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.

Review of “Spy”

Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is one of the CIA’s top agents; but he admits he couldn’t do his job without the support of CIA analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) who feeds him information through an ear piece.  Fine is sent on a mission to apprehend Raina Boyanova (Rose Byrne), the daughter of an Eastern European arms dealer that Fine recently killed by accidently shooting him in the head when Fine sneezed.  Boyanova has a tactical nuclear device that is available to the highest bidder.  To keep it from falling into the wrong hands, the CIA sent in Fine; however, Boyanova gets the drop on him and kills him.  She knows someone is listening and rattles off the names of all the CIA’s top agents, warning them to leave her alone or they will meet the same fate.  Susan sees and hears the whole thing and cries because she has a crush on Fine.  During a meeting with CIA Director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) and other CIA agents including the hotheaded Agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), Cooper offers to go into the field since no one knows who she is outside the agency and track Raina to her meeting with arms dealer Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale) who has contacts with a particularly dangerous terrorist group.  Ford is livid and insists on going in guns blazing to get the location of the bomb from Raina.  Crocker disagrees and puts the wheels in motion to put Cooper into the field.  Ford quits in disgust.  Cooper is given a new identity that is decidedly not as sexy as she had hoped and is paired up with another analyst who is also her friend, Nancy (Miranda Hart), who will guide her through an ear piece just like Cooper did for Fine.

This is going to be a short review because “Spy” is just about a perfect action comedy.  Melissa McCarthy is perfect in the role of Susan Cooper, a behind-the-scenes gal who just needs that one break to shine and show what she’s got.  McCarthy is a fearless performer who doesn’t mind looking goofy and sometimes unsympathetic in order to sell her character.  McCarthy is given more than just humorous moments in “Spy.”  There are scenes where she must express painful emotions and even announce her unrequited love for a spy that she believes betrayed her and the agency.  McCarthy is able to convey a far more nuanced performance than one might expect from a broad and raunchy comedy.

The rest of the cast is also asked to deliver complex performances and they all shine bright.  Rose Byrne as the main bad guy is brilliant.  She’s supposed to be a cold, aloof and deadly socialite who also is taking over her late father’s criminal empire; however, that veneer of icy perfection is always on the edge of cracking if things don’t go exactly to her liking.  This usually leads to a sting of expletives and some very funny business.  Byrne proved her comedic chops in “Neighbors” with Seth Rogen last year and merely added to her humorous resume with “Spy.”

If there is a surprise from any of the performances it comes from Jason Statham as the powder keg of an agent Rick Ford.  Statham’s performance isn’t that much different than what he did in “Fast and Furious 7” or his “Transporter” movies or any other of his films.  That’s precisely why it’s so funny.  Statham’s Ford is constantly bragging about how he has suffered incredible injuries and everyone he’s ever loved has been killed by the object of his investigations and yet he still manages to get the job done.  The interactions between Ford and Cooper after his stories reach a point to extreme silliness are some of the film’s best scenes.  While these two characters are at constant odds with each other the chemistry between McCarthy and Statham is undeniable.  They obviously enjoy playing with each other and I’m sure the DVD will be filled with outtakes featuring the pair.  Those may be the funniest parts of the movie we’ll have to wait for.

If the film has a weakness, and it’s tiny, it’s the stunt work during some of the action scenes.  The actual stunts themselves are great; however, when the action is supposed to be carried out by McCarthy’s character and it’s obviously a stunt person wearing a wig and matching outfit, it pulled me right out of the film.  This only happens a time or two but it is so obvious it is jarring.  There is also a stunt near the end of the film where the replacement of McCarthy is far more seamless but the stunt itself makes it clear someone other than the star is doing it.  It’s a tiny quibble but I wanted to point it out so you can be on the lookout for more bad stunt doubles when you see the film.

“Spy” is rated R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity.  There are several fights mostly of the acrobatic variety.  Some are bloody including seeing a knife stabbed through a woman’s hand.  There is also a fight scene where a man has his ankle graphically broken when it is stomped on.  There are also a couple of vomit scenes.  There are a couple of scenes where a foreign agent gets very handsy with McCarthy’s Cooper.  There is also a sex act briefly shown but there is no nudity.  I cannot remember any nudity in the film at all.  Foul language is common throughout the film.

“Spy” is about the most consistently funny film I’ve seen in a long time.  While there are some action scenes and shots of the skyline of whatever European city the story takes us to, there is very little wasted time getting to the next set up of jokes or physical humor.  The entire cast is given a chance to show off their comedic abilities and no one disappoints.  Even the characters that are playing it as straight as possible deliver significant laughs regularly.  It is the kind of action comedy that should be studied by everyone in Hollywood and copied relentlessly.  Writer/director Paul Feig should receive every possible award for this gem of a film.  See it then see it again so the movie industry knows this is the kind of film they should be making more of if they want to have a nice fat bottom line.

“Spy” gets a very enthusiastic five stars.

Next week only one film opens in wide release, so I’ll be reviewing “Jurassic World.”

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