Tweetable Takeaway: X-Men Apocalypse isn’t the best, but is sure to lead to something better. Tweet
In 2000, Bryan Singer released X-Men, arguably the first substantial comic book movie since Tim Burton’s Batman. Singer’s adaptation was essentially the catalyst for the more sophisticated comic book movie that was more than just a bunch of actors running around in spandex chasing a bad guy. There was depth, visual panache, and rich characterization that reflected the pages of the comic books. Considering the massive scope of the comics, it was a planted seed that bloomed into a full-out movie universe of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs, paving the way for other superhero team franchises. Fast forward sixteen years later and all those sequels, prequels, and spin-offs have brought us to X-MEN APOCALYPSE, the bookend to a prequel trilogy that has our favorite moody mutants fighting against an ancient God-like mutant of all mutants hellbent on the genocide of mankind. As far as X-Men movies are concerned, it’s a couple of rungs below Days of Future Past, but definitely not as bad as X-Men: The Last Stand (then again, nothing will ever be quite that tragic).
Apocalypse takes place in the ’80s, where everyone is living in the Reagan era, largely defined by the Cold War and questionable fashion choices. Set 10 years after the events from Days of Future Past, the gang has pretty much gone their separate ways. Professor X (James McAvoy) and Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) are having success at the School for the Gifted while Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is wandering the world with an endless supply of crop tops and leather jackets helping fellow mutants in need. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has done away with the mutant lifestyle and is now working at a steel plant in Poland with a wife and a kid. Living under the name Henryk, he clearly does not want to expose his powers and prefers the simple, domesticated life. But when CIA Agent and mutant ally Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) discovers that a group of diehard worshippers have awoken the world’s very first mutant known as En Sabah Nur (a.k.a. Apocalypse a.k.a. Oscar Isaac), who has been hibernating under the rubble of a pyramid since 3600 B.C., things start to get crazy and cataclysmic.
Apocalypse’s power is, well, that he has all the power. Over the millennia, the blue-faced baddie has collected mutant powers so he can pretty much do anything — but not without an entourage. He always has a ragtag group of four people following him so he seeks them out to not only crank their mutant powers up a couple of notches, but to give them a complete wardrobe makeover. There’s weather-controlling Storm (Alexandra Shipp), the katana-wielding Psylocke (Olivia Munn), the high-flying Angel (Ben Hardy), and last but certainly not least, Magneto, who decides to get back into the game after his domestic life is interrupted. Apocalypse uses them as soldiers in his plan to “cleanse” the world and build a new one from the ashes. With new recruits Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Nightcrawler (Kodie Smitt-McPhee) as well as the speedy Petter/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Mystique leads the X-Men into battle with Apocalypse after he kidnaps the Professor and uses him as a key to wreak devastation across the world.
There’s a lot going on here. A LOT. Which poses a problem with not only how top heavy this review is with plot explanation but with the pacing and overall quality of this sequel.The movie gets crowded and things get thrown off balance for a story that is simple. You have the Professor and his new students, Mystique and whatever she’s doing, and an emphasis on Magneto’s story — which seems like it was supposed to be a focal point, but often gets lost in the shuffle.
After a strong start, the movie gradually loses steam, lagging in moments because it’s busy trying to decide whose is the most important story. It’s a start and stop journey, but it eventually gets to a point when everyone just says, “Let’s stop this guy from destroying the world.”
You don’t have to have read any of the comic books to know that the X-universe is extremely dense with drama, characters, and storylines. Where Days of Future Past handled it with an astute care and observant strategy, Apocalypse works too hard and it shows. New characters are introduced like a roll call rather than an effortless flow, and the visual effects, although impressive, seem to take an unnecessary priority. Sure, I like to see things go boom like everyone else, but dial it back just a little for some breathing room. Maybe give the audience some information about where the hell Psylocke’s “psych knife” comes from.
The film’s ending suggests we’ll find out more about Psylocke in upcoming sequels, but it would have been nice to put her in some context besides the “mysterious badass.” Then again, the X-Men movies have a tendency to do that with villainous female sidekicks. In the very first X-Men, Mystique (then played by Rebecca Romijn — I’ve always had a problem with J. Law as Mystique, but that’s another story for a different time) has one line and is otherwise action eye candy for the rest of the movie. Same goes for Kelly Hu’s Lady Deathstrike in X2: X-Men United. She stays quiet for the majority of the movie and then has a squabble with Wolverine before meeting her doom.
Although it was enjoyable to see all these new characters, their introduction left a lot to be desired. Isaac did what he could with titular character. He’s evil, power hungry, and intimidating. He’s everything a supervillain should be, but he’s predictably disposable and that’s a huge disservice to someone as talented as Isaac. As for the other newbies, some of them, like Psylocke and Angel, barely made an impression and were purely decorative. And although a glimpse of these characters is nice, they could have had a lot more to do. However, the focus and the origin of Storm is very much appreciated — but her accent, not so much. It will probably suddenly disappear like Halle Berry’s did. A rite of passage, perhaps, for anyone who plays Storm.
Perhaps the movie wanted us to focus more on the “new team” that is being ushered into the X-Men universe – a high point of the movie. Sheridan as the young WASPy bro-like Cyclops is a perfect fit, while Turner as the dormant-with-uncontrollable-telekinetic power Jean Grey is brilliant. To see the origin story of that romance adds some teenage-wonder into the mix that is sweet, but not sugary. But the MVP of the group is, by far, Smitt-McPhee as Nightcrawler. A little awkward, funny, curious, and very faithful, Nightcrawler is fan favorite and the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes actor handles the character with just as much skill and panache as Alan Cumming did before him.
The great thing about X-Men films at Fox is that it combines the fun and excitement of MCU with the moody grit from the DC movies. It has successfully carved a niche for itself the comic book cinematic universe. It knows it’s lane and does a good job of staying in it – most of the time.
Essentially, X-Men: Apocalypse is Bryan Singer’s Age of Ultron. It bursts at the seams with plenty of action and has a fair share of fun and noteworthy moments (and surprise X-guests), but in the end it’s not the most stellar comic book adaptation nor is it a downright failure. It’s just a necessary bridge to something bigger and better.
Score: 3 out of 5
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer