There are a ton of flicks to see this early in the summer. Two new releases, X-Men: Apocalypse and Alice Through the Looking Glass join the fray. I’m still recommending Sing Street, by the way.
I give a ton of credit to X-Men (2000) for give legitimacy to cinematic superheroes not named Batman or Superman. That original trilogy of the early 2000s had its highs and absolute lows, but still proved it had legs, as Wolverine got his own movies and the X-Men series was essentially rebooted in 2011 with X-Men: First Class. Now, Apocalypse finishes out the third movie in this franchise. Based on the track record with the previous trilogy finisher, X3 The Last Stand, this could signal the end of the series until the eventual reboot.
For the uninitiated, the Apocalypse in the title refers to one of the greatest X-Men villains, the first known mutant. He was once considered a god and has now awaken to 1983 and a few mutants who are very unprepared to take him on. Apocalypse immediately wants to recruit mutants to his cause and create a new world order, which essentially means wiping average humankind off the planet.
Oscar Isaac (Star Wars, Ex Machina) plays Apocalypse and the movie dedicates a significant amount of screen time to this big bad. He is an imposing villain, who constantly has a grand plan. His character works because Isaac actually gives him a defined role. The make-up is so prevalent, that it must be tough to emote. Yet, Isaac acts primarily with his voice. Apocalypse generally keeps a hushed tone, which means he has control in the situation. If you’re familiar with the ’90s cartoon, you’ll know that Apocalypse just yells and grandstands about how he is a supreme ruler. Isaac’s version doesn’t ham it up. He is imposing based on his powers, but also because he believes the ancient hype because he’s always been worshipped. When Apocalypse does magnify his voice, with great effect, it’s because he’s pushed to anger and things are about to go bad.
Even with the talent of Isaac, this First Class franchise belongs to James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Fassbender steals the movie with his emotional arc in the first act, but the more consistent player is McAvoy. His Xavier has gone through the ringer, but still sees the light in people. I’d go so far as to say that McAvoy has been the star of this series. That doesn’t take anything away from Fassbender. His presence immediately elevates a movie about jumpsuits and telekinesis to an actual good film. Even Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen didn’t do as much with the characters as these two have.
As with the two other superhero blockbusters this year, the first hour will try the patience of summer audiences. It takes its time establishing the young mutants – Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Meanwhile, there is plenty of introduction, but little development of Apocalypse’s minions, the four horsemen. These underdeveloped villains, along with Jennifer Lawrence, are the weak points in the otherwise strong movie. It’s my hope that Cyclops actually gets control of the X-Men, as is intended, rather than Mystique.
Yet, just when I started to feel impatience crawl, Quicksilver appeared. As in the stellar Days of Future Past, Quicksilver (Evan Peters) adds the most visually-pleasing sequence. At that point, the movie goes full throttle and gives each character their time to shine. This all leads to the climactic battle that provides far higher stakes than seen in most superhero flicks and actually has emotional resonance because well-established characters are in peril. Yes, the world is at stake, but the drama is more about the fate of the X-Men.
X-Men: Apocalypse is a very solid movie that may get lost in the shuffle of superhero movie casserole, but it takes the seriousness of DC and humor of Marvel and turns it into a great super casserole. B+
Alice Through the Looking Glass
In 2010, Tim Burton’s reimagining of Alice in Wonderland destroyed the box office taking in over $1 billion. In that movie, Alice fulfilled a prophecy by destroying the Jabberwocky and saving Underland/Wonderland.
It’s been a few years since Alice’s (Mia Wasikowska) visit to Wonderland. In her reality, she is once again dealing with the harsh realities of her position, or lack of, in life. Quickly, she is led through a magic mirror and descends upon Wonderland, which coincides perfectly with her old friends needing her help. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has become a cantankerous hermit and they believe Alice is the only one who can help him. In order to bring him back to a happy state, she must change certain events by going back in time. However, in Wonderland “Time” is a person and is played by Sacha Baron Cohen.
It’s strange to think that a movie that took six years to get in development feels rushed, but Looking Glass feels tacked on. The plot is clearly not meant to be taken seriously, it’s in Wonderland after all, but the entire thing feels inauthentic.
Wonderland is a CG landscape, but for this sequel, it appears as though less money, care and creativity went into it. All that can be said for this version of Wonderland is that it’s colorful and animals talk. In fact, the only reason for the side characters are to be part-time companions of Alice in her quest to save the Hatter. Walt Disney once understood the importance of Wonderland as a land of unpredictable discovery. The only thing unpredictable element of Looking Glass is how bad some of the CG characters look in some scenes.
I’ll give Looking Glass some credit that it deserves. In no way is this a copy-and-paste formula of the first movie. It tells its own story. Dabbling in time travel is a risky venture, but it follows the Doctor Who path by skimming over plot holes by explaining very little of the science.
Also, while his character is purposely off-putting, Sacha Baron Cohen is the best addition to these movies. Without giving too much of his character away, he has a sincere motivation throughout the movie. Meanwhile, everyone else in the cast, outside of Alice, is wasted.
If you’re a fan of the first movie, Alice Through the Looking Glass will keep you entertained, but in a movie about a magical world, nothing feels magical. If you’re a fan of the books or previous incarnations, you most likely turned off the first movie before it ended. Much like the first movie, the only thing Looking Glass shares with the books is the title. D+