Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: X-Men: Apocalypse

“The Purge: Election Year” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” takes place in 1983. In spite of it being an alternate universe in which mutants are discovered to be part of the population, the “Star Wars” movies were still made and released. As a group of truant students from Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters—you know, mutants—leaves a movie theatre showing “Return of the Jedi,” a young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) comments that “the third one is always the worst.” Hard to tell if that is a dig at the much derided, Brett Ratner-directed “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which was the third in the original X-Men trilogy started by Bryan Singer (who directs “Apocalypse”), or a warning that what we get in this now third movie of the new X-Men trilogy may not be all that we hoped.

It’s probably a bit of both. While nowhere near as good as the first two, I thought “The Last Stand” was a worthy sequel. And while “Apocalypse” is better than “The Last Stand,” it still isn’t quite up there with the previous two installments, “First Class” and “Days of Future Past.” Jean Grey is right. But to say it is the “worst” is merely to speak comparatively. Something can be lesser in comparison to other things, yet still be good in its own right. That’s where “X-Men: Apocalypse” fits in.

The “Apocalypse” of the title refers not just to an Earth-scorching, cataclysmic event, but also to the name of the main villain, played by Oscar Isaac. He’s the world’s first mutant, born many millennia ago. He gets awoken to the world of 1983 and is disgusted at what he sees. His mission is to collect four other powerful mutants and combine their powers with his to cleanse the Earth. If this guy isn’t a perfect metaphor for the horror, devastation, and death of a globalist dictator, I don’t know who is.

Apocalypse is a super powerful mutant, so the challenge of the X-Men--including tried and true members like Professor X (James McAvoy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), as well as new faces like Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee)--to bring him down is seemingly insurmountable. That’s a good thing. However, two problems arise when examining Apocalypse in context of the X-Men universe, as well as just in this movie.

First, Apocalypse is not unlike a lot of the cookie cutter, bent on world domination megalomaniacs we’ve seen in countless other movies. He’s like a James Bond villain, only even more one note. Pretty much every word he speaks is in a brooding, colorless tone. He constantly makes references to his “children” and his world and how it must be cleansed because people believe in superpowers and false gods and yada yada yada. This is the kind of monologuing that gets lampooned in parody movies. To his credit though, Apocalypse does something with nuclear missiles that no James Bond villain would do.

Second, his first order of business after waking up is to recruit other mutants to join his cause. Essentially, he’s the leader of a group of mutants bent on destroying humanity for the sake of mutant kind. Sounds an awful lot like Magneto and his “Brotherhood” of mutants. So, in addition to being one note, Apocalypse is also redundant by being so similar to the less powerful—but much more interesting and fleshed out—Magneto.

Magneto is back in “Apocalypse,” and is once again played by Michael Fassbender. From past movies, we know that Magneto has no faith in humanity. The reason for this lack of faith is his experience in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. That would be enough, but one of the great revelations in “Apocalypse” is that he has more than just a lack of faith in humanity. He has hatred for humanity. There are events concerning Magneto, hiding out in Poland under an assumed name, that show where his complete disdain comes from. Truth be told, after seeing what he experiences in this movie, I can’t blame him one bit.

“Apocalypse” could have been a dark, drab, DC-movie kind of experience if not for its savior from that fate: Quicksilver (Evan Peters). I’m actually glad that the MCU movies killed off the character in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” This way there is no overlap, no confusion, and he really gets to shine. In “Apocalypse,” he does more than shine—he steals the show. There’s an explosive (literally) set piece mid-way through the movie set to the tune of The Eurythmics 80s staple “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” that is at the same time exhilarating, suspenseful, and pure comic gold. The breath of fresh air that Quicksilver brings to this movie saves it—and its second half—from getting stale.

There is also of course the obligatory Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) appearance. His berserk attack on armed guards at the Weapon X facility is a just on the right side of PG-13 hint at what the supposedly R-rated third (and final, at least for Jackman) “Wolverine” movie will entail. Stay around for the end credits and you’ll get a teaser for who the villain in that movie will be. Perhaps the third movie in the “Wolverine” series will be the best one. After all, the second one was a drastic improvement over the first.

As for these new “X-Men” movies, sure, “Apocalypse” is the weakest one. But being the weakest does not mean that it’s bad on its own terms. Actually, it is far from it. Buy it on Amazon: X-men: Apocalypse Blu-ray.

Also Out This Week

The Purge: Election Year

“The Purge: Election Year” is a culmination in the fulfillment of wishes I’ve had since the first movie came out. It’s like the makers of the “Purge” movies are reading my mind. After “The Purge” from 2013, I remarked that the concept was amazing, but was disappointed that it was essentially a run of the mill home invasion movie—it would have been better to show what happens on the streets on purge night.

A year later, “The Purge: Anarchy” came out and fulfilled that wish. That was a better movie, and it more deeply explored the concept of giving citizens twelve hours during one night of the year in which all crime, including murder, is legal.

Then there was still one aspect of “purge night” that I scratched my head over. How do they ensure that high-ranking government officials, who are exempt from the purge, are protected? That question is answered in “The Purge: Election Year.”

The high-ranking government official in question is Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell). Her family was destroyed by purge night when she was a teenager. Now as senator, she seeks to eliminate the purge. This does not sit well with others in the government, who use the purge as a way to get rid of people who they consider to be undesirables (or deplorables, as it were) in society. It’s up to her trusted protector Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) to keep her alive through the night when the rules are broken and her supposedly safe and secure home is attacked.

“The Purge: Election Year” doesn’t offer too much different than what we saw in “Anarchy.” A group of people try to survive the night while various freaks, weirdos, kooks and killers are after them. The best moments are the little cutaways to random people here and there, on street corners or on rooftops, getting a cleansing catharsis from their purge. It gives the movie a real sense of flavor that this is a huge night and we are witnessing a small part of it—there are many other stories to tell.

As far as that goes, if they do decide to make another “Purge” movie, they are going to have to make it more interesting. There’s only so many times they can rehash the basic plot of a rag tag group of citizens in over their heads trying to survive the purge. Even this movie feels like one time too many at parts, as we saw a lot of the same things in the previous movie. Still, “Election Year” is different in that it gets more into the political aspects of purge night. It dives into who those in power are, what they think, and why they want to maintain the status quo. Since more insight is offered into the world of “The Purge,” in spite of some of the retreading on familiar territory, it is worth it to Rent it.

More New Releases: “The Mind’s Eye,” about a deranged doctor (John Speredakos) who keeps two people with psychokinetic capabilities (Graham Skipper and Lauren Ashley Carter) prisoner so he can harvest their powers; “The Demolisher,” an ordinary repairman named Bruce (Ry Barrett) takes to the streets as a vigilante after his ex-policewoman wife (Tianna Nori) falls victim to gang-related violence; “Joshy,” about a man named Josh (Thomas Middleditch) who uses what should have been his bachelor party to connect with his friends; “Swiss Army Man,” about a man stranded in the wilderness who befriends a dead body and takes a surreal journey home, starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe; and “Sharknado: The 4th Awakens,” a movie worth watching just for the dream cast of Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, David Hasselhoff, and Gary Busey.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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