X-Men: Apocalypse

Director: Bryan Singer (2016)

Yawn your way to the end of the world in this inert episode of the increasingly under powered superhero franchise.

Bloated and boring, an exasperting multitude of characters are poorly served by laboured direction, haphazard editing and dialogue empty of any lyricism, humour or subtlety.

Lines of exposition are expanded to scene length and decorated with close ups of actors indifferent to the weightless CGI events occurring behind them. Presented with a lacklustre script, the top drawer cast offer up correspondent performances.

James McAvoy returns as Professor X, the wheelchair bound and telepathic leader of supergroup the X-Men who believes in peaceful co-existence with non-mutants. As his one time friend Magneto, Michael Fassbender wants the world to feel his pain.

Minor characters pose in heroic silence as the pair once again rehash their world views. In a film adverse to brevity, their relationship is underlined by the inclusion of footage of earlier films.

Oscar Isaac is barely recognisable and mostly immobile as the eponymous Apocalypse, a mutant from ancient Egypt who is resurrected by devout yet curiously security lax followers.

With the  ability to turn people to earth and metal, Apocalypse wants to build a better world from the ashes of the present one and starts recruiting mutants to serve him in his nefarious plan.

Jennifer Lawrence looks bored as the shapeshifting Mystique who seems to have mutated into a thin copy of her character Katnis Everdeen from The Hunger Games series (2012-15).

Now a reluctant global poster girl for mutants in hiding, Mystique needs convincing to take arms against Apocalypse.

Hugh Jackman cameos as Wolverine while Rose Byrne is beginning to rival Fassbender for being the best actor making the weakest career choices.

Evan Peters and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Quicksilver and Nightcrawler are the best of the B team. Olivia Munn, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp and Sophie Turner are eager but forgettable.

The setting of 1983 allows for pop culture references to be scattered around but there’s a lack of the wit to exploit their comic potential.

Though the Cold War and the nuclear arms race are a major subplot, a nuclear launch occurs and is promptly forgotten about while our focus hurries away elsewhere.

Director Singer kickstarted with his career with the masterful The Usual Suspects (1995) and launched this series with the energetic X-Men (2000) but this is closer in muddled mediocrity to his Jack The Giant Slayer (2013).

The end of the world can’t come soon enough for this flatlining franchise.

 

A Most Violent Year

Director: J.C. Chandor (2015)

Visually and morally murky, this brooding New York crime thriller throws insubstantial punches from behind interesting shadows.

Shy on story this is a sombre exploration of the compromises necessary in perpetuating the myth of the American Dream.

In 1981 Oscar Isaac‘s immigrant self-made businessman, Abel, has put down a huge cash deposit to buy a derelict dockside property to expand his oil interests.

When David Oyelowo‘s District Attorney charges Abel for fraud and tax evasion, the bank refuse to loan Abel the money to complete his deal.

With seven days to raise the cash or lose everything he’s worked, Abel runs around the decaying, filthy and graffitied streets for meetings in back-rooms and barbershops.

Meanwhile his truckers and salespeople are being beaten up by rivals and his family are being threatened in their new home.

Jessica Chastain captivates as Abel’s beautiful and mob-connected wife, Anna, but she’s mostly there to spur him on and cook the books on his behalf.

Abel is naively unaware of his own inconsistencies with corruption and violence taking him by surprise, despite being mobbed up to the eyeballs and knowingly guilty as charged.

Everything is captured in a low key register: the lighting, the performances, the mood. It’s carefully calculated but struggles under its weighty self importance.

Brian De Palma’s gaudy masterpiece Scarface is deliberately referenced in Chastain’s icy style and the synthesised score, but this has none of the energy, bling, coke, violence or fun.

Only occasionally violent and taking place over a mere thirty three days, A Most Violent Year is a mis-named disappointment.

★★☆☆☆

Ex Machina

Director. Alex Garland (2015)

Sexy, sharp and stylish, this brilliant British sci-fi thriller explores man’s relationship to machines with verve, wit and polish.

Precision-tooled to perfection with sumptuously seductive design, it combines the brains of Blade Runner, the gloss of James Bond, and the sly satire of cult comic 2000AD.

This makes it an astonishingly assured directorial debut by Alex Garland, the novelist turned scriptwriter of Dredd, and 28 Days Later.

Domhnall Gleeson’s expert computer programmer, Caleb, wins an in-house company competition to spend a week with his boss, Oscar Isaac’s reclusive genius.

Nathan lives in an isolated underground home and research facility reached only by helicopter, where the only other occupant is Sonoya Mizuno’s beautiful but mute Japanese servant, Kyoko.

The engagingly geeky Gleeson is cunningly cast while the bearded Isaac is solicitous, funny and quietly menacing as the heavy-drinking megalomaniac Nathan.

Caleb is introduced to Alicia Vikander’s AVA, a semi-transparent chrome and plastic robot with the face and figure of a beautiful woman, designed for the movie by awesome concept artist Jock.

Under surveillance Caleb has to test Ava to establish whether she has achieved a state of artificial intelligence and therefore not a machine.

This would represent a scientific breakthrough of huge significance to Nathan and of great consequence to the world.

Though interrupted by mysterious power cuts, a rapport develops and Ava warns Caleb that Nathan can’t be trusted leading to tension between the men.

Garland provides cracking dialogue but crucially understands when to shut his characters up and let the images tell the story.

Unerringly paced and with an inventive soundscape and bold use of colour it’s very much in the mould of mentor Danny Boyle, at his best.

If Garland is the future of sci-fi then it’s in very safe hands. Unlike Caleb.

★★★★★