‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ Review: A Better World
If you’re a comic book fan, a superhero fan, or a VFX buff, 2016 is probably your favorite year for film so far. With a few more slated for release along with an abundance of other franchise films - three giant movies in the forms of Captain America: Civil War, Batman vs Superman, and the subject of today’s review, X-Men: Apocalypse, have taken the world by storm. Breaking box-office records left and right, it seems that all the big money in Hollywood sits under a sweltering spandex suit. While BvS was met with disdain and scathing reviews, Civil War was lauded for its care and ambition, and stands as Marvel’s biggest film to date. Coupled with their early releases and vehement reception, it seems Marvel and DC have tried their very best to ensure that X-Men: Apocalypse flies under the radar, ratings, and records.
Helmed by the recently-returned Bryan Singer as director, X-Men: Apocalypse is the biggest X-Men movie to date. Through two movies and a convoluted timeline, Singer has finally undone Brett Ratner’s very questionable and destructive creative choices in X-Men: The Last Stand. With a clean slate and only a little bit of backstory to adhere to, X-Men: Apocalypse stands as the first real entry into the new X-Men saga. And boy, does it aim to impress.
Picking up after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the film wastes no time introducing the title villain – Apocalypse (Oscar Issac). Born in ancient Egypt, the immortal tyrant was betrayed by a group of usurpers and buried underground, left undisturbed for centuries. After awakening in the 1980s, he goes in search of powerful mutant followers to help him in conquering humanity. On the other side of the planet, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is the head of a school for gifted youngsters dedicated to helping young mutants learn how to control their powers and live peacefully with the rest of the world. Frustrated that an inferior species has conquered the mutants, Apocalypse sets out to once again build his empire with only Xavier and his students standing in his way.
It’s odd that while debates of whether superhero films should be predominately dark or light rage over internet forums, many forget that the first real mature and unreserved superhero films were the X-Men movies. While they weren’t cracking Kryptonian necks, the films did their best to treat the audience like adults and never altered their sometimes-uncomfortable themes to be easier to swallow. After all, mutants are just one big metaphor for racism. And while this has always been the central theme of most of the X-Men movies, along the way they’ve picked up other equally important messages such as tolerance, brotherhood, hope, and loss. Thus, it’s no surprise that the X-Men franchise’s biggest film is also its most emotionally resonant. While many superhero movies aim to impactful, X-Men: Apocalypse is unrivaled in its dedication to be something more than just a side-conversation. Without spoiling anything, I can say that it’s surprising how many times this film feels like more than just another superhero movie. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto has never been more Shakespearean-ly tragic, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique was surprisingly tolerable (and at times incredibly genuine), and James McAvoy continues to astound as a young Professor X, steadfast in his hope for unity between mutants and humans.
As this is the biggest, loudest, and all-around most ambitious X-Men movie, it’s nice to know that the visual effects department is in top form in this whirlwind of a film. Although some may see this as a negative, there is no lack of high-velocity, mutant-centric, action-packed fun. Cities are crushed, lasers are fired, things explode, and there are some exceptionally artistic shots here and there, but the true king of them has to be this film’s Quicksilver time-stop scene. For reference, the speedster Quicksilver (Evan Peters) can run so fast that time around him slows down and allows him to interact with the world and save people in the blink of an eye. In Days of Future Past, the kitchen scene is remembered as one of the funniest and most original superhero scenes, as Quicksilver saved his mutant compatriots by clonking security guards on the head with fry pans and diverting bullets by hand like an arcade game. Having seen X-Men: Apocalypse, I can confidently say they definitely outdid it. I’ll leave specifics out, but it’s set to one gloriously 80s Eurythmics song, so you know it’ll be a lot of fun.
As previously mentioned, most of the returning cast such as Fassbender, McAvoy, Lawrence, and Peters are still hitting high notes, but the real question of such a large cast film is this: how do the newbies compare?
Damn well, I’d say.
With an award-winning and critically successful filmography, Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops feels like a gripping and accurate representation of a teenager bombarded with loss, change, and violence. Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) are a breath fresh air with charismatic and likable personalities. To top it off, Shipp and Turner both handle their respective Egyptian and American accents with effortless grace. But my, and many others’, largest gripe with the film has to be its under-use of a few central characters. Although Psylock (Olivia Munn) and Archangel (Ben Hardy) are two of Apocalypse’s horsemen and are responsible for some of the best super-powered action (I mean, he’s got metal knife wings after all), their characters leave a lot to the imagination. Angel starts off with a tragic backstory, but his character turns into a glorified bodyguard. Psylocke’s treatment was very faithful to the comic, but you could count Munn’s lines on your fingers and still have some to spare. Despite all that, however, seeing these heroes go from beloved comic pages and animated TV frames to the silver screen is something that’s been done time and time again, yet continues to astound the child in all of us.
In a year of versus and division, X-Men: Apocalypse stands as the unrelenting underdog against the biggest superpowers in the industry. With a tight script, exhilarating action, and gripping performances all around, this entry into the ever-expanding X-Men franchise is marred only by its developmental negligence to select characters and a particularly hard to adapt chunk of source material, even at two-and-a-half hours. To the casual film-goers, I summarize with this: if you haven’t seen the previous X-Men films you should; they are, for the most part, great films in their own right (the bare minimum one should watch being X-Men, X2, X-Men: First Class, and Days of Future Past). To the comic fans: look no further than Singer’s latest visual feast and storytelling spectacle, because this will satisfy both the easter-egg hungry and the comic book critics. Trust me, this is one superhero franchise you shouldn’t be ignoring.