Director: Brian Singer
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult and Rose Byrne
Running Time: 144 minutes
Release Date: May 18th
21 years ago, The Usual Suspects pulled off a trick later aped by Christopher Nolan and his hysterically overrated Inception; it convinced its viewers that an immediate repeat viewing of the film was essential. Such misdirection and manipulation should be acknowledged, for it speaks to clever work.
In the case of Inception, it afforded a three-star movie to be considered as an immaculate prestige picture. The Usual Suspects is a finer feature, though by no means a flawless classic. Still, the construction is so well-realised that you accept its place in pop culture. More to the point, it’s fun.
Know what’s not fun? The vast majority of Bryan Singer’s oeuvre. In dealing with one of cinema’s great frauds, you try not to outright overlook his peak. Suspects indeed made for a splendid calling card, yet you’d have to be spectacularly inept to make a mess of Christopher McQuarrie’s script. Still, Singer’s lean direction is worthy of praise. Two decades later, it feels like an outlier. Apt Pupil is a TV movie writ large, Superman Returns astonishingly lifeless, Valkyrie a big nothing, and who could possibly muster up any level of emotion for Jack the Giant Slayer?
Barring any major revelations, Singer will be remembered largely for his involvement with the X-Men cinematic universe; a franchise so joyless and awkward that it all makes sense in a miserable sort of way. Sure, X2 continues to provoke impassioned defence and it’s by far the only grace note in this painfully tired series, but was it really all that? It boasts a typically excellent performance from Brian Cox and things actually happen, which is nice, but it’s hardly mind-blowing.
That said, it’s cinéma fucking vérité when stacked up against X-Men: Apocalypse. Save for a prologue that embraces schlock by going full Stargate, this is another grey day out for the mutants. Strong script work has never been a facet of these films and at this point (technically the ninth instalment) the whole thing is such a mess that you’re best served to simply switch off and enjoy. Sadly, Apocalypse is stilted even when it drops its sour guard.
Take Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, for instance. Though overblown, his big sequence in Days of Future Past was at least inventive. Naturally, Singer attempts to out-do that scene but here it just feels perfunctory. Elsewhere, a smug attempt at slagging off Brett Ratner’s risible entry into the canon ultimately backfires as self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but these are small moments lost in a garish jumble.
A run-time of 144 minutes apparently isn’t enough to develop the lion’s share of the players and so we’re stuck once more with James McAvoy’s brooding Charles Xavier as he attempts to stop the actions of the titular risen death-god (Oscar Isaac, buried beneath Power Rangers make-up and saddled with ponderous dialogue) while protecting his students and fighting for the souls of Magneto (Michael Fassbender, again overcoming thinly-sketched motivation, this time of a truly eye-rolling nature) and Mystique, who once more plays arguably too big a role in proceedings because Jennifer Lawrence. There’s a Big Climactic Showdown and…. c’mon, you get it by now.
Singer should be sent straight to Director Jail for wasting the chameleonic talents of Isaac, who at least looks like he’s enjoying munching on all that scenery. Given little outside of rote monologues to play with, his Apocalypse is about as interesting as his useless minions. Speaking of, spare a thought for poor Olivia Munn – literally one of the only positive aspects of The Newsroom– who turned down a thankless girlfriend role in Deadpool for this and is rewarded with almost zero dialogue and next-to-nothing to do as Psylocke.
Everything trundles along as these machine-like movies do, grimly familiar boxes ticked with all the enthusiasm of an overworked civil servant. Oddly enough, this most lethargic Sturm und Drang affair with its villain who can cheat death serves as a chilling reminder that a hollow third act crescendo in which bridges and bystanders are contorted into meaningless CGI dust is as inevitable and inescapable as the grave that awaits us all.