Director: Bryan Singer
Screenwriter: Simon Kinberg
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, and Sophie Turner
For 16 years, Bryan Singer has managed the fairly difficult task of directing multiple entries within a franchise and having each one be superior to its predecessor. His first three X-Men films (X-Men, X2, and X-Men: Days of Future Past) were each a step forward in terms of greatness. While that streak does end with this year’s X-Men: Apocalypse, it is only because Days of Future Past was SO good! X-Men: Apocalypse is a very good X-Men film and one that does not tarnish Singer’s legacy one bit.
Picking up the pieces of the shattered timeline left in the wake of Days of Future Past, Apocalypse opens in the early 1980s and finds Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) finally realizing his vision of a school for “Gifted” youngsters. Meanwhile, Eric “Magneto” Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), determined to disappear into anonymity, has taken a blue collar job in a steel mill and settled down off the grid with his wife Magda (Carolina Bartczak) and daughter Nina (T.J. McGibbon). Unfortunately for both of them, an ancient mutant who goes by the name Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is accidentally unearthed from the rubble of his fallen pyramid by an old friend from X-Men: First Class, Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne). Disgusted by the power of the “weak” in the modern world, Apocalypse decides to gather his “four horsemen” and duly wipe the slate clean of all undeserving people of Earth.
Whenever total annihilation of the human race is on the line, the stakes are admittedly high. However, the complex and clever time-rift that drove the action in Days of Future Past leaves the Apocalypse conflict feeling a little generic in comparison. Consequently, Isaac’s performance as the main villain is also slightly underwhelming. That being said, there is not much more to find fault with in this film. Once again, the “First Class” cast fills the screen with charisma at every turn. Magneto specifically is given some powerful and intense developments that impact the story and the future of the franchise. In fact, all of the returning characters are used well. One of the only disappointments I had with Days of Future Past was that the relationship between Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank “Beast” McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) that was so ripe in X-Men: First Class was so utterly downplayed in Days of Future Past. Apocalypse rights that wrong by giving Mystique a more prevalent and endurable role and reuniting her with the rest of the team in a more meaningful way. That said, Singer wisely does not fall victim to the temptation to overplay the fact that he has the number one actress in the world in his film by pivoting too much on Lawrence. Instead he focuses more on the emerging powers of young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and her relationship with Scott “Cyclops” Summers (Tye Sheridan). The introduction to these characters in the new timeline has been hotly anticipated and the film does a nice job of showcasing these characters and whetting our appetite for how their story will play out this time.
On the other hand, Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg do struggle a little under the weight of including and introducing so many other new characters. I recently stated that Captain America: Civil War is the first Marvel film to truly accomplish the goal of introducing new characters flawlessly. Unfortunately, X-Men: Apocalypse falls short of that accomplishment. Notable examples include Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-Mcphee), young Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Angel (Ben Hardy) all of whom remind us of similar character messes from films like Spiderman 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand. The most glaringly troubling new character inclusion, however is Olivia Munn as Psylocke. Munn has made a career as the quote/unquote “Booth Babe,” who stands around posing at comic-cons and looking pretty. Ironically, her acting roles have been relatively far-removed from the geek culture that made her famous and at times she’s shown some real talent. With X-Men: Apocalypse, she had her chance to reunite with comic
book culture and demonstrate some strength in that arena, but instead her character is relegated to appearances so overtly gratuitous that the audience is taken out of the movie so they can laugh at her impracticable hip-popping, silent stances alongside her team of mutant villains. If you need more proof, read this article about how she needed lube to squeeze into her costume. The character is meant to be sexy, no doubt, but this is ridiculous. Next time, give her a line or two of dialogue as well.
X-Men: Apocalypse does a very good job of furthering the X-Men storyline with style and excitement. The film does struggle with some elements of execution, but none of them take too much away from its enjoyment factor. B+
X-Men Apocalypse is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 14 minutes. Stay tuned through the credits for another one of those characteristic Marvel post-credit stingers. It’s a pretty deep reference though, so if you’re not a comic book nerd, you may need some assistance to make sense of it.