Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's to Like?
X-Men: Apocalypse is a sci-fi action superhero film released in 2016 and is the ninth instalment of the X-Men franchise. Based on characters created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Louise Simonson and Jackson Guice, the film sees the X-Men reunite in the eighties to battle an ancient and extremely powerful mutant that threatens to destroy the world. The film stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan and was directed by Bryan Singer. The film received a fairly mixed reception when it was released - critics praised the film's themes and performances while criticising the narrative and over-reliance on CG. Audiences, however, were not convinced as the film became the fourth highest-earning film in the series so far with global takings just shy of $544 million - behind Deadpool, Logan and the previous film Days Of Future Past. It would be followed by the next film X-Men: Dark Phoenix in 2019.
What's It About?
Way back in 3600 BC, the powerful mutant En Sabah Nur more or less rules ancient Egypt but is betrayed during a ceremony that transfers his soul and abilities into a younger body, resulting in him being entombed beneath the enormous pyramid constructed in his honour. After being accidentally revived in 1983, he emerges into a very different world that has long forgotten him. Enraged, he decides to recruit four more disciples to aid him in his quest to reshape the world in his image. Meeting a young Ororo Munroe, he enhances her latent mutant abilities and begins his search for others.
While En Sabah Nur recruits Angel and Psylocke to join him, Mystique uncovers another mutant in East Berlin - the blue-skinned, teleporting 'demon' Kurt Wagner - who joins both Scott and Alex Summers at Professor Charles Xavier's School For The Gifted - a mutant training facility operating in Westchester, New York. As they begin to discover the extent of their powers and how to harness them alongside their fellow students, Xavier and Hank McCoy are alarmed by the disturbances En Sabah Nur leaves as a result of his powers and are forced to consult Xavier's former lover, CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert who has been researching the legend of En Sabah Nur and the devastation that will surely follow in his wake...
Professor Charles Xavier
Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto
Raven / Mystique
Hank McCoy / Beast
En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse
Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver
Scott Summers / Cyclops
Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler
Alex Summers / Havok
Release Date (UK)
18th May, 2016
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Superhero
What's to Like?
The X-Men series has been rumbling on in one guise or another since 2000 but despite this, there would seem to be some life left in the franchise - not surprising, given the vast number of characters there to utilise. This film, using the 'prequel' cast first seen in First Class, has the advantage of being split from the previously established timeline so it can use existing characters in different ways. And sure enough, the film offers us a distinct narrative with characters that feel familiar but still have lots of potential character development. The film also provides a suitably high-stakes plot that matches previous films as well as introducing new characters such as Psylocke (who hasn't really been given much exposure before now) and Apocalypse himself.
Speaking of the big guy himself, I thought Isaac worked really hard beneath the makeup to give a cold and calculating performance as the antagonist. The cast is made up of seasoned veterans like Fassbender, Lawrence and McAvoy and younger stars who feel suitably awed as more inexperienced members of the team such as Turner and Sheridan. Having said that, Evan Peters easily steals the show as Quicksilver who maximises every second he's on screen for. The scene featuring his high-speed rescue of students at the X-Mansion is imaginative, funny and visually impressive and it's arguably the most memorable sequence in the whole film. Fans of the franchise will be pleased to see the action being as explosive and choreographed as previous films. Even a fleeting cameo from a visibly haggard Hugh Jackman offers a tantalising glimpse of something darker and more visceral with blood running down walls and anonymous henchmen screaming in futility against an unstoppable, frenzied Wolverine.
- In the comics, Apocalypse is an alien entity and was originally due to scripted as such. However, Singer was more interested in the character's religious aspect so this element was written out. Singer thought that the character allowed the film to examine the origins of mutants as well as a link between mutants and cultism and religion.
- The film has something of a meta-moment when Jean Grey states that the third film is always the weakest in a trilogy after the gang exit a cinema showing Star Wars: Episode VI - Return Of The Jedi. Not only is this a reference to the backlash that the third X-Men film The Last Stand received but it could also be construed as a swipe at this film, it being considered the third film of the First Class trilogy.
- Isaac was forced to dub almost all of his dialogue in post-production as his bulky rubber suit kept making squeaky noises, which the microphones picked up.
- This film marks only the second time that the X-Men's legendary Danger Room - the training facility often shown in the early years of the original comics - is shown on screen. It previously appeared in The Last Stand featuring the X-Men battling pre-programmed Sentinels.
What's Not to Like?
Unfortunately, the film struggles to be anything other than average. By now, we know what to expect from an X-Men film and there isn't anything here we haven't seen before. Actually, that's not quite right - the psychic battle against Xavier and Apocalypse on an astral plain is an interesting concept but looks way too dark and dull to entertain as much it is should. The film doesn't grab your interest in the way you hoped it might, despite being the longest running film in the entire series. It pads itself out with flashes of character development but it never seems to go anywhere. Take the complicated backstory between Xavier and Moira MacTaggert - it's never explained properly and uses the time-travelling aspect of the previous film to sweep any inconsistencies under the carpet. It smacks of lazy writing, quite frankly, and doesn't explain why some characters feel very different from how they have done previously. Why are Storm and Psylocke baddies, for example?
There are other things I didn't like. The effects are competent enough but it looks no different to other films that feature society being ripped up by apocalyptic forces like 2012 or Godzilla. Sure, Magneto's powers and the visual effects required look good but I'm afraid that they look too similar to Avengers: Infinity War and I saw that film first. Apocalypse feels far too long given the weakness of the story and the direction feels uninspired as well. And while Wolverine's appearance gives the film a bit of a lift halfway through, it only confuses the viewer (why is Jackman still playing the role, given how everyone else has been recast?) and feels like a cutscene from a more adult entry in the series like Logan. I just wanted the film to feel special like First Class and Days Of Future Past did and sadly, it feels a long way off.
Should I Watch It?
It's not the best entry in the long-running X-Men series but Apocalypse does just enough to keep fans hooked for a little bit longer. The film feels quite bloated with too many characters and visual effects on screen, yet it doesn't give those characters much to do besides turn up in costume. Despite its mediocrity, it isn't anything like as bad as the series has gone so far (see below) and offers plenty of X-Men action for fans of the characters to enjoy.
Great For: X-Men die-hards, keeping the franchise going, making the case of the rights to revert back to Marvel fully
Not So Great For: cohesive storytelling, comparison to the comics, comparisons to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
What Else Should I Watch?
By now, Marvel have become the titans of superhero movie-making with a product that is generally consistent in its quality and entertainment. Of course, this wasn't always so - it's only since the release of the MCU's first instalment Iron Man back in 2008 that these comic book adaptations have been taken seriously as box-office busters. Audiences with long memories will shudder recalling the likes of Daredevil or any version of Fantastic Four or even the limp Blade: Trinity. I know that Marvel Studios haven't got it right every time but on the whole, I would recommend the majority of their output for fans of cape-wearing crime-fighters and such. Unless you're more of a DC fan, in which case you already know that The Dark Knight trilogy is all you really need.
As far as fans of the mutant community are concerned, the X-Men series has gotten quite complicated following spin-offs, reboots, ret-cons and the utterly wretched. The worst film so far, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, completely botched it with the wrong tone and angered fans with its braindead interpretation of Deadpool - something star Ryan Reynolds has been atoning for ever since. I admit that I have yet to watch the next film but critics were not kind to Dark Phoenix with most calling it a disappointing end to the franchise. Perhaps it might have been at the time but anything that has an existing fanbase will always encourage more sequels and sure enough, The New Mutants was released in 2020 after a number of delays. Unfortunately, it largely passed that fanbase by thanks to the pandemic restricting the number of theatres that played the film. Here's hoping that a future reboot of the series starts all over again - give Jackman a rest, dammit!
© 2021 Benjamin Cox