Review of “X-Men: Apocalypse”

En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac) has been alive for many lifetimes and is the leader of Egypt 5000 year ago. Born the first mutant and able to transfer his consciousness from one body to another, En Sabah Nur is being transferred into the body of a mutant with healing abilities which would likely make him nearly immortal when some of his guards turn against him and seal him within a pyramid buried deep underground. With the public finding out about mutants in the 1970’s, a cult has developed around the myth of En Sabah Nur. CIA operative Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) is investigating one of these cults in Cairo when she witnesses the awakening of En Sabah Nur but doesn’t realize what she sees. En Sabah Nur, seeing how the world has changed by absorbing information from a satellite TV connection, puts into motion a plan to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth and rule a world of only mutants. He recruits four followers giving their mutant abilities a boost. First is Storm (Alexandra Shipp) who is able to control the weather, next is Psylocke (Olivia Munn) who can project psychic energy in the form of a purple sword or whip, third is Angel (Warren Worthington III) who flies with wings of metal growing from his back and the last is Magneto (Michael Fassbender) with the ability to control metal and magnetic fields. En Sabah Nur detects the mind of Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) while he is using Cerebro to look for Magneto. Overwhelming Xavier, En Sabah Nur abducts him with a plan to use his psychic abilities to contact all living minds. Xavier’s students and fellow instructors Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), along with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) join forces to stop En Sabah Nur and his Four Horsemen from bringing about an apocalypse.

Perhaps it’s superhero burnout. Perhaps it’s the release of this film close to the vastly superior “Captain America: Civil War.” Maybe it’s just the quality of this film. Whatever the reason, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is a flat, uninvolving and somewhat repetitive mix of visually exciting CGI action and mind-numbing complications leading to a predictable ending and a post-credits scene that will only excite someone steeped in X-Men comics lore. I don’t hate “X-Men: Apocalypse” but I believe it could have been better.

My main issue with the film is it never involves the audience emotionally. Even when given a chance to with the death of a young mutant, it is tossed off like something meaningless. It never feels like there are real consequences to what happens in “X-Men: Apocalypse” as the ending is telegraphed by an early scene, showing us who will be responsible for the “good” mutants beating the “bad” mutants.

If you feel like that’s a spoiler you haven’t been paying much attention to the “X-Men” movies over the years. Director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg don’t stray too far from the formula that has been the staple of X-Men and other superhero movies. While the film does drop a few hints about what may come up in future installments (including that post-credits scene), it doesn’t really stretch the lore of these characters the way “X-Men: Days of Future Past” did. That film committed what many fans thought of as an unforgivable sin and completely reset the timeline of the movie universe. This film stays locked within the lines and acts like there are hot lava alligators lurking past the comfortable and expected edges. They are characters based on comic books. They can be and do ANYTHING! They aren’t constrained by time, physics, death or any other rule we normal humans can’t violate. They brought Professor Xavier back after we watched him die in the third X-Men movie and gave us absolutely NO explanation and we all collectively went “ok.” Play with these characters and stretch them in directions that aren’t straight from the moviemaking rule book. After all, (SPOILER ALERT) Marvel comics just made Captain America a HYDRA agent. If they can do that, you guys can give audiences some surprises when it comes to these films.

“X-Men Apocalypse” is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, action and destruction, sequences of violence and some suggestive images. Buildings are ripped from the ground and cars flung in the air but no loss of life is seen. One cameo appearance by an X-Men favorite leads to lots of dead bodies and some puddles of blood. Mystique is nearly choked to death. A woman and child are killed with a bow and arrow. There are other examples of mutant on mutant mayhem. I’m not exactly sure what the suggestive images are referring to as I don’t recall anything other than a couple of female costumes that might be considered such. Foul language is infrequent but there is one “F-Bomb.”

The story of “X-Men: Apocalypse” is rather convoluted but the idea behind the story is simple: Mutants are still feared and often abused or put on display by humans so En Sabah Nur uses mutants’ anger and fear to make them his soldiers. It seems fairly straightforward but for some reason Bryan Singer and the makers of the movie feel the need to throw in a great many complications, locations and action scenes to muddy the waters. “X-Men: Apocalypse” is an overwrought mess that needed to be reined in before it hit theatres.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” gets two stars out of five.

Love, music and more mutation hit screens this week. I’ll see and review at least one of these movies.

Me Before You—

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping—

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Reviews of “The Last Witch Hunter” and “Steve Jobs”

The Last Witch Hunter

After the death of his wife and child, Kaulder (Vin Diesel) joins other 13th century witch hunters in the search for the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) responsible for the plague that killed their families. Within a massive tree, Kaulder finds the Witch Queen and runs her through with his burning sword; however, before she dies she curses Kaulder with immortality. Eight-hundred years later there’s a truce between the priests that oversee Kaulder as the last witch hunter and witches. As long as they don’t practice magic on humans they won’t be hunted, tried before a council and locked up in a prison below the church. The priest that works directly with the witch hunter is called a Dolan. He acts as a guide, confessor and scribe writing down all of the hunter’s adventures. The 36th Dolan (Michael Caine) is retiring and will be replaced by the 37th Dolan (Elijah Wood). On his last night the 36th Dolan dies in his apartment, apparently of natural causes; but Kaulder is suspicious. Looking for the signs of magic, Kaulder finds the elder Dolan was put under a spell that mimics death and was tortured for information. He left clues behind telling the witch hunter to relive his death inside that tree. Needing a potion to help him remember what happened right after the death of the Witch Queen, Kaulder seeks the aid of a young witch named Chloe (Rose Leslie) at a bar that is exclusively for witches. Chloe creates the potion but Kaulder is attacked by a powerful witch named Belial (Olafur Darri Olafsson) trying to stop him. Strange and dangerous forces are trying to keep Kaulder from seeing what happened after the Witch Queen cursed him. The question is why?

With a Rotten Tomatoes score in the mid-teens I was surprised I enjoyed the first half or so of “The Last Witch Hunter.” The writers of the film had created an interesting world largely populated with unique characters doing strange and fanciful things. Had it continued that way I might have been one of the movie’s loudest supporters. As it is, I’m lukewarm on the latest Vin Diesel project because it trades in imagination for generic action thrills.

Diesel actually manages something akin to warmth in parts of the film. He has a brief interaction on a plane with a child and shows a bit of charm. His scenes with Rose Leslie don’t devolve into an uncomfortable romance as I was afraid it might but the pair has a rough chemistry that serves the story. The father/son relationship between Diesel and Michael Caine felt a bit forced but still managed to seem like a friendship that had been around for a while. Elijah Wood is under used in his role so he and Diesel’s characters never feel like they are really partners. Perhaps that was the goal. No one in the movie does a bad job in their role. Sadly, they aren’t given that much to work with.

The film is let down by a third act that is just scaffolding to get to the action/sfx scenes. We get a few brief glimpses at what Kaulder has lost at the hands of the Witch Queen and the events in that third act contradict what we’ve seen before. I’m trying to avoid giving away too many plot details; but the story kind of reverses itself in a blatant attempt to create a need for a sequel. With opening weekend domestic box office of less than $11-million, that seems unlikely.

“The Last Witch Hunter” is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images. We see people stabbed with swords and knives. There are a few large, ugly creatures. The Witch Queen will be scary for the very youngest viewers. A character is impaled on a spike through the shoulder. A character is consumed by vines at the base of a tree. A character is shown ripping their skin off to reveal a different creature inside. Foul language is widely scattered and very mild.

The world of “The Last Witch Hunter” could have been fascinating if the vision of the writers early in their script has been carried through to the end. As it is, the movie becomes a predictable action/fantasy with some decent visuals but is nothing special. I wish it had been the kind of film that put a spell on me but alas, it’s all just a cheap trick.

“The Last Witch Hunter” gets three stars out of five.

Steve Jobs

Preparing to give a public demonstration of the new Macintosh computer Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is berating Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), one of his engineers, because the vocal program is having a hard time saying “Hello.” Jobs wants to show how friendly the Macintosh is and refuses to pull it from the demonstration. His long-suffering personal assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) is attempting to coordinate the presentation while wrangling the taciturn Jobs. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) is trying to get Jobs to thank the Apple II engineers during the presentation but Jobs refuses saying it looks back in the past and the Macintosh is the future. Waiting backstage is Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) with her daughter Lisa. Based on a blood test a judge ruled that Jobs was Lisa’s father but he denies that. In a magazine article, Jobs says that up to 28% of the men in America could also be Lisa’s father. This angers Chrisann as it appears Jobs is saying she sleeps with many different men. Chrisann wants money over and above the child support the judge granted her. Jobs only pays attention to Lisa when she takes an interest in the Macintosh in the dressing room.

“Steve Jobs” tells a story about the face of Apple using three product launch events in front of hundreds of adoring fans. Jobs could do no wrong in their eyes and everything he touched they thought was the next big thing. In the film, Jobs seems to only be comfortable on the stage in front of those that didn’t know him. In the film, being a part of Steve Jobs life seemed like a less than pleasant experience. The movie also is less than pleasant as it loses its belief in itself and tries to turn Steve Jobs into a misunderstood teddy bear.

Michael Fassbender may get some awards season love for playing the title role. His performance is mesmerizing. Jobs is a ball of energy that can become dangerously focused on anyone that he feels has done him a disservice or isn’t living up to his expectations. Jobs is shown in the film as a man with a singular vision he feels must be put forth unadulterated. It’s the same whether he’s involved in business or personal matters. Fassbender is absorbed in the role and it must have been emotionally taxing for him. Playing a person of such conviction and willingness to mow down anyone that might get in the way has to take its toll. Fassbender manages to be charismatic even when making threats or explaining something that doesn’t need explaining. His performance, and the performances of Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels Katherine Waterston and the rest of the cast, is outstanding. Sadly, they are all let down by a script that doesn’t believe in its own convictions.

While Steve Jobs is shown to be able to express a tiny amount of warmth and compassion, the majority of the movie’s two hour running time is spent showing the man as the lowest form of life. He’s rude, egotistical and doesn’t take anyone’s feelings into consideration. If he was anything like portrayed on screen it’s a miracle someone didn’t put a bullet in him at some time in his life. Writer Aaron Sorkin does a good job of making Jobs unlikable. Then, out of left field, we get a scene that could best be described as redemptive. For me, it completely didn’t work. It is pounded into our minds what a dirt bag Jobs is. He denies Lisa is his daughter, he threatens to have Chrisann killed, he is prepared to embarrass one of his engineers in front of an auditorium full of people if the Macintosh voice synthesizer doesn’t work and that’s just a few of the things shown in the movie and then, without any set up or evidence to the contrary, we are shown a warm and fuzzy Steve Jobs. Perhaps, as he aged, Jobs become more human. The movie doesn’t give us any indication that it happens or why. One of the most brutal confrontations occurs not long before this miraculous conversion. Jobs is as blunt and biting as he is in any other scene in the movie and then, a few minutes later, he’s overflowing with love, compassion and contrition. It takes what is a scathing portrait of a well-known figure and cheapens it into a feel-good family melodrama.

“Steve Jobs” is rated R for language. Foul language is infrequent.

I realize I’m in the minority on this one but “Steve Jobs” isn’t the brave and searing portrait of one of the best known tech giants in history; instead, it shows us a flawed but brilliant man and tries to redeem him using cheap emotional tricks. Jobs deserved better.

“Steve Jobs” gets three stars out of five.

Three new movies close out the month of October looking to scare up some business. I’ll see and review at least one of them.

Burnt—

Our Brand is Crisis—

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.