Blu-ray Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

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X-Men: Apocalypse, the highly anticipated follow up to Days of Future Past (2014), is not the first disappointing X-Men film. But it is the first disappointing one directed by Bryan Singer. Though not without high points, Apocalypse feels leaden when compared to the previous two films in the series. The Matthew Vaughn-helmed First Class (woefully mis-marketed as a "Teen X-Men") is still the best, a film that beautifully breathed new life into a franchise that staled with X-Men: The Last Stand. The thrill of seeing the "classic" cast along with the younger First Class cast helped goose Days to nearly equal heights.

Apocalypse (now available on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, 4K UltraHD, standard DVD, and Digital HD via Fox Home Entertainment) feels like a movie without a purpose—a forced encore. The cast remains fully committed, but they're trapped in a typical scenario involving a seemingly all-powerful, megalomaniacal super-villain hellbent on world destruction. Comic book movies have really fallen into that trap in general—nothing short of our heroes saving the world is considered "big" enough. But the strength of the X series has always been located within the complexities of its characters. 
x men apocalypse james mcavoy.jpg In Apocalypse we meet the ancient mutant En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac, though it might as well have been anyone given Isaac's difficulty establishing a character under thick makeup appliances and dull dialogue) with a variety of admittedly scary telekinetic abilities (he can embed his victims, still alive, within concrete walls). In a tackily over-CG'ed prologue set in ancient Egypt, we see a mutinous revolt that nearly results in Nur's death. His henchmen manage to successfully entomb him, but centuries later he's reawakened and roaming the world once again.

Only now its 1983 and Charles Xavier's (James McAvoy) team is determined to stop him from wreaking global havoc. One interesting angle: Nur seeks to enact his wrath without the assistance of man-made weapons of mass destruction. Much like Superman in The Quest for Peace (1987), Nur effectively disarms planet Earth of nuclear weapons by lifting the entire global arsenal off the planet and into outer space (thankfully he doesn't send them hurtling into the sun, thus sidestepping another Nuclear Man). 
x men apocalypse michael fassbender.jpg Frankly, the whole Nur/Apocalypse story arc is generic and makes one wish the filmmakers simply spent more time exploring the inter-mutant relationships between the heroes and, in the case of Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender)—aka Magneto, anti-heroes. In fact, Erik's life as a factory worker in Poland (accompanied by a wife and child) plays out like its own mini-movie. This stretch of Apocalypse is so well-staged by Singer, so emotionally wrenching, so well-acted by Fassbender, and so perfectly scored by John Ottman that it easily outclasses everything else in the movie.

A reprise of Quicksilver's much-loved "kitchen scene" from Days, this time set at Xavier's school just as a bomb is detonated, is a blast of fun (something in relatively short supply throughout). At the same time, it highlights one of the problems with Apocalypse: instead of deepening our understanding of the established characters (including Raven, once again portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence), Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg instead choose to pile on a small army of new side characters. There are too many to mention and, given the generally brief screen time each receives, it would just read like a roll call anyway. 
x men apocalypse jennifer lawrence.jpg X-Men: Apocalypse is full of visual treats, so it's a good thing Fox knocked it outta the park with this Blu-ray. No disappointments in terms of razor sharp presentation of Newton Thomas Sigel's (who shot Days of Future Past as well) cinematography. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround mix is, if anything, almost too much—but of course, the mix is not to blame. The amount of 'million-sound-effects-a-minute' sequences can be wearying, but that's on the filmmakers, not the folks who effectively balanced it all in a demo-worthy, lossless surround presentation.
rsz_x_men_apocalypse_bd.jpg Special features: audio commentary by director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg, deleted scenes (with optional Singer introductions), a lengthy gag reel, an outstanding behind-the-scenes featurette series called "Unearthed" (totaling just over one hour), "Wrap Party" video, a gallery of concept and production photos, and a selection of trailers.

The Blu-ray Combo Pack includes a standard DVD and a Digital HD copy. (The BD case, incidentally, is pretty cool: gray, with an 'X' where there BD logo usually is.)

It would appear the overseas gross of Apocalypse (a haul of $388 million that represents over 70% of its total gross) may have helped keep the X-Men series afloat. Hugh Jackman will be back as Wolverine in early 2017 in Logan, but one has to wonder how enthusiastic Fox is about another full-fledged X-Men movie after Apocalypse failed to gross its budget domestically. All that said, this latest adventure is certainly not without its pleasures. Ultimately it is easily recommendable to existing fans of the X-Men film series, though it might not win over many new fans.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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