X-Men: Apocalypse and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Bryan Singer
It’s that time again for another X-Men movie to try and prove its relevance in a post MCU world! So far, I think they’ve been doing a fairly good job of keeping this series humming along since Mathew Vaughn kicked the franchise back to life again five years ago. The post First Class movies haven’t been perfect, but the second shot at a Wolverine solo picture and the one that brought Brian Singer back to the franchise were both fine enough films, and now that Deadpool is kinda sorta in the mix, there may be hope yet that this franchise can make that leap to the big leagues instead of sitting comfortably as the acceptable knock off. Is this movie the start of that transition, or is this series just gonna keep spinning its wheels until another X3 disaster kills it off for good? Let’s find out!!
The movie picks up about ten years after Days of Future Past which is still about twenty years before the original X-Men, which I THINK is still in continuity (only X3 is the one we know for sure got blinked out of existence). In the intervening time, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has finally set up his school, Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) has gone into hiding and now has a family in Poland, and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence)… well she’s basically doing the same thing as she as in the last movie, only now she’s a symbol of peace rather than a violent radical after she had saved the president from Magneto. Things seem to be at a tentative state of peace with the humans being somewhat okay with mutants and Erik more or less retiring Magento so he can live a normal life. We don’t come to an X-Men movie to see people be happy though! What’s gonna screw it up for everyone!? Well two things really. First is that Erik suffers a tragedy that throws him back into his anti-human hobby, and second is that there is a millennia old mutant calling himself, among other names, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) that just so happened to wake up from his deep slumber and is ready to take over the world (presumably after getting a shower and a bite to eat). It doesn’t take long for him to make his presence known so the X-Men must reunite and get some of the new students to fight the greatest threat to all of humanity… at least now that the Sentinels aren’t gonna be a thing anymore. Can Charles and Mystique whip these newbies into tip top shape to fight the new bad guy and save the world? What exactly will Erik do now that he’s given up on ever finding peace for himself? How many times are they gonna blow up the damn school!?
This movie is far from perfect and, even though I was underwhelmed by it, I think Captain America is still a better film. That doesn’t mean this is a bad film though. It’s a GOOD film at the very least and I’m having trouble wrapping my head around why the initial reviews were so negative on this. I’ve sat through every X-Men movie that Fox has put out, and with the exception of X3 and Origins Wolverine, all of them are at the very least fun and have been an enjoyable staple of the last twenty years of super hero films. Hell, the first X-Men movie, along with Blade, is the reason that super hero films have become such a prominent part of the cinematic landscape. Have they gotten significantly better over the years outside of the technology and resources they have on hand? I would say no, and maybe that’s one of the reasons that this one has been getting so much flak. We’re getting pretty much the same quality of storytelling with each one of these movies and to some that’s no longer enough, especially now that the MCU is the gold standard that every other super hero film will inevitably be measure to. The thing is, I don’t really see it that way. The X-Men movies are the cinematic equivalent of comfort food, or more accurately a long running comic book series. You don’t expect it to wow you every time, but in exchange you’re more or less assured that it will always give you a certain amount of enjoyment. This isn’t groundbreaking and it isn’t the MCU, but try comparing it to say the Batman v Superman or the now defunct Amazing Spider Man universe, and tell me that this isn’t at the very least well put together and narrative coherent!
What the movie gets right is what the series has always gotten right. Most of the characters are sharply written and get chances to show off their unique powers while trying to work together as a team. There’s enough money thrown at this so that it always looks polished, and the actors are compelling enough to keep the story going even if it isn’t entirely focused and meanders from time to time. What I think sets this one apart from the others though is that it has a lot of payoffs for big time fans of the franchise as this seems to be the point where the original X-Men and the prequel X-Men finally begin to coalesce into one continuity instead of two separate continuities that visit each other on occasion (*cough* Days of Future Past *cough*). Xavier finally has his school together and is bringing in students; some of whom include people we haven’t seen in a REALLY long time like Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and even Ororo Munroe (Alexandra Shipp), though I’m pretty sure her backstory is the one that diverges the most from the comics. For the most part, it’s just a damn solid movie that does admittedly feel a tad shaky at points, but holds it head above water and is eminently enjoyable from beginning to end. Also, they paid close attention to how well people responded to Quicksilver in the last movie, and gave him a much meatier role this time around which was definitely the right move.
Now the movie does have PLENTY of flaws that I will get to soon enough, but there are a few that I can recognize yet don’t bother me in the least. The big one is that this movie is straight up goofy at points. I don’t know how intentional some of these moments are supposed to be, but when you have James McAvoy and a blue Oscar Isaac having a psychic battle that’s portrayed by the two of them punching the shit out of each other in a mental recreation of the Xavier Institute, I just could not stop laughing at it and enjoyed it immensely because of that; especially when Apocalypse starts growing for no reason and begins punching a very tiny Professor Xavier. What it reminded me most of (aside from the dream battle in Freddy vs Jason) is the one dream sequence in Batman v Superman where Batman is having a dream about fighting para-demons while wearing a coat over his suit of armor. It was the most blatantly fun part of that movie which was mired in underwhelming angst, and while I thought this movie was undeniable better in all respects than BvS, the dream battle here was a definite highlight. There are small parts throughout the movie that feel unintentionally silly which will annoy some people, but it made it much more enjoyable for me.
The other VERY OBVIOUS flaw here that doesn’t bother me to much is that these mother fuckers have aged maybe six months in the last twenty years that these movies are supposed to have taken place over. They really don’t look any different in this movie (set in the eighties) than they did in First Class (set in the sixties) which makes it unintentionally funny for Magneto to have flashbacks to Auschwitz when he looks like he was born ten years after the war ended. The reason why I’m willing to forgive this though is because… well it’s a comic book movie. Characters in comics have looked the same for fifty years despite the fact that time is marching ever forward. Not only that, but I don’t want to see these actors either get replaced or forced to wear lousy old age makeup to fix this problem. If I’m willing to sit through a movie about people who can shoot lasers from their eyes, control the weather, and still manage to be alive after sleeping for thousands of years, I’ll take a Professor Xavier that has aged remarkably well.
Those flaws I can get past and even enjoy. The issue that I DO have with this is that a lot of the characters get the short end of the stick in a REALLY bad way; especially the bad guys. Apocalypse is fine as just the generic BWA HA HA villain who thinks he’s all powerful. He’s nothing great and he barely has a personality, but he keeps the plot moving and he has a distinctive look, so while I wouldn’t say the movie gets a pass for having a weak villain, at least this one isn’t actively obnoxious or confusing to understand. Erik Lehnsherr on the other hand has some great acting moments, both dramatic and comedic, but his story in this movie is half assed at best and feels like a contractual obligation. For someone who has been the prevailing source of chaos through this series (even when he’s working with the good guys) he seems way too eager to fall in line with the Blue Motherfucker and it does nothing for his character. The REAL Magneto would have tried to kill Apocalypse at some point and take control of his crew so that HE will be the God everyone worships! Instead, the dude is just taking orders like a punk.
The three other horsemen don’t fare much better as none of them are given strong motivations to join his crew so the only thing I can assume is that mind control is involved, but then that would make all their actions in this meaningless. The alternative, which would be that they WANT to kill all humans, isn’t much better which makes it kinda baffling that they chose three nominally GOOD GUY characters to fill these roles instead of the X-Men’s extensive list of bad guys that could have done just as good a job. Then again, if we went down THAT route, we wouldn’t get to see Psylocke, so six of one, half a dozen of the other.
The good guys don’t escape this either as Moira Mactaggert is back from First Class, but is about as useless as Lois Lane was in Batman v Superman. It’s kinda impressive (and depressing) just how close these two roles turn out to be as both of them are researching very obvious and hard to miss bad guys and then end up at the final fight scene for no discernable reason. The fact that she’s a CIA agent doesn’t even giver her enough clout to do anything of significance in the story which the movie flat out explains to us when Freaking Stryker shows up out of nowhere and kidnaps all their asses to lock them in his ice fortress and won’t acknowledge her or her government credentials at all! WHY IS SHE EVEN HERE!? Speaking of Stryker, that whole scene with him and the ice fortress feels like a vestigial edition to the movie that only exists so that we can get to the one cameo everyone wants, and it adds nothing to the story about the IMPORTANT characters trying to stop Apocalypse. That cameo by the way is really lame too. I love Wolverine and Hugh Jackman, but the guy doesn’t even have a line in here other than AAAAARUUUGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!, and his fighting isn’t all that great to look at here.
The last one I want to talk about is Jubilee who they FINALLY put in one of these movies, but she’s a cameo at best and she doesn’t even get to use her powers. I’m sorry, WHAT!? They actually added Jubilee to the cast of this, and then gave her NOTHING to do? Damn it Bryan Singer! You at least gave Colossus ONE fight scene in X2! What the hell happened!? Did you run out of money or something!? Hopefully this will be rectified in whatever sequel they’re probably working on already, but it’s such a disappointment that this character was used so poorly.
At this point, you know what you’re getting into with an X-Men movie. They’ve been at a consistent level of quality for some time now and if that’s been enough for you, then you’ll probably find plenty to like here as well. I do feel that they need to ACTUALLY get better instead of staying basically the same as the flaws of this movie are that much more glaring when you see a movie like Captain America: Civil War pull this kind of material off almost effortlessly. Maybe Brian Singer is tapped out by this point and we should get some new blood in this franchise before he makes an X3 level disaster. The X-Men machine is still working for now though, so I would definitely recommend this movie as a solid summer action flick to fill the gap between Captain America and… whatever else is coming out. Star Trek I think?
If you like this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below! I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite! In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed! Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage! You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop! HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?