Review: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE is a Bloated Disappointment with a Few Flashes of Brilliance

X-Men: Days of Future Past was my favorite of the X-Men movies, so I'm disappointed to report that Apocalypse is one of the weakest entries in the franchise so far.

The film begins in ancient Egypt, with an elderly, all-powerful mutant (Oscar Isaac) attempting to transfer his consciousness into a strapping young body in order to continue his streak of immortality. An uprising occurs during the ceremony; he makes the jump to the new body, but he's buried under the rubble of a collapsed pyramid and placed in some sort of magical sleep stasis to survive. Millennia later, CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) ends up accidentally unleashing him, and across the world in Charles Xavier's (James McAvoy) X-Mansion, Apocalypse's presence causes a young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) to have nightmarish visions about the end of the world. As Apocalypse recruits his new sidekicks (known as the Four Horsemen), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) does some recruiting of her own, and eventually they all throw down in a battle for the fate of the planet.

Before I get into why I was disappointed with the movie, I want to praise the aspects of it I enjoyed. Let's break it down into bullet points:

  • After Mystique saved the President from Magneto at the end of the last movie, she's become an inspiring figure to the younger class of mutants. Even Storm (Alexandra Shipp), a Cairo thief who becomes one of the Horsemen, has a poster of Mystique on her wall and looks up to her as a freedom fighter. Despite Jennifer Lawrence being an Oscar-winning actress, her take on Mystique has never really done much for me in these movies, but giving her this added layer and seeing how she deals with that attention goes a long way in making her a more interesting character.
  • Just like in Days of Future Past, there's a slow-motion scene involving Quicksilver (Evan Peters) that's the highlight of the film for me. This one tops his previous appearance in nearly every way — it's longer, funnier, and there are much bigger stakes involved. It's a brilliantly conceived and perfectly executed sequence.
  • Despite some occasionally cheesy moments, the new kids — Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as Cyclops, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler — are all great in their roles, and I'm extremely excited to watch them come into their own in future movies.

On to the disappointment.

I understand Bryan Singer's desire to have an actor as talented as Oscar Isaac play the villain in his movie, but the character of Apocalypse is a colossal waste of Isaac's skills. He wanders around under so much make-up that most audiences will have no idea this character is played by the same guy who played Poe Dameron in The Force Awakens, and he rarely actually does anything aside from talking about the need to build a better world. (There's an admittedly-cool moment involving Cerebro, but that's about it.)

The Four Horsemen are essentially non-factors, with Olivia Munn, Ben Hardy, and Alexandra Shipp having probably a combined 10 lines in the film and very little impact on the story at large. Writer Simon Kinberg gives Michael Fassbender's Magneto more tragedy to deal with (I'm trying to be vague so I don't spoil anything), but his entire subplot in this film just didn't land for me. It felt too "written," too obvious, too forced. Fassbender's always done a good job playing up the conflict within that character, and he does a good job with what he's given, but it's starting to feel like too much of a retread of storylines that have already been explored. I suspect the same is true in the comics; I haven't read an X-Men comic in years, but I imagine if I picked up an issue in the current run, there would be thematic and maybe even plot similarities to stuff that was going on the last time I actually did read that series. I realize the X-Men franchise has lasted for sixteen years now, but maybe it's time to get rid of Magneto altogether in these films. There are only so many times you can cover the same ground on film before it starts to feel redundant.

The visual effects, which are normally a highlight in this movie series for me, were surprisingly cheap-looking here. A lot of the movie takes place in and around Cairo, and the set design and execution of many those late-movie sequences looked so bad that it took me out of the movie. There's a scene in which Apocalypse and the Horseman have one of the X-Men on a mountain overlooking the city, and it's shocking how much it looks like they're all just standing around on a sound stage surrounded by green screens. It doesn't help that the film devolves into a massive CGI crapfest of floating debris and global landmarks being demolished for no good reason. I'm sure it was very expensive, and those are the kinds of Transformers-esque images that international audiences still gobble up, but haven't we moved beyond scenes like that at this point? That kind of thing might have been cool or novel fifteen years ago, but when Magneto just floats there with metal spinning around him and it A) doesn't do anything to further illuminate the characters, or B) is something we've seen countless times before, I just feel like the filmmakers missed an opportunity to do something special and interesting. I counted ten different VFX vendors in the film's end credits, so maybe that had something to do with it.

One of the biggest sins an action movie can commit is being boring, and unfortunately I found the fight scenes to be unusually dull, especially in the wake of the airport scene in Captain America: Civil War. That scene has so much energy and creativity in depicting how the characters use their powers against each other, but here, even though the action is filmed in wide enough angles that you can clearly see everything, there's not really much to see. A climactic battle between Psylocke and Beast, for example, might be one of the most boring superhero fights ever committed to film. And it's not like Singer is incapable of filming solid X-Men action beats: the "future" section of Days of Future Past included exactly the type of creatively and visually interesting fights this movie lacks.

There's more I could get into, like the inelegant Wolverine cameo and his subsequent "moment" with Jean Grey (which comes off as very strange, since Sophie Turner is young enough to be Hugh Jackman's daughter), or how the dialogue bounces all over the place (Xavier has an embarrassing amount of cringe-worthy lines when he's dealing with his feelings about Moira that would feel right at home in an Adam Sandler comedy), but I'll just say that a bungled villain and cheap-looking VFX were large enough issues by themselves to really put a damper on my enjoyment of this film. It's not a terrible movie, but it's certainly not one of the better entries of this series. I'm looking forward to seeing what this franchise looks like moving forward with a new director in Josh Boone, and I wonder if it also wouldn't benefit from some fresh writing as well. This film is well-cast, and I like the idea of seeing these characters interact in upcoming movies, but after spending a distended two and a half hours with them, I'm ready to take some time away from the X-universe. That Quicksilver scene, though...that one scene alone is so awesome that it makes this whole movie worth watching.

Michael Shannon Joins Guillermo Del Toro’s Cold War Romance

Last week, I wrote about some rumored plot details for Guillermo del Toro's new Cold War-era romance film, reportedly called The Shape of Water. Here's the only official synopsis we have thus far:

An other-worldly love story, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1963. A mysterious and magical journey from master storyteller Guillermo del Toro.

But those rumored details paint a more detailed picture. Supposedly, the story follows a mute janitor named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who falls for an amphibious man who's being kept at the lab where she works. She tries to break him out with the help of her neighbor (probably played by Richard Jenkins), but "the world outside of the lab, however, may prove to be more dangerous for the amphibious man than Elisa could have anticipated."

Now The Wrap reports that Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon is in talks to join the project, though they simply say that he'd star "opposite Sally Hawkins," so it's unclear if he's playing her amphibious love interest (should that plot point prove to be true). It certainly seems like the kind of role he'd excel at — weird on the surface, but probably soulful underneath — but regardless of which character he ends up playing, I'm excited to see what Shannon does under del Toro's direction.

Gal Gadot Wraps Principal Photography on WONDER WOMAN Solo Film

Zack Snyder's Justice League has been filming in London for a while now, and now they're about to gain a major cast member who's been a little busy elsewhere. Gal Gadot has wrapped principal photography on her solo Wonder Woman movie, and the actress took to Facebook to mark the occasion:

"Today was my last day shooting the solo Wonder Woman movie! It's been such an amazing, exciting, dreamy, happy and fascinating experience I will cherish it forever. Thank you to everyone who was involved, our amazing cast, crew and phenomenal director."

Patty Jenkins directed Wonder Woman, and now she has just over a year to do all of the post-production work and reshoots necessary to perfect her movie into something that will hopefully live up to fan expectations. Many thought Gadot's Wonder Woman was one of the best parts of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, so there's a lot of pressure on Jenkins to deliver a film that not only lives up to the legacy of the character from the comics, but is also a creatively and financially successful female-led superhero movie. Here's hoping she pulls it off.

Wonder Woman hits theaters on June 2, 2017.

Former Spidey Tobey Maguire Applauds New Spider-Man Tom Holland

Sam Raimi's Spider-Man was one of the first movies that got me into seeking out information about movies before they came out, and I remember unlocking a character poster of the Green Goblin as part of a fan campaign online before it debuted elsewhere. That film and Spider-Man 2 still hold up pretty well all these years later, even though Tobey Maguire was arguably too old to play the character from the start. Marvel Studios has remedied that problem by casting 19-year-old Tom Holland as the new webslinger; he made his debut in Captain America: Civil War and practically stole every scene he was in, and he'll appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming in 2017.

Maguire already had to (metaphorically) pass the suit down to another actor when Andrew Garfield took over the Spidey mantle for The Amazing Spider-Man movies, but now the OG Spidey is bestowing his best wishes on the new kid in town. Maguire took to social media to praise Holland's work as the new Spider-Man:

Haha seriously, who made this? @tomholland2013 good job! You are great as Spider-Man. Keep it up!

A video posted by mrtobeymaguire (@mrtobeymaguire) on

Video: Clive Barker Answers Teens’ Questions About Violence in HELLRAISER in Late ’80s Show

Horror fans, you owe it to yourself to watch this. In the late '80s, Clive Barker went on a UK talk show and was grilled by audience members and forced to defend his film Hellraiser. As brutal as the questions can be, Barker is always calm and eloquent in discussing his thoughts on the film and his books.

While watching, you'll notice the questions come off as super conservative and are geared towards the idea that "violence affects public." You have to remember that Barker was one of the guys that spearheaded the type of violence that is practically commonplace in most rated R films we see today. People weren't used to seeing this level of gore in their films. Truly a cool interview to watch for both lovers of film and horror!

WOLVERINE 3 Will Have R-Rated Violence and a Western-Style Tone

X-Men movie franchise producer Simon Kinberg recently confirmed with Collider that director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have started shooting Wolverine 3. This will be the last time that we see Jackman in role of Logan, and it sounds like this movie is going to give him the perfect send-off.

According to Kinberg, this next film is going to stand out from all the previous installments. He explains that "it’s a very radical, bold, different Wolverine than you’ve ever seen in any of these movies.”

When Patrick Stewart's involvement was brought up in the conversation, Kinberg doesn't confirm or deny his involvement. However, he does confirm that the film is going to be rated R and he reveals that it will be violent and explains that it will have a western-style tone.

“I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say about that. I will agree with you that Patrick Stewart was rumored to be a part of that film. It takes place in the future, and as you and others have reported, it is an R-rated movie. It’s violent, it’s kind of like a western in its tone. It’s just a very cool, different film.”

I love that this film will have a western tone to it because I love westerns. We previously learned that the film would be set in the future and that it is at least partially inspired by the Old Man Logan comic story arc, which takes place in a dystopian future where villains have taken over society. 

Wolverine 3 is set to hit theaters on March 3rd, 2017, and it seems like it's shaping up to be one of the most faithful film adaptations of the character yet.

GAME OF THRONES: Best Moments From Season 6, Ep. 3 “Oathbreaker”

Warning: spoilers ahead for season 6, episode 3 of Game of Thrones, entitled "Oathbreaker." If you haven't seen the episode yet, turn back now. 

This season, I'm going to try to write up some quick thoughts about each episode the day after it airs. I won't get too deep into full-on recaps (you can find those all over the internet, and you've probably already read a few today if you're into that sort of thing) and will instead focus on what I consider to be each episode's best moments. This can be as many or as few as I want, and will likely vary every episode — today, it's three. I'll also toss in some additional observations that don't fit into the "best moments" category, which you can find at the bottom of the post. For the best moments of the season premiere, click here. Onward!

3. Arya's Sight Restored

There's only so much I can take of Arya getting the crap kicked out of her by the waif, especially after her (let's face it) pretty boring season last year. So I'm very thankful the show only devoted three episodes to her blindness, and pretty much sped through her training in a montage this week. What is she going to do now that she has her sight back? Is this the end of her training, or does she still have more to do in order to become one of the Faceless Men? And what will she do once she officially becomes one of them? Remember, Needle is still hidden in the rocks outside the House of Black and White, so I'm guessing (hoping) Cersei, The Mountain, or Walder Frey will meet their end at her hands. Here's hoping her plotline continues to move forward at this pace for the rest of the season.

2. Jon's Revenge

Jon Snow, resurrected at the end of last week's episode, spends most of the episode shell-shocked. But by the end, he takes his revenge and hangs the Night's Watch members who stabbed him, including that son of a bitch Olly. Then he gives command of Castle Black to Edd and stalks off like a badass, dropping the one-liner "My watch has ended" as the episode cuts to credits. How long will he spend out on his own before he returns to them? It seems like he needs their army if he's going to battle Ramsay Bolton, and I'm excited to see how Jon grapples with his resurrection. I have a friend who thinks that the show should have saved Jon's return until the end of this season, but I'm convinced Jon has far too much to do this year; it should be fun to see what actions he takes in order for the story to justify the decision to bring him back to life.

1. Bran's Flashback

This scene was heaven for those who've read the books. Seeing a young Ned Stark, Howland Reed (Meera's father), and their crew battle Ser Arthur Dayne (nicknamed "The Sword of the Morning," and one of the best swordsmen in Westeros) was totally awesome: excellently shot, perfectly choreographed, and wonderfully executed on every level. The only thing I was bummed about was that the Three Eyed Raven took Bran out of the vision before Ned could reunite with his sister Lyanna, who is up in that tower. (What happens there is the source of a major fan theory, and it seems like the show is going to slowly reveal pieces of that theory across this whole season before the ultimate unveiling.) Plus, even though the Raven tells Bran that he can't interact with the past, it seemed pretty clear that young Ned heard Bran call out to him, so I'm excited to see how Bran influences past, present, and future events as this season progresses.

Additional Observations

Tormund talking about the size of Jon's "pecker" was hilarious.

Props to Peter Dinklage for doing a lot with a little this week. His interactions with Grey Worm and Missandei were pretty funny, and I'm curious if Varys will be able to keep his network of "little birds" communicating effectively from halfway around the world; it already looks like his King's Landing faction has been commandeered by Qyburn.

It was nice to see Sam and Gilly again, however briefly. I wasn't the biggest fan of their characters when they were cooped up in Castle Black, but now that they're off on their own heading to Oldtown (by way of Horn Hill), they've become a much more interesting pair to me.

I think it's safe to say that Dany isn't going to become a full-fledged member of the dosh khaleen — or if she does, she won't be one for long. I'm hoping she only spends another episode or two dealing with that particular storyline before she breaks free (or is rescued).

I really enjoyed the way Smalljon Umber refused to play Ramsay Bolton's political games, but his "gift" has dark connotations for what's to come. We haven't seen Rickon Stark since...what, season 2? But things are not looking good for that kid these days now that he's in the sadistic hands of the new Lord Bolton.

I despise the High Sparrow, but you've gotta give him credit for the way he de-escalated the situation when Tommen barged in on him. The scene starts with two sets of soldiers steps away from a brawl, and by the end, the Sparrow has Tommen seated next to him on a bench and basically agreeing with everything he says. Say what you will about that dude, but he's a master manipulator. I hope he gets his comeuppance quickly.

Sound off with your thoughts below.