The Watchers

The Watchers

Monday, 30 May 2016

Review: X-Men: Apocalypse (UK Cert 12A)

After tackling the 1960s in First Class and the 1970s in Days Of Future Past, the new X-Men franchise reaches the 1980s with Apocalypse. 

It's 1983 and an ancient mutant, En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), is awoken in Cairo. Recruiting mutants- including a grieving Magneto (Michael Fassbender)- to serve as his Four Horsemen, Apocalypse seeks to raze the world and rebuild it. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his mutant charges must help to stop Apocalypse from completing his plan.

There are some particularly strong action setpieces- one shows off the speedster skills of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) to the tune of 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' by the Eurythmics, whilst another shows exactly how Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) get out of the Weapon X facility; a moment sadly spoiled by the latest trailer to be released. If that particular reveal had been left secret, it would have made a really brilliant moment even more so.

Performances are generally strong across the board, especially amongst the younger generation of mutants with Sophie Turner a real standout as the young Jean Grey. The returning cast- Fassbender, McAvoy, Hoult and Lawrence- fit back into their roles with no issues, with Fassbender really giving an air of gravitas and woundedness to his role. The only bum note is Oscar Isaac's curiously uncharismatic Apocalypse (but that's more to do with the writing than his performance, I think). 

My main gripe about X-Men: Apocalypse is that it never seems to kick into top gear. Both First Class and especially Days Of Future Past crank up the adrenaline towards the final act, but Apocalypse never seems to quite get there. The final smackdown between Apocalypse and his Horsemen and the X-Men is good- especially its resolution- but it never feels epic. It also doesn't help that several characters really get shortchanged, with Angel/Archangel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) virtually relegated to the sidelines. 

The film is a lot of fun and is enjoyable, and is a perfectly good ending to this trilogy. And hey any film that's content to throw a bit of shade at X-Men: The Last Stand is good with me.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Saturday, 28 May 2016

Review: Captain America: Civil War (UK Cert 12A)

The third phase of Marvel's Cinematic Universe opens with a bang, pitting the Avengers against each other. When political forces plan to put a panel in place to oversee the Avengers- following the destruction in New York and Sokovia as well as a mission in Lagos which goes awry- the team splits with Tony Stark/Iron Man on the side of the politicians and Steve Rogers/Captain America against. In amongst all this, old secrets are revealed causing a further schism between the two former friends.

The cast list is huge and it is truly a more of an ensemble piece, in line with the Avengers films, which has led some fans to wonder whether this should have been an Avengers film, rather than a Captain America one. In some ways that would be right because there are so many characters flying around (literally in some cases) and it's a fine balancing act to make sure that they're not just window-dressing and all have something to do. But the main heart of the story is the relationship between Steve and Tony and Steve and Bucky so it warrants being a 'Captain America' film. 

Performances are superb across the board; most of the actors have played these characters for years, so they fit right back into them. Evans is great as the all-American hero, determined that his own judgement is more valid than government interference, whilst Downey Jr falls back into the snarky, sarcastic Stark whose own guilt leads him to support the Sokovia Accords. Even though a lot has been made in the trailer of the rift between the two men- 'He's my friend'/'So was I'- it is powerful stuff to see the two allies go at each other. 

Of the new cast, both Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland really impress and really stand out- no mean feat given the calibre of the cast they're working with. Boseman is a dignified yet dangerous T'Challa/Black Panther, whose introduction really works and his own vendetta against Bucky adds yet another layer to the film. Holland is a wonderfully geeky and gauche Peter Parker/Spider-Man and he adds a much needed modicum of levity whenever he's on screen. I have to be honest, I didn't believe they'd actually cast Marisa Tomei as Aunt May- there's a running joke in the film that she doesn't look old enough to be someone's aunt- but they have and she's pretty good.  

The action sequences are generally good, although there's a lot of kinetic shakycam during the Lagos scene which made me feel a bit nauseous (it's a purely personal thing but I can't stand it). The big smackdown- Team Cap v Team IronMan at the Leipzig airport- is choreographed really well and, importantly, you can tell who is doing what to whom. 

From hereon out, the MCU is branching away from the Avengers- with Doctor Strange, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming up next before the third solo Thor film. This will be a good way to rest the characters. Given how the film ends, it'll be interesting to see how they get the team back together to take on Infinity War.

I may run the risk of being accused of being a Marvel fanboy but Captain America: Civil War is one of the most enjoyable films I've seen so far this year and is another strong entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: 5 out of 5