X-Men: Apocalypse

By Tim McEown

Mailed on May 27, 2016

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Dear Michael Fassbender

Dear Michael,

I mean spoiler in the conventional, non-filmic way. You ruined X-Men: Apocalypse—if for no other reason than the quality of your performance underlined how dismal almost every other aspect of this film was.

It’s sophomorically easy to make fun of superhero films, given how garish they are. From the costumes to the operatic themes, they can easily go astray. The best ones though (Iron Man, Captain America: Civil War) manage to navigate these tropes in ways that allow most of us to gloss over things that would feel ridiculous in any other context.

Sadly X-Men: Apocalypse seems determined to forego even a cosmetic attempt at this kind of useful deception. It is nothing but bombast and bad choices—except for two short sequences that involve you portraying a (seemingly) normal, if somewhat troubled and enigmatic, factory worker/family man in the hinterlands of 1980’s Poland.

Contrast those small moments in time with a cast that features some pretty good actors (Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult) so thoroughly disengaged with the material in front of them that they hardly register. When you can make Oscar Isaac disappear with dialogue so terrible even he can’t save it, you have managed something—even if that something is a weird affront to story logic and the English language.

The most overt crime X-Men: Apocalypse commits is that it’s boring: visually, narratively—in any way it is possible to measure. The script and direction all feel pro forma and haphazard, as if the whole project was nothing but a slot to be filled in a particular calendar. Too often a needlessly busy camera and lazy direction undermine what could have been operatic, powerful moments. The kind of scenes that, if managed properly, would have at least made this film far more viscerally engaging.

Usually I resist this kind of Monday morning quarterbacking—inasmuch as it’s often the height of arrogance to assume you might know better how to make a competent entertainment than people with far more experience and skill. But in this case I feel fairly confident in saying X-Men: _Apocalypse is bad because the people most responsible for it’s content were lazy and disrespectful of the source material. When the plot feels like nothing more than an expedient framework to move from one poorly conceived set piece to another, it’s clear that the whole project is just a paint by numbers exercise designed to empty money from people’s pockets.

And then there is you, Mr. Fassbender. There are a couple of scenes early in the film where you give a nuanced, restrained performance. The setting is mundane (factory life and some domestic moments) yet you still invest them with a sincerity that makes them memorable. These scenes so painfully contrasted with the rest of the film that it felt like someone had spliced a quiet but fascinating indie into this otherwise uninspired waste of time, energy and money.

Part of this contrast comes from your innate talent, the ability to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But I also think it speaks to a kind of professional integrity, the willingness to take the work you do seriously even if those most responsible for the finished product do not. It is your finest quality I think, even if in this case it did nothing but make the whole experience even more regrettable.



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