After three initial X-Men films (2 Bryan Singer/1 Brett Ratner), some Wolverine origin stories, a rebooted X-Men: First Class, and a continuity-obliterating X-Men: Days Of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse represents a “fresh” restarting point for Fox’s iconic franchise. The mistakes of old have been erased (*cough* Brett Ratner *cough*) and Charles Xavier’s team has been redefined (Mystique is good? Angel is bad?), yet, while necessary, all the re-reveals and re-introductions have lost their initial allure. Once again we’re shown an X-Men story where Magneto embraces darkness and it’s up to his mutant friends to talk him off the proverbial ledge (sounds awful familiar). Singer is undoubtably working towards a better cinematic X-Men universe (one decade at a time) here, but you’ll end up feeling like we’ve seen this all before – because, to a certain degree, we have.
Picking up after Days Of Future Past, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his squad must defeat an ancient, God-like mutant (Apocalypse, played by Oscar Isaac) before he destroys the world. Plain and simple. Apocalypse isn’t alone, though. He travels with four mighty warriors of his choosing – the four horsemen of the apocalypse – one of whom, of course, is Magneto (Michael Fassbender). As expected, this doesn’t sit well with Mystique or Xavier, who assemble a team to defeat Apocalypse before his doomsday plan can become a reality. An all-powerful supervillain versus a few fresh-faced rookies – what could go wrong?
Right off the bat, there’s a sense of heightened stakes in X-Men: Apocalypse. Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris concoct a superhero story that addresses death and devastation on a level somewhere between Zack Snyder’s bleak DC world and Joss Whedon’s consequence-ignoring The Avengers. With so many “gifted” individuals populating society, it seems that Singer is perfectly fine with thinning the numbers so that more famous mutants can step into frame. Unfortunately, some of these deaths suffer from a glossed-over fate that lacks impact, removing characters like a human swatting at fruit flies. There’s certainly an effort made to address massively-scaled death tolls and traumatizing consequences, but Apocalypse’s “cleansing” simply fails to achieve the intended emotional results.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of Apocalypse – why was Oscar Isaac even cast? He’s a tremendously talented actor who’s given almost nothing to do here, buried under an indistinguishable accent, layers of makeup and a costume that makes him shuffle around like molasses. Apocalypse’s only saving grace is how he treats his four horsemen like a 90s-era pop band, complete with glitzy costumes (of course, both females are scantily clad while both men are covered in armor head-to-toe) and a knack for always being in camera-ready poses. You think I’m joking, but there’s a mountain-top moment where cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel pans out and reveals something off of a Creed album cover.
On the flip side, there’s enough justification to dub X-Men: Apocalypse an entertaining-enough experience. Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is just as much of a delight as he was in X-Men: Days Of Future Past, and the addition of Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler gives Peters a goofy partner in crime. Jennifer Lawrence is still a highlight as the rebellious, freedom-fighting Mystique, while Michael Fassbender once again does a lot of angsty yelling as the always mistreated Magneto.
Elsewhere, McAvoy charms, Rose Byrne pleases and a handful of newcomers make damn good cases for their updated roles (Tye Sheridan as Cyclops/Sophie Turner as Jean Grey) – but Quicksilver steals the whole movie. Just as Days Of Future Past encapsulates the 70s, Quicksilver is our guide through the tubular 80s, as he reaches the film’s highest high during an explosive fast-motion slow-mo bit set to Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These).”
But, as the film climaxes, it simultaneously loses momentum when it needs excitement most. These superheroes are more about shooting lasers and conjuring storm clouds than hand-to-hand combat, which can get a bit dull after almost two-and-a-half hours. Words are withheld that could have possibly sped the process along (shortening an unjustifiably long running time), fights rarely escalate into choreographed brilliance, and most scenes only seem to care about repetitive nostalgia. It’s almost as if Singer is trying to re-create moments from his original films, as a way of one-upping himself. Plus, some of the animation here is spectacularly lackluster – specifically, Apocalypse-ravaged cityscapes that look like they’re ripped from old-school computer games.
Yet, X-Men: Apocalypse does nothing to discredit an already enormous franchise, and will appease fans who want more of the same mutant thrills. Comic diehards get their dug-in references (Wolverine mirrors an entrance straight from illustrated pages, Jubilee flashes her legendary yellow jacket, Xavier finally goes bald), movie lovers have some tremendous set pieces to gander at, and X-lovers spend more time with earlier versions of characters they already enjoy. The film isn’t underwhelming, it’s just same old free-wheeling, Cerebro-smashing, Wolvie-berserker style antics that basely sustain franchise advancement. The X-Men are back, without a doubt. I can’t say they’re better than ever, but they’re certainly back!
X-Men: Apocalypse is more of the same mutant action, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it simply sustains a familiar franchise.
X-Men: Apocalypse Review