey around the world from Eastern Europe to Africa to New York City. At the center of the movie is a once-dormant peacekeeping program initiative that was designed by the brilliant engineer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) that was inadvertently activated and developed an artificial intelligence of its own with a dark vision of what peace should look like. Taking to the internet, the AI peacekeeping program (aka Ultron) is everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. Teaming up with Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Iron Man and the Avengers must overcome personal differences and ban together to confront the peacekeeping initiative that is hell-bent on destruction. Ultron, along with other enhanced humans designed by Striker will prove to be the most daunting enemy faced by our heroes, and will have to work together like they have never done before to save the world from catastrophe.

Sounds like a great movie right?!? Well, not so fast. As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, the movie truly had great potential and, despite its short comings, has a phenomenal cast. But, the story structure and well-crafted writing just wasn’t there. The plot is quite dull. It really is almost as though this was a glorified filler movie to make way for the next installment Avengers: Infinity War Part 1. From a technical perspective, the film is fantastic! The special-effects, practical effects, and CGI were woven together seamlessly. Both the cinematography and direction demonstrated a true gift for telling a story visually. And, to that, I applaud the filmmakers for a commitment to visual storytelling. With the exception of the casting of Maria Hill, a role better suited for Anne Hathaway than Cobie Smulders, the cast was once again brilliantly selected and truly brought the iconic comic book characters to life for the silver screen. The additional roles of Quick Silver (Aaron Tyler-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) were also cast impeccably. And I do not feel anyone besides James Spader could have brought such life and incarnate fear to the voice of Ultron.

Before I tackle the shortfalls of the plot, the character of Ultron needs to be examined. Most any competent filmmaker, or more specifically screenwriter, will tell you that a well-developed story needs a protagonist with a well-defined external goal (often accompanied by an internal goal), and in this respect this film checks that box off; however, a screenplay–especially one of this genre–needs a well-defined antagonist with both an external and internal goal as well. And in addition to the goals of the antagonist, we also need to love or love to hate the villain. Knowing WHY the villain/antagonist does what he or she does is paramount to proper character development. Unfortunately, the audience is not told why Ultron hates humanity so much, unless you count the CNN footage Ultron quickly scrubs through in his rushed genesis. It is never a good idea for a writer-director to just expect the audience to accept the actions of the antagonist without explanation or reason. Not knowing why Ultron is determined to create peace by destroying humanity without reasonable exposition does not create a well-developed character. Whether dealing with a protagonist or his/her opposition, it should never be expected for an audience to engage in blind acceptance.

Here’s where the plot went wrong. Now, in order to critique the plot, it is unfortunately necessary to reveal information that may, but not necesserilly, spoil the movie for those who are unfamiliar with the story or the comic book series. But, I will do my best to not reveal too much. At the center of the movie is this dormant peacekeeping AI initiative designed by Stark Industries called Ultron. Funny how it was never acknowledged in the previous film and came across as a plot gimmick just to hurriedly explain the vague origins of Ultron. The simple and elementary observation of the disregard for proper story structure is evident through the fact the movie lacks an adequate introduction and development/rising action. We basically go from a rushed first act and touch on the second act, then skip directly to a bloviated third act. Where’s the windup? Not here. Being a science-fiction movie, that means that certain laws of science should be adhered to in order to increase the believability and sell-ability of the story. Most anyone who has taken a science class in middle or high school knows that the higher the elevation, the lower the oxygen level, the lower the oxygen level, the slower the brain functions and the more mitigated the functionality of the lungs. I just don’t buy the fact that no one suffers from high altitude sickness when the Eastern European city hangs in the atmosphere above the mountains. The lack of oxygen isn’t even mentioned at all. Even if you buy the fact that the Avengers have somehow overcame this physiological obstacle, the citizens of the city are certainly bound by normal human respiration and circulation.

Over-all the movie is exciting and, despite its shortcomings, is a perfect movie to usher in the coveted summer blockbuster season. It is the first of many highly anticipated summer movies including Disney’s Tomorrowland and Universal’s Jurassic World. Hopefully the next installment in The Avengers series will make up for the structural and logical fallacies in this movie, and spend more time on the writing for the next one. Whether you’re a comic book or super hero fan or not, this is definitely a movie that will add excitement to your weekend. And, for those that are graduating this weekend and next, this film makes for a great way to start a weekend of parties and celebrations.