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X Men: Apocalypse

Love And Friendship

June 2, 2016

X Men: Apocalypse (**)


It’s a funny thing about those X Men films. It always seems that when they hit the third installment things seem to go awry. This happened with the original X Men trilogy—witness X Men: The Last Stand—and now it’s happened with X Men: Apocalypse which is, coincidentally, the third installment in the series of prequels that began with X Men: First Class back in 2011. Apocalypse is a long and lumbering behemoth of a film (even by X Men standards and that’s saying something) that never seems to get off the ground. It contains one of the most mediocre villains in the franchise’s history and it spends too much time giving its great cast little or nothing of note to do. After awhile it just became an endurance contest and a struggle to keep my eyelids open during the film’s final hour.

The fact that X Men: Apocalypse is such a disappointment is a bit of a surprise considering that it was directed by Bryan Singer, who helmed the last installment (Days of Future Past) and the initial two films (X Men, X 2) in the series.

Jennifer Lawrence & Oscar Issac in X Men: Apocalypse

In terms of quality, these were all considered to be benchmarks in the series. Now Singer has done the unthinkable and unleashed what is sure to go down as one of the worst entries in the franchise yet. It’s something that I honestly don’t think fans of the series could have seen coming especially after the good will engendered by the largely successful last installment.

The plot, hinted at during a post-credits sequence on the last film, revolves around the villain of the film’s title, Apocalypse. He’s played in the film by the great Oscar Issacs but you wouldn’t know it since he’s disguised by the ton of makeup that is required to accurately portray the character as depicted in the comics. Beyond that, he’s just not an interesting enough villain to even bother taking note of nor for that matter, is Issacs' performance. At any rate, Apocalypse is a centuries-old mutant who enlists Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who’s reeling from a personal tragedy, to assist him in his plans to take over the world. It then falls into the hands of Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Professor X (James McAvoy) and the rest of X Men gang to save the universe.

There’re so many things wrong with the film it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly is the chief problem. Mostly, I think the film’s biggest transgression is simply that it's dull and doesn’t give the characters anything of interest to do above the run of the mill comic book shenanigans we’ve come to expect from these kinds of things. Technically the film looks okay but on closer inspection it’s easy to see what a hollow and uninspired product it happens to be. This is far from an atrocity along the lines of last summer’s Fantastic Four, but it’s still pretty dull.

Love and Friendship

(***) PG

Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, the trio of films that put filmmaker Whit Stillman on the map during the decade of the 90s, just never seemed like my cup of tea. I guess every critic has a list of several films that they know they should see but just can’t muster up the gumption to get the task accomplished and those three darlings of the nineties independent film circuit have certainly been lurking on my list.

Stillman vanished from filmmaking after 1998 and, with the exception of one effort back in 2012, he’s been MIA on the movie scene. He’s now returned with Love and Friendship, an adaptation of one of author Jane Austen’s lesser-known works and it’s a charming little film that is loads of fun at various times. I had a really good time with it and, if nothing else, perhaps Stillman’s latest effort has given me the courage to rethink my policy on the director’s earlier films.

Love and Friendship is the kind of talky period piece that certainly won’t play very well with the mainstream crowd but for those who enjoy this sort of thing—and you know exactly who you are—it’s bound to hit a bullseye. It’s funny, warm, and full of interesting observations on the subject of love and, particularly, marrying simply for the reasons of convenience.

Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale in Love & Friendship

The characters are well drawn and the dialogue crackles and pops.

Stillman definitely seems to be perfectly suited to the material he’s adapting and I really liked some of the visual flourishes he brings to the film. One of the smartest things he does, and this is something from which more period films could benefit, is to highlight all of the character names onscreen. It goes a long way in helping to keep straight all of the various people that populate the film.

A good selling point for the picture is certainly in the casting of Kate Beckinsdale in the lead. She is, of course, most well known for her appearances in the Underworld franchise and mainstream films of that ilk. It’s nice to see her appearing here in the lead role of Lady Susan, a scheming and conniving widow who wants nothing more than to secure financial freedom for herself and her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Along the way she attracts multiple suitors; the dashing Reginald (Xavier Samuel), who’s quite taken with Lady Susan, the socially awkward but wealthy, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett, who gets some of the film’s best lines) and Lord Manwarinng (Lochlann O’Mearain), who just happens to also be married. Chloë Sevigny also stars here.

The only problem to be found with the film is that is slight, but others who are more enamored of period films can easily forgive that transgression. There’s much to embrace about the film even if it does tend to evaporate once it’s over and done.

X Men: Apocalypse is playing everywhere. Love and Friendship is playing in Charlotte.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.



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