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Movie Review - X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

I am the author of three middle-grade children's books, and I blog on the side. My favorite topics are movies, writing, and pop culture.

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The First Film in the Split Timeline

The X-Men movies have been going strong for the last 16 years, and while not every movie in the series has been entirely well-received, it has not stopped them from making more, much to my delight. Using clever storytelling devices, they have been able to reboot and reinvigorate what is essentially an ongoing story line (or storylines now) and a gradual incorporation of new characters as well as different incarnations of old characters into this story line. The X-Men franchise has managed to pull off another solid chapter in their cinematic universe with their latest film, X-Men: Apocalypse.

X-Men: Apocalypse Trailer

X-Men: Apocalypse Plot Summary

Set in 1983, 10 years after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past (the events that took place in the 70’s, at least), an ancient mutant named Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is awakened from his untimely burial beneath the ruins of a pyramid in Cairo. Apocalypse is able to remain young and gain new powers by bonding with other mutants using a sacrificial ritual. Upon awakening, he recruits four present-day mutants: Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), to be his “four horsemen” of the present day and destroy the earth so that it can be “cleansed” of its corruption and rebuilt as a peaceful oasis.

Meanwhile, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has just accepted Scott Sommers (Tye Sheridan), brother of Alex, a.k.a. Havok (Lucas Till), as his newest student into his school for mutants. When he uses Cerebro to track down old flame and ally, Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), he discovers the re-emergence of Apocalypse which links minds with Xavier and takes over Cerebro. As a result, he kidnaps the professor with the intent to take over his body and absorb his powers. It’s up to the new class of X-Men: including Cyclops, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) led by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) to come to his rescue and save the world.

Apocalypse Posters

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My Review

I have to admit, the trailers for this movie did not grab me the way that the Days of Future Past trailers did. So, I was not expecting much out of this movie and was worried about it not being as well constructed as the previous film. I also questioned how the new cast would measure up to the old and hold their own against the actors in their already established roles. Luckily, they came through for the most part.

The 80's Setting

Setting the film in the 80’s was a great move and very well executed. I loved how it incorporated the culture of the era into the film without being overbearing or hokey.

The costumes in particular were very time-appropriate but very understated, not too many neon colors or stereotypical clothes, aside from Nightcrawler’s red, Michael Jackson jacket that he picks up at the mall. The shoulder pads, shaggy, slicked back hair, and hoop earrings are placed carefully and tastefully on particular characters. Like most aspects of the film, you can tell that the choices made in incorporating the 80’s into the film were well thought out but did not distract from the story at all.

The Emotional Elements

I was also amazed at how, for such a big movie, it was very personal. The storyline for Magneto was especially heartbreaking and gave him reasonable fuel for his actions.

The new cast meshes together well, and the script allows them to play off of each other without leaving anyone behind. This is something that I thought was always lacking in the original trilogy. Back then, many of the characters only interacted with one or two others in the film. It wasn’t until First Class that I really believed the camaraderie of the team as a whole.

The only character who I felt needed, if not more screen time then at least more lines, was Storm. She had a strong introduction but then faded into the background as a mere sidekick to the evil villain. I was also confused by the large presence of Jubilee in the trailers and promos only to leave her behind when the action intensified.

One of my favorite characters, Jean Grey, also gets another shot at displaying her true potential. While Turner's portrayal of Jean feels disappointingly bored and flat, she definitely gets a chance to shine in the final battle, much to my delight.

The Villain

I’ve heard some backlash against the Apocalypse character for being too one-dimensional in terms of motivation, but I personally liked the take that they used and was happy to see just a stock villain just do his thing. It was the way an 80’s movie would have portrayed the character.

I feel like Hollywood spends too much time on villains these days, explaining their motivations and trying to humanize them only to take them out in the end. Apocalypse is not purely evil, but he does want to do evil things, and even though we know why, we’re not sure what he’s going to do with the world once he destroys it.

I say, let him be “a dog chasing cars” as Heath Ledger's Joker puts it. Still, I did not buy a ticket just to see Apocalypse as others might have. I was just glad that they gave the majority of the screen time to the X-Men to play out their individual struggles and eventually come together to put a stop to he and his four horsemen.

The Action

The movie runs long, about two-and-a-half hours, but it really flies by, hitting every beat it needs, slowing down and speeding up when necessary. Storytelling is a balancing act, and this movie does it well. I don’t feel like anything was left out. In fact, I feel that it gave me more than I expected, packed in without being overloaded.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that the final battle comes straight from X-Men: The Animated Series in terms of its scale and tone. It is big and also has the nail-biting suspense of Days of Future Past where you’re not sure where this is going to end up and whether or not everyone is going to make it to the end. That is not something that I was expecting. After going so emotionally big at the end of the last film, I expected just a lot of explosions and punches, and while we got that, we got a lot of catharsis as well.

Familiar Images and Music

I also loved how they continued to incorporate those familiar themes and images that you come to expect from an X-Men movie, including the opening sequence of traveling through the opening credits in that tube-like space and ending up on the familiar door to Cerebro. Also, the music theme from X2 is used again as is elements of Days of Future Past's theme. At the same time, we see a different kind of team developing and new origin stories for the characters, including the most popular character in the franchise, Wolverine.

X-Men: Apocalypse Trailer 2

A New Spoke In the Franchise's Wheel

I'm aware of the fact that I get something different out of superheroes than most. Because of this, I tend to like the least popular movies in the bunch. Apocalypse isn't the most well-received installment in this franchise, but to me, it was entertaining, emotional, and visually pleasing.

The new cast brings a more energetic, family dynamic to the story, and the story downplays the politics and punches up the spectacle, painting the X-Men as true, world-saving heroes rather than misunderstood weapons that poke their heads from the sand whenever one of their own gets out of control. That's not to dismiss the tone and message of the previous films, but the X-Men have tons of stories to tell from multiple angles, and it's nice to throw a new perspective into the mix.

Buy a copy of X-Men: Apocalypse here!

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Comments

Laura Smith (author) from Pittsburgh, PA on June 05, 2016:

Thanks! Yeah, I seem to have liked it better than most, and I see where you're coming from. Thanks for reading!

Kevin W from Texas on June 04, 2016:

I'm a huge Xmen fan and movie was ok but I really did expect it to be better. There were many things that didn't align with series, but I guess it's ok because the Days of Futures past pretty much erased everything so they started new story lines. Good review of the movie though Laura335, voted up on your hub.

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