X-Men: Apocalypse

Xmen

Director: Bryan Singer

Screenwriter: Simon Kinberg

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, and Sophie Turner

For 16 years, Bryan Singer has managed the fairly difficult task of directing multiple entries within a franchise and having each one be superior to its predecessor.  His first three X-Men films (X-Men, X2, and X-Men: Days of Future Past) were each a step forward in terms of greatness.  While that streak does end with this year’s X-Men: Apocalypse, it is only because Days of Future Past was SO good!  X-Men: Apocalypse is a very good X-Men film and one that does not tarnish Singer’s legacy one bit.

Picking up the pieces of the shattered timeline left in the wake of Days of Future Past, Apocalypse opens in the early 1980s and finds Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) finally realizing his vision of a school for “Gifted” youngsters. Meanwhile, Eric “Magneto” Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), determined to disappear into anonymity, has taken a blue collar job in a steel mill and settled down off the grid with his wife Magda (Carolina Bartczak) and daughter Nina (T.J. McGibbon).  Unfortunately for both of them, an ancient mutant who goes by the name Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is accidentally unearthed from the rubble of his fallen pyramid by an old friend from X-Men: First Class, Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne).  Disgusted by the power of the “weak” in the modern world, Apocalypse decides to gather his “four horsemen” and duly wipe the slate clean of all undeserving people of Earth.

Whenever total annihilation of the human race is on the line, the stakes are admittedly high. However, the complex and clever time-rift that drove the action in Days of Future Past leaves the Apocalypse conflict feeling a little generic in comparison.  Consequently, Isaac’s performance as the main villain is also slightly underwhelming.  That being said, there is not much more to find fault with in this film.  Once again, the “First Class” cast fills the screen with charisma at every turn. Magneto specifically is given some powerful and intense developments that impact the story and the future of the franchise. In fact, all of the returning characters are used well. One of the only disappointments I had with Days of Future Past was that the relationship between Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank “Beast” McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) that was so ripe in X-Men: First Class was so utterly downplayed in Days of Future PastApocalypse rights that wrong by giving Mystique a more prevalent and endurable role and reuniting her with the rest of the team in a more meaningful way.  That said, Singer wisely does not fall victim to the temptation to overplay the fact that he has the number one actress in the world in his film by pivoting too much on Lawrence.  Instead he focuses more on the emerging powers of young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and her relationship with Scott “Cyclops” Summers (Tye Sheridan).  The introduction to these characters in the new timeline has been hotly anticipated and the film does a nice job of showcasing these characters and whetting our appetite for how their story will play out this time.

On the other hand, Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg do struggle a little under the weight of including and introducing so many other new characters.  I recently stated that Captain America: Civil War is the first Marvel film to truly accomplish the goal of introducing new characters flawlessly.  Unfortunately, X-Men: Apocalypse falls short of that accomplishment.  Notable examples include Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-Mcphee), young Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Angel (Ben Hardy) all of whom remind us of similar character messes from films like Spiderman 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand.  The most glaringly troubling new character inclusion, however is Olivia Munn as Psylocke.  Munn has made a career as the quote/unquote “Booth Babe,” who stands around posing at comic-cons and looking pretty.  Ironically, her acting roles have been relatively far-removed from the geek culture that made her famous and at times she’s shown some real talent.  With X-Men: Apocalypse, she had her chance to reunite with comic

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Olivia Munn as Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse. Image from comingsoon.net

book culture and demonstrate some strength in that arena, but instead her character is relegated to appearances so overtly gratuitous that the audience is taken out of the movie so they can laugh at her impracticable hip-popping, silent stances alongside her team of mutant villains.  If you need more proof, read this article about how she needed lube to squeeze into her costume. The character is meant to be sexy, no doubt, but this is ridiculous.  Next time, give her a line or two of dialogue as well.

X-Men: Apocalypse does a very good job of furthering the X-Men storyline with style and excitement.  The film does struggle with some elements of execution, but none of them take too much away from its enjoyment factor. B+      

X-Men Apocalypse is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 14 minutes.  Stay tuned through the credits for another one of those characteristic Marvel post-credit stingers.  It’s a pretty deep reference though, so if you’re not a comic book nerd, you may need some assistance to make sense of it.

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Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

NeighborsDirector: Nicholas Stoller

Screenwriters: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogan

Cast: Seth Rogan, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Ike Barinholtz

I mentioned in my 2014 review for Neighbors that while I liked the film, “we may be starting to see Rogan start drawing from the bottom of the well.”  Now 2 years later the follow up to that film seems to confirm my assumption. The good news is that Neighbors and its sequel Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising fill a niche, namely the simple comedy.  Oddly enough, the traditional, simple, laugh-out-loud comedy is a dying breed.  Theatrical comedy is hitting such a level of broadness that if I see one more stupid, pointless buddy comedy, the eyeroll may be so intense I may never recover.  Seriously think about the last film that made you laugh in the theater that didn’t have superheroes or Kevin Hart teamed up with a white guy. It’s tough.  You’re likely to arrive at Spy or Trainwreck. So basically, it’s been a year since you laughed at a comedy in the theater. That alone is reason enough to go see Neighbors 2.

Rogan is back as Mac Radner who along with his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) and daughter Stella (Still played by those adorable twins Elise and Zoey Vargas) are finally getting out from under the tough times that ensued from living next to a fraternity.  They have managed to sell their house and are looking forward to living in the suburbs as they welcome their next child.  Unfortunately, the sale of the Radner’s house must go through an escrow period where the buyer can back out if any issues arise, and guess what…they do.  College freshman Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her friends dissatisfied with the antiquated and sexist ways of traditional sorority culture have decided to create their own independent sorority.  Where you may ask?  In a recently vacated property right next to good old Mac Radner’s house.  In need of guidance, Shelby happens upon disgraced former president of Delta Psi Beta, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), who is feeling the sting of a criminal record due to the consequences of his war with the Radners.  Teddy agrees to mentor Shelby and her friends as a way to feel valued but also as a way to get revenge on those Radners! Before you say, “Here we go again,” just know that this time it’s girls instead of guys, so it’s different.  Anyway, here we go again!

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising hits most of the same beats as its predecessor, but that’s not to say it isn’t entertaining.  It’s not as effective as the first film, but it does generate some genuine laughs and manages to be successful as just a simple routine comedy, nothing more.  One thing that does feel odd is the lengths the film goes to in order ensure that you know the filmmakers are not being sexist.  I mean if I’m looking for a movie with a message, normally I don’t look to a Seth Rogan movie.  But here I am getting a pretty sizable one about the rape culture of college campuses in the guise of an updated Feminine Mystique via unchartered sororities.  Now don’t get me wrong, that’s a fine message, but then why even invoke the Greek life at all? Why do these girls need a sorority to have their sense of value?  Also, there is not ONE mention of “going to class” or “getting an education” in this film, so let’s ease off on the pretense that there’s any kind of message here.  This is all simply a bold shout out by the five male writers that they are not misogynists.

Ok, so with that said, Neighbors 2 is a fine comedic installment that gets the job done when it comes to relatable, breezy humor. No need to “rush” out to see it, but if you want to laugh and learn how escrow works, then this may be the film for you! B

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 37 minutes.