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Review – X-Men: Apocalypse (12a) [2016]

X-Men 3 - Title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • John Ottman – X-Men IIHouse of WaxFantastic 4 I-IIValkyrie, X-Men: Days of Future PastNon-Stop, 20,000 Leagues Under Sea

The Godfather Syndrome is a common problem for film trilogies. When the first film is a good and the second is better, the third film has a hard act to follow. So often, it cannot raise the bar to the required level and, consequently, the film is unsatisfactory. The Godfather trilogy is the most high profile to fall victim to this syndrome (hence the name), but the third film in the Alien franchise and in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy suffered from the syndrome as well. Sadly, so too does the third film in the X-Men prequel trilogy, Apocalypse.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has awakened and keen to inflict punishment, using his incredible powers, upon the 'decadent, corrupt' world of the 1980s.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has awakened and keen to inflict punishment, using his incredible powers, upon the ‘decadent, corrupt’ world of the 1980s.

X-Men: Apocalypse begins in Ancient Egypt with the creation of the most powerful mutant of all time (played by Oscar Isaac). This mutant is not given a name, but his enemies nickname him Apocalypse. No sooner is Apocalypse created when he is entombed and falls into a coma.

Fast forward to the 1980s and Apocalypse is awoken. He sees the world is full of decadence and corruption. So he decides that he must destroy it in order to make a new and better world. He recruits four (angry) mutants to his cause: Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn), in order to carry out his master plan. Only the X-Men can stop this plan from coming to fruition. But only if they unite.

Apocalypse’s plot is quite dull, unoriginal and unfaithful to what the X-Men prequel trilogy has been about. First Class and Days of Future Past were original and interesting because they were not about good vs evil. Rather, they were about the polar-opposite approaches of Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto to tackle the problems mutants faced in the world (mirroring the stances of Martin Luthar King and Malcolm X during the American Civil Rights movements of the 1960s). Neither Professor X’s nor Magneto’s approaches were completely right or completely wrong, which was what made First Class and Days of Future Past so fascinating and realistic (for the X-Men world that is). However, Apocalypse goes back on this theme and focusses more on stopping an all-powerful, under-developed and poorly written (and so obviously evil) villain. This is a real shame as director Bryan Singer should have done more to continue the theme of the previous two installments.

Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) using his machine to find mutants around the world... and being mentally invaded by Apocalypse.

Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) using his machine to find mutants around the world… and being mentally invaded by Apocalypse.

Yet, the near abandonment of the theme running through the first two movies of this trilogy is not the only major problem with Apocalypse’s plot. The storyline is bitty at best and incoherent at worst. As is so often the case in X-Men films, there are many characters with competing storylines. To condense so many storylines into a TV series is a struggle (just look at Game of Thrones). But to do it in a 144-minute film, and to develop the characters as well, is nigh on impossible. As a result, so much in Apocalypse is left under-explained or simply not explained at all: for example why Magneto begins the film in a metal-works factory in Poland (yes, just go with it)? Why, also, does Apocalypse need four assistants to help him execute his grand plan? (One would think these questions are profound enough to warrant answers. But, no, instead Singer spends the time explaining how Professor X went bald and how Storm’s hair turned blonde.)

It is safe to say that Apocalypse’s plot has enough holes to rival Swiss Cheese. However, to some extent one can ignore its many problems and enjoy watching some of our favourite mutants once more. Like in First Class and Days of Future Past, the acting and the dialogue is good. Again, both are a little bit down on the other two movies. But that may be due to viewers becoming accustomed to the high standard of acting set by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence in particular.

No, the only real surprise in Apocalypse is how much screen time is given to the new members of the cast; notably, Sophie Turner as the young Jean Gray. Turner’s American accent vacillates across the Atlantic during the course of the film and she does not have the screen presence or the charisma (as yet) of the more senior members of the cast. But Turner does a good job with what she is given nevertheless.

The new mutants: young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, left), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, centre) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, right) in the thick of the action, trying to stop Apocalypse from carrying his plan to destroy the world.

The new mutants: young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, left), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, centre) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, right) in the thick of the action, trying to stop Apocalypse from carrying his plan to destroy the world.

And like with the acting and the dialogue, the action scenes and the special effects are good without being spectacular. Similarly though, audiences have seen what Apocalypse has to offer before (not only in previous X-Men films, but also in other sci-fi and comic-book movies). This, therefore, leaves viewers feeling underwhelmed and yearning for something more interesting to watch.

All-in-all, X-Men: Apocalypse is a disappointing film. The storyline is a muddle, undercooked and a betrayal from what made the previous two films in the trilogy so engaging. With a plot so problematic, it is no surprise that neither the quality of its cast nor the numerous (inconsequential) action sequences can save this third film from being a let-down. Thus, The Godfather Syndrome has struck again and means that the X-Men prequel trilogy has not got the conclusive third chapter that it richly deserved.

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Review – Joe (15) [2014]

Joe - title banner2

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • David Gordon Green – George Washington, Pineapple Express, Your Highness, Manglehorn

Cast:

  • Nicolas Cage – Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off, Season of the Witch, Left Behind
  • Tye Sheridan – The Tree of Life, Mud, Dark Places
  • Gary Poulter
  • Ronnie Gene Blevins – A Beautiful Life, Kiss the Abyss, The Dark Knight Rises, Then There Was
  • Anna Niemtschk

Music Composer:

  • Jeff McIlwain – Snow Angels, The Sitter
  • David Wingo – George Washington, Take Shelter, The Sitter, Mangelhorn

Whatever happened to the acting career of Nicolas Cage? In 1996, he won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas and in 2003 he was nominated for an Oscar for Adaptation., so Cage clearly can act. But since starring in the reboot of The Wickerman in 2006, Cage seemingly set his career on fire with laughable performances in critic kick-bags, such as Ghost Rider I & II, Knowing, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Season of the Witch and Drive Angry, to name six from the catalogue. Therefore, upon Joe, the question was: could Cage’s career sink any lower or was going to (finally) rise from the ashes?

Joe (Nicolas Cage) giving some good, worldly advice to young Gary (Tye Sheridan).

Joe (Nicolas Cage) giving some good, worldly advice to young Gary (Tye Sheridan).

Joe is an indie drama set in the rural, Deep South of America, and is an adaptation of Larry Brown’s 1991 novel of the same title. The film predominantly centres round Joe (Nicolas cage), an ex-convict who runs a business demolishing trees for development sites. One day, Gary (Tye Sheridan), a teenager new to the area, finds Joe and asks if he and his father, Wade (Gary Poulter), can work for him as they need money. Joe agrees, but soon discovers that Wade is an alcoholic with a dreadful character. Upon realising Wade’s ways, Joe takes on the mantle of a father figure for Gary.

Joe is a very decent raw and grisly film about poverty in the Deep South, and about ruin and redemption in general. In a similar way to Mud (also starring Tye Sheridan, plus the reborn Matthew McConaughey), not a lot happens (and what does happen is a tad predictable). But the dialogue in Joe is fantastic and the acting is superb across the board.

Wade (Gary Poulter), Gary's alcoholic father, looking like the homeless man he was in real life (until it was sadly cut short a few months after filming ended).

Wade (Gary Poulter), Gary’s alcoholic father, looking like the homeless man he was in real life (until it was sadly cut short a few months after filming ended).

Nicolas Cage shows us that he is more than just a mercenary willing to cash in on his name. For once, Cage looks like he actually wanted to get up in the morning for filming, as there is more to him in a role than merely a bland expression, a monotone for a voice, and an occasional half-hearted smile to make him your average, likeable guy (as if anyone was going to believe that Nicolas Cage was your ‘average Joe’). In Joe, Cage’s southern accent is refreshingly real, and his grizzled face reflects a man constantly holding back his pent up rage in order to stay on the right side of the law. Moreover, the way Cage’s character takes Gary under his wing is wonderful to watch and enables viewers to empathise with Joe, despite Joe otherwise being rough-around-the-edges, with a drink-driving habit and a history of violence. (If anything, it would have been nice to learn where this violent streak comes from and to find out more about Joe’s background.)

But it is not just Cage that is wonderful to behold in Joe. Like in Mud, Tye Sheridan again demonstrates that he has a long acting career ahead of him. Here, Sheridan performs magnificently as a teenager willing to work hard to put bread on the table for his family, since his father won’t do it. And, speaking of his father in the film, Gary Poulter’s performance, as the horrible alcoholic family-beater, is brilliant and worryingly realistic. What makes Poulter’s performance even more remarkable is that he was not even an actor by trade: he was a hobo! (The casting of a non-actor is not surprising for a David Gordon Green film as the director regularly picks locals for roles in his movies.)

Gary speaking with Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins). There is a reason why he has a scar under his right eye and Willie-Russell wants revenge against the man who did it.

Gary speaking with Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins). There is a reason why he has a scar under his right eye and Willie-Russell wants revenge against the man who did it.

However, it is not just the acting and dialogue that is fantastic in Joe, since the cinematography is equally good and fitting. From the broken homes (metaphorically and literally); to the trucks people drive; to the dirtiness and dusty nature of the region, the rural poverty of the Deep South and the type of people who inhabit it are well depicted. No-one in Joe personifies the place and the complexities of living in such a place more than Nicolas Cage’s character.

Over-all, Joe is a solid film that is very realistic representation of the Deep South of America. The movie may have little by way of action and plot-twists. Nevertheless, one can easily engage with the characters in the film, not least due to the dialogue and the vivid performances from the cast. Surprisingly, this includes Nicolas Cage; for in Joe he reminds us that his Oscar win and nomination, all those (many) years ago, were no flukes and that truly he can act. It might be a little early to say that Cage’s renaissance has begun. But maybe, just maybe, Cage will use Joe (as Matthew McConaughey did with The Lincoln Lawyer and Mud) as a springboard to re-launch his career.

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