“X-Men: Apocalypse” Movie Review
Bryan Singer’s latest attribution to the X-Men franchise is the fourth superhero film released this year, and the third that features a rich ensemble of characters. So audience expectations for X-Men: Apocalypse are high for two reasons. The first is that this new slab of X-Men films-First Class (2011) and Days of Future Past (2014)-have done exceedingly well, and many wonder whether Apocalypse would top its predecessors. Secondly, we’ve already been spoiled with amazing fighting sequences from Batman V Superman and CA: Civil War, and a filthy yet hilarious take on Deadpool. So what can Apocalypse bring to the table that’s interesting and new? Is this film the next great thing, or it is nothing but a depressing disappointment. Well the answer is simple: it inhabits a middle ground.
Set in the 1980s, the film begins with the world at peace. Xavier (James McAvoy) and Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) are professors at the X-Mansion. Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) has settled down with a wife and daughter. We’re also introduced- well, technically reintroduced- to a new generation of X-Men, including the telepathic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), optic beam blaster Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and German teleporter Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). But the calm and quiet doesn’t last long. The X-Men need to defend the world from an ancient, all-powerful mutant named En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), who plans to destroy the planet with his four followers, his horsemen, by his side.
X-Men: Apocalypse is a continuation of a long and intricate story, and those who haven’t seen First Class and Days of Future Past will most likely be lost. The physical and emotional consequences brought upon from these events resonate in Apocalypse. There are brief flashbacks, but for the most part, the film doesn’t provide much if any summaries or wordy details about where this storyline has gone. This is good because the last thing we need is to be spoon-fed information like a clueless child. But audience members who aren’t on track should go home, do some homework, and get caught up.
James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender once again reign supreme as the highlights of the franchise. They balance a lot of emotional weight on their shoulders, and they carry it with strength and intensity. It’s obvious through their performances that Xavier and Magneto have evolved in different ways- Xavier having become the focused and mature leader, and Magneto not hell-bent on fighting again humanity but on trying to achieve happiness and solitude. Jennifer Lawrence returns as Mystique, and although she’s not donning the blue paint for the majority of the movie, she does an okay job. And it’s disappointing because her portrayal of the shape-shifter has been pretty strong so far in the series, but here she seems distant. The character is active and involved with several other characters, but her deliveries felt tired and monotone, like a kid in a stage play who thinks the sooner they can get the lines out, the sooner they can go home.
The rest of the actors do a nice job, but some are better than others. Evan Peters is fantastic as the relentlessly chatty and lovable Quicksilver. He’s definitely growing on me as one of my favorite X-Men, and I love that he has a more active role here. My only complaint is that I wish his connection with Magneto was brought to light, as it would’ve made Magneto’s story even more complex. Rose Byrne’s performance as CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (and as Xavier’s love interest) is good, but her existence is only needed for one scene at the beginning, and after that she ceases to become relevant. In fact, I think she didn’t need to be in the film at all. Her interaction with Xavier is cute, but everything could’ve moved along fine without her. The other young actors are decent but their characters are pretty bland, mainly because they aren’t given the time needed for development.
Another aspect of Apocalypse that I found iffy was Apocalypse himself. Singer has given us great baddies in the past like the elderly Magneto, Sebastian Shaw, and the Sentinels. So this time, he needed to up the anty. Apocalypse is the world’s first mutant. He has awakened from a thousand-year slumber to destroy the world and create a new one. He updates the powers of Magneto, a young Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Archangel (Ben Hardy), and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and assembles them as his four Horsemen. Based on this, Apocalpyse should be a major villain. But what I saw was another run-of-the-mill bad guy with a bad case of what I call the Phoenix Complex- he wants to destroy the world and let the strongest mutants rise from the ashes and create a new one. His motivations are basically a blend of Magneto’s mutant superiority ideology from the first X-Men movies, and Ultron’s notion of saving the world by destroying it.
Apocalypse and his followers are more bark than bite until the later half of the movie. they use their powers here and there, but I would’ve liked to have seen then in action more. Apocalypse has a good design and voice, but he wasn’t as much of an intimidating presence as I thought he’d be. It’s not because of his size or Oscar Isaac’s performance, I think it was just in the writing of the character. You get the sense that he’s a hugely powerful being, and yet he’s very restrained and preachy. He isn’t the strongest or most interesting villain, but Isaac does bring a quiet creepiness to the character that does make you uncomfortable.
The action sequences, especially during the grand finale, are a bit sloppy. But at the same time, they are very entertaining. There’s also a fun fight scene that involves a very familiar face, and it was a fun and fitting cameo. The film looks very good, with each shot set up nicely and the CGI rendered well. Certain moments are stronger than others, but none are too slow or boring. X-Men: Apocalypse has its weak points, but those are followed by genuinely good things. It’s definitely a step down from it’s predecessors, but it has enough good to quench the thirst of any X-Men fan.
Cosmic Grade: 3.4/5 stars