New Movie Review: X-Men Apocalypse
The X-Men have escaped many perilous situations in the past, most notably a weary audience and some poorly done sequels. In the age of The Avengers, is there anything novel and worthwhile to be had in the X universe? Deadpool showed us that attention to character and a willingness to push the envelope can breath life into a genre. While Apocalypse is at heart an X-men film very much in the family of the earlier movies, it gives greater attention to some of its most important characters and attempts to innovate visually, and ends up creating some of the coolest sequences in a super hero movie to date.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
In Cairo, a group of fanatics resurrect Apocalypse, the world’s first mutant. Able to migrate his consciousness into new bodies, Apocalypse continually seeks out the strongest of mutant-kind in order to take their powers for his own. His ancient quest for power has caused global devastation time and again until he was sealed within a collapsed pyramid. Now free, he gathers four powerful mutants as his heralds and wages war against humanity. When he learns about a mutant able to control people’s minds, Charles Xavier, he intends to inhabit his body and dominate the world. A very young X-Men team must harness their raw talents in order to save their mentor and protect the world.
New Team, Familiar Faces
Bryan Singer returns to direct the franchise after having reconciled his original trilogy with the alternate history reboot. Days of Future Past was the swan song for many of the original cast members, and with the exception of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, this film is staffed by the reboot cast. James McAvoy returns as Xavier, Michael Fassbender returns as Magneto, and Jennifer Lawrence reprises her role of Mystique. Several familiar faces return from X-Men First Class, but the focus is on “new” mutants, though many are younger imaginings of characters we know from the first three films. The core of the X-Men team is Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler, while their adversaries consist of Storm, Archangel and Psylocke, who have joined Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac.)
The acting from the new additions is fairly solid. Jean (Sophie Turner) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) manage to create a rapport that is believable, though they tend to resort to “I’m afraid of my powers” as character motivation a touch too often. Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler was the most engaging new hero, being fairly comfortable with his powers and having a strong and consistent character. On team Apocalypse, most of the new actors get a few good scenes, but are mostly one dimensional. Psylocke (Olivia Munne) feels like she is only in the roster to be a baddass, and you get little history or characterization beyond her kicking butt. The last new character, Apocalypse himself, is ably played by Oscar Isaac, but tends to feel like a generic baddy, repeating his meglomaniacal “only the strong” routine too much.
Old School is the Best School
While the film does just an adequate job of introducing the new roster (who presumably will be the main cast for a follow up film) it really shines in giving us insight into our returning heroes and villains. I was getting really tired of Magneto, Wolverine and Mystique being the only important characters in the franchise, so I was surprised that this film handled those over-used mutants so deftly. Each is important more as a catalyst for the new characters, and they actually shine as supporting cast instead of the main heroes or villains. Except for poor old Beast, each of the returning cast gets at least one great sequence that sheds light on their character. Often, these character establishing moments are also visual dynamite as well.
What X-Men Apocalypse does best is provide amazing visuals and set-pieces. The first scene where Apocalypse is betrayed and sealed into a tomb sets the tone, and I felt immediately that if anything, at least this film was going to be gorgeous. It also manages to be innovative and exciting with its visuals.
There are at least five distinct scenes in Apocalypse that rose to the level of amazing. Evan Peters (Quicksilver) nearly stole Days of Future Past with his slow-motion sequences, and Singer dials up his impact here to eleven. He has a scene so good that it must make other action movie directors jealous, and it finally gives us a reason to believe that these mutants are capable of doing something astonishing. Magneto has an episode early on that does more to ground his character than the other five movies combined. Wolverine’s (brief) sequence is likewise the best use of that character to date. Even stuffy old Charles gets to finally be a boss and demonstrate why he’s the dude in charge.
Occasionally the spectacle becomes overblown. When the film is showing massive events, whether it be Apocalypse building a pyramid from scratch or Magneto wreaking havoc on a city, it looks a little fake, and doesn’t have a ton of impact. Luckily, most of the spectacle is grounded in moments focused on one or two characters interacting and has actual gravity.
Dawn of a New Age?
Is X-Men Apocalypse a good film? It often feels like a merely decent film that has exuberant flashes of brilliance. Without those, it is pretty much a Bryan Singer X-Men movie, and you’ve had plenty of time to make up your mind about how you feel about those. I will say that Singer has certainly learned from his missteps (and lets his characters mock him, a la Deadpool) and he has found a way to make his fight sequences achieve real impact. There’s a ton of mouths to feed here, but the cast is not as muddled as it was for The Last Stand. You may only be getting a glimpse of certain characters, but they’re mostly engaging snapshots that make me interested in seeing more of them. At the end of the day, I had two major take-aways from this film:
- There are visual elements in this film that were not only amazing, they felt unique. There’s stuff you’re going to see here that nobody else is going to be able to re-create (unless they’re shamelessly stealing it from this movie.)
- X-Men: Apocalypse actually got me interested in these characters again. Either to see them build upon their story, or just to see them use their powers again (see above.)
I would imagine this is the swan song for many of the recurring cast. Like Days of Future Past managed to give the original cast a fitting send off, Apocalypse gives the reboot cast a chance to shine and fully inhabit their characters one last time. The chance to see that, plus the visual flair, made this a really enjoyable (and unexpected) experience.