My Review of X-Men: Apocalypse – NO SPOILERS
Upon the release of the latest X-Men film, X-Men: Apocalypse, you are going to hear people, mostly non-fans, asking, “Why do they keep making these?” While superhero movies are growing in popularity, specific franchises tend to require long breaks and reboots in order to stay fresh and relevant. X-Men, however, has 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. Using clever storytelling devices to reboot and reinvigorate what is essentially an ongoing storyline (or storylines now that the timeline has changed) and a gradual introduction of new characters as well as different incarnations of old characters, the X-Men franchise has managed to pull off another solid chapter in their cinematic universe.
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 (played by Oscar Isaac) is awakened from his untimely burial beneath the ruins of a pyramid in Cairo. He is a mutant that is able to remain young and gain new powers by bonding with other mutants in a sacrificial ritual. Upon awakening, he recruits four present-day mutants: Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy), and Magneto (reprised by 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 (reprised by James McAvoy) has just accepted Scott Sommers (Tye Sheridan), brother of Alex, a.k.a. Havok (reprised by Lucas Till), as his newest student. When he uses Cerebro to track down old flame and ally, Moira MacTaggert (reprised by Rose Byrne), he discovers the re-emergence of this new mutant 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 (played by 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 also save the world.
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 was also leary of how the new cast would measure up to the old and hold their own against the actors in their already established roles. There is no flip flopping between past and future in this film so it was important that we believe that the cinematic characters we see could be convincing as the characters we know. It worked for the actors who came onboard for X-Men: First Class, but that didn’t mean it would work for this third group of actors. Also, there was a lot riding on what the script would do with the altered timeline going forward. Ultimately, it surpassed my expectations.
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 at one point. The shoulder pads, shaggy, slicked back hair, and hoop earrings are placed carefully and tastefully on the 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.
I was also amazed 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 well together, 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. Everyone interacts with strangers, and 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 mid-way through the movie.
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 appear and do his thing. It was the way an 80’s movie would have done 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 Christopher Nolan’s Joker puts it. Still, I was not there for Apocalypse while others might have been. 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.
Singer still seems to be making amends for leaving the franchise during X-Men: The Last Stand, (a movie I really liked but know that most fans could not stand). He gets his digs in a solid joke that pokes fun at that movie halfway through, and he shows us the version of Jean Grey (one of, if not my most, favorite X-Men) that we all knew he could give us. In fact, everyone in the movie gives a strong performance. Actors must know by now that you can’t phone-in a superhero acting gig, and they were there to play.
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 right out of the Animated Series in terms of tone and just the massive scale of the sequence. It 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 something I was not 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 cathartic scenes as well.
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 only to end up on the opening door to Cerebro. The theme from X2 is used again as is elements of Days of Future Past, and I hope that some of the music from this film continues this tradition. With the slate wiped clean, it made you wonder, how are they going to reincorporate some of the most beloved elements of the first films, notably Wolverine and his introduction to the team. Well, they found a way, as the end of the final trailer of the film suggests.
If this movie achieved anything, it proved that this franchise is far from over, and the cast and filmmakers are still showing up to deliver the best stories they can come up with and execute. With decades worth of written material to draw from, fans can never grow bored with the promise of future films. What’s more is that as long as they can keep building on their original premise and incorporate the original and current casts as long as possible, you can be sure that there will be more X-Men movies like this worth seeing.