I’ll admit that I went into X-Men: Apocalypse with mixed emotions. Early reports on the film were… pretty vicious, but recent reviews have been a tad more kind. The end result, for me, I felt to be… somewhere in the middle?
The Official Film Synopsis is as follows:
“Since the dawn of civilization, he was worshiped as a god. Apocalypse, the first and most powerful mutant from Marvel’s X-Men universe, amassed the powers of many other mutants, becoming immortal and invincible. Upon awakening after thousands of years, he is disillusioned with the world as he finds it and recruits a team of powerful mutants, including a disheartened Magneto (Michael Fassbender), to cleanse mankind and create a new world order, over which he will reign. As the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) with the help of Professor X (James McAvoy) must lead a team of young X-Men to stop their greatest nemesis and save mankind from complete destruction.”
I’m not gonna say that I expected the movie to be 100% bad, but I can’t say I had very high hopes either. The first half of the film had me feeling like maybe the negative side of me was gonna end up being correct. It wasn’t quite as much of an unbearable chore to sit through as last years “cinematic abomination which shall not be named”, but it wasn’t all that enticing either. The character and plot set-up just take more time than is needed, and it forces you to sit through story-points that aren’t consequential, or believable, in any way. At around the half way point though, Quicksilver shows up and, almost like some cruel joke, things begin to… speed up. I know. It’s sounds cheesy to me too but it’s the truth. Even Peters’ return as the sarcastic speedster is the absolute best part of the entire movie. He’s given more emotional depth this time around, and he’s given a lot more to do in general. He makes the whole thing more fun, and he starts making it fun just when you’re ready to give up on it.
Another new (returning?) character I really enjoyed was Nightcrawler, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee. Alan Cumming’s portrayal of Kurt Wagner in X2: X-Men United was one of the many unappreciated highlights of that flick, and I genuinely hope that people take notice of how fantastic young Nightcrawler is. He’s actually a more crucial member of the team than you expect him to be. Sure, he looks a little 80’s emo, but if there’s any character that I’d buy as a Joy Division jamming 80’s kid, it’s him.
Many of the other newcomers are great as well. Tye Sheridan as Cyclops, Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, and Alexandra Shipp as Storm, to name a few, all do a great job and for the most part feel like fair representations of their comic origins. (Yes, Jubilee is in the movie too. No, she doesn’t do anything. Yes, it’s disappointing.) Archangel is also great, played by big screen newcomer Ben Hardy. The scene where Apocalypse comes to recruit him to be one of his Horsemen is his best moment in the film by far. Olivia Munn as Psylocke absolutely looks and acts the part perfectly, but she feels a tad underused, which surprised me considering how vocal she was about it being an important role for her to take. Nonetheless, she does still kick ass.
The main returning X-Men actors (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult) are in peak form. Especially Fassbender. There are some aspects of Magneto’s character development that, as a long-time comics fan, I didn’t emotionally, or even casually, connect with much. It just felt very inconsistent with what he’s been building toward. Regardless of that though, Michael Fassbender still acted the hell out of what he was given to work with and I commend him for that. McAvoy and Hoult have always been great on-screen together and here they have a few more fantastic interactions that will please fans.
Now for the man of the hour… Apocalypse. He was my favorite comic book villain when I was a kid. He’s larger than life and a relentless force to be reckoned with. Well, he was. While Oscar Isaac is a terrific actor, this version of the character is somewhat, for lack of a better term, castrated. His origin is altered to a much less compelling beginning, and many of the great things that make him Apocalypse are either missing or downplayed. One particularly common ability he has is only seen taking place inside of a sequence that isn’t a part of reality (yes, I know it’s all fictional characters who are not real). I don’t mind character alterations as long as they enhance the nature of said character but nothing about this depiction of Apocalypse is enhanced.
In our collective 4LN review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, I mentioned that I’m not a fan of Bryan Singer, and nothing has changed that yet, but I do still maintain my opinion that he “can shoot the hell out of a movie.” There are some uses of camera technique that are just f—ing genius. Seriously. He’s extremely creative and I was very impressed with his ability to go with what looks right and not just what looks best (if that makes sense). I believe that Singer made exactly the movie he set out to make. Which is admirable because we live in a culture where filmmakers are constantly bemoaning the meddlesome ways of studio executives, so it’s nice to feel like, for better or for worse, there are still some directors out there making blockbuster movies based on their complete vision.
You have, essentially, two new choices at the theater box office this weekend. X-Men: Apocalypse or Alice Through the Looking Glass. I haven’t seen the latter so I can’t say whether or not it’s more worth your time and money (though, I suspect it isn’t) but I can confidently say that great acting performances, the most perfect cameo EVER from Wolverine, and a climactic second half of X-Men: Apocalypse
make the whole thing worth seeing. (For comic fans, there are some very satisfying Easter Eggs as well, and a post-credits scene that will have you fan-person-ing all over the place.) If you’re considering taking your kids, I’d suggest buying extra snacks to get through that first hour or so, but, like I said, once Quicksilver shows up they’ll be hooked. My 8yo actually said, “They should put Quicksilver in every bad movie to make it better.” From the mouth of babes, folks.
Look, I know that this review hasn’t been as “silver lining” as I normally try to be. I really didn’t *hate* the movie. I just didn’t like it as much as the one before it, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Which, honestly, I don’t like as much as X-Men: First Class (that one is easily, without a doubt, my favorite X-Men film). That’s not to say that it doesn’t have some redeeming factors though. The end of the movie will leave you excited and hopeful for the future of the series, and eager to see the newer X-Men in action more.