X-Men: Apocalypse ***1/2
In a continuing origin story, this latest, number nine in the Marvel X-Men franchise, has a decidedly Egyptian, Stargate-ish flare as Charles Xavier’s gifted young mutants fight En Sabah Nur (Apocalypse), an ancient being who’d been in suspended animation for centuries beneath the streets of Cairo in Egypt. When Apocalypse is accidentally awakened, he goes on a quest to fix human and mutant-kind by wiping the slate clean. He enlists and manipulates Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and a few other powerful mutants as his henchmen while his strength grows. Meanwhile Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) tries to keep his students alive and save the world. Jennifer Lawrence returns as Mystique, Nicholas Hoult as The Beast, Hugh Jackman, briefly, as Wolverine, and a few new mutants along the way as well. This is an excellent addition to the franchise and a respectable follow-up to 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future past.
Alice Through the Looking Glass ***1/2
To say this second film in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland series is a visual masterpiece may be cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Traveling through the Lewis Carroll-inspired Wonderland, not to mention time and space, all in 3D, is alone worth the price of admission. Though Burton only produced this $170-million sequel instead of also directing it, the two films fit nicely together with many favorite recurring characters and several new ones making their way to the screen. Johnny Depp reprises his role as the Mad Hatter. Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, Mia Wasikowska as Alice, and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, also return. The voice talent of Alan Rickman (Harry Potter’s Snape), to whom the film is dedicated, is back as Absalom the butterfly. Rickman passed away in 2015. Absalom was the wise caterpillar in the first film. Stephen Fry is back as the Cheshire Cat, and new to the franchise is Time, a part god, part machine played by Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat). A less than thrilling script revolves around Alice’s return to Wonderland and her efforts to help the Hatter, who is suffering ill health from a fairly serious personal crisis dating back to his childhood. Time doesn’t like the meddling in his realm and chases Alice with the help of a time machine. The flat telling of a very imaginative story is overcome by a brilliant cast, stunning effects and cinematography, even if it lacks the spark of its predecessor.
What do those stars mean?