Sunday, 18 September 2016
The X-Men series hails from a different time, when superhero movies were a rarity rather than the entire tent-pole landscape. The films have grown and adapted to the ubiquity of their genre, but their tone remains rooted in a sensibility that values something other than anodyne merchandising. Bryan Singer has steered enough successful instalments that the director gets to really knuckle down on his interests, which largely seems to be the domination and penetration of hard, gleaming bodies as well as the deification of pouting youths.
X-Men: Apocalypse's story is scant, full of recycled character beats churning through remixed situations. The 1980s setting is little more than a visual affectation, an opportunity to put Olivia Munn in Chanel-ish metallic wools and Tye Sheridan in polo shirts and mall leathers. Mutants who made their bones in X-Men: First Class are still youthful, unblemished realisations of their comic book counterparts, ageless archetypes to be jammed into whichever era offers the greater pop impact.
Once again Michael Fassbender's Magneto has a reason to disconnect with humanity thrust upon him. Screenwriter Simon Kinberg acknowledges this routine development by having Mags scream at the sky, pleading with a God who doesn't answer. Why him? Is poor Erik Lehnsherr doomed to be a monster? This chaotic, cosmic idea of preordained events would seem to have textual purchase in Oscar Isaac's Egyptian ubermensch Apocalypse, unfortunately that character barely progresses beyond a credible target for teenage expulsions.
Instead it's left to Singer himself to orchestrate the annihilation, the director gamely complying with a comprehensive display of decapitations, impalements, umpteen eviscerations and even a couple of outright obliterations. The casualness of X-Men: Apocalypse's cruelty even finds expression in how these superbeings interact with the world around them. It's a given that this cataclysmic minority see themselves as something distinct from the hoi polloi. If you're in the gang it doesn't matter how many civilians you murder or which cities you reduce to all-purpose rubble, you'll always be welcome back at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.
X-Men: Apocalypse then is the first film in the series in which adult perspectives feel superfluous. The power of life and mega-death is explicitly claimed by children who are defined by their isolation and eagerness to please. By remaking the same basic young adult actioner over and over again, Singer has arrived at a film that careens back-and-forth between the tree house morality of Saban's Power Rangers and the kind of deranged, body-warping violence you'd expect from an OAV based on a Toshio Maeda manga.