X-Men: Apocalypse, 2016.
Directed by Bryan Singer.
Starring James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Olivia Munn, Lana Condor and Evan Peters.
10 years after the events of the last movie, the X-Men reunite to battle Apocalypse, the world’s first mutant, who’s decided that the world needs to torn down and rebuilt.
It’s been a rocky road for the X-Men franchise over the last 16 years. Bryan Singer got it off to a great start with the first two installments, then he jumped ship to direct Superman Returns, leaving the franchise in the not-so-capable hands of Brett Ratner, who gave us The Last Stand – a film that, along with Spider-Man 3 and Fantastic Four, would become a textbook example of how to not do a superhero film. After that came Gavin Hood’s spin-off/prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was viewed as an even bigger disappointment (if that was possible), and it took Matthew Vaughn to revitalise things with his zippy 60s-set prequel, First Class. Singer then returned to the series with Days of Future Past, which brought together characters and actors from both trilogies using a time-travel plot that, against all odds, actually managed to make sense! Now we come to the eighth (wow!) X-Men film, and it is indeed an epic conclusion to the saga.
Apocalypse takes place 10 years after the events of Days, in a time of tentative peace between mutants and humans – Xavier’s mutant school is thriving, Mystique is inspiring and looking out for mutants worldwide, and Magneto is enjoying family life in Poland. Things take a turn for the worse when the titular mutant (played by Oscar Isaac, imbuing the slightly one-dimensional role with just enough gravitas and anger) awakens after thousands of years, disappointed with how weak the human race has become in his absence. In an incredibly moving scene, Magneto’s family are accidentally killed by a group of policeman (his revenge upon them nicely mirrors the way he killed Kevin Bacon’s character in First Class) and in his grief he agrees to help Apocalypse in his plan to tear the world apart so that it can be rebuilt properly.
Meanwhile, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) reconnects with CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) to try and stop this from happening, with the help of Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and couple of new students – Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). These two new additions to the cast do a decent if unremarkable job in their roles, although they do get a couple of stand-out moments each – Cyclops destroys Xavier’s favourite tree, and Jean goes ‘full Phoenix’ in the film’s climactic battle. She also gets a nice, tender moment with arguably the most popular X-Men character ever – Wolverine (Hugh Jackman’s cameo marks the eighth time he’s played him). It’s not clear how or why he ended in the Weapon X program in this alternate time-line, given that at the end of Days he was captured not by William Stryker but by Mystique in disguise, but it’s great to see him in full-on ‘Beserker’ mode for the first time since X2. I also liked the writers’ decision to not give him any lines – it showed him as a wild animal, only just starting on the path to becoming the good, brave Logan we know him as.
In a film with so much back-story to honour, so many story threads to tie up and so many characters to accommodate, it’s inevitable that some would end up short-changed, and in the case of this film it’s Apocalypse’s three other ‘horsemen’ – Olivia Munn’s Psylocke, Ben Hardy’s Angel and Alexandra Shipp’s Storm are barely given any dialogue, and only the briefest of back-stories each. Nightcrawler fares slightly better, even getting in a few jokes (“I’m blue!”), and it’s thanks to Kodi Smit-McPhee’s sensitive performance that he doesn’t just become the film’s comic relief. The film’s trump card however, is Quicksilver – and yes, he has a slo-mo sequence in this film that’s even funnier and more awesome than the kitchen sequence in Days. It’s so good, the standard CGI destruction-porn third-act is far less impressive by comparison. That being said, I thought the ‘mental battle’ that Charles has with Apocalypse was a nice abstract twist on the traditional hero-vs-villain punch-up.
Admittedly, the film contains some awkward dialogue and the odd dodgy effect, but in my opinion it also contains enough well-judged moments to make up for them – for example, just like the tragically elegant explanation in First Class for how Xavier’s lost the use of his legs, this film offers an equally elegant explanation for his baldness (Apocalypse tries to transfer his consciousness into Xavier’s body by way of an Egyptian sacrifice ritual, which causes him to lose his hair). It’s a valid point that the film sometimes feels a bit like a ‘Greatest Hits’ of the franchise (Charles trying again to appeal to Magneto’s good side, another trip to Alkali Lake), but most of those things didn’t bother me because it felt like they were returning to these themes to finally bring closure to them, rather than because they simply ran out of ideas. I particularly loved the reprisal of the “Does it ever wake you in the middle of the night?” speech from the end of the first film – a simple yet effective way of bringing the series full circle.
For me, the greatest accomplishment of the prequel trilogy is that it effectively re-writes and/or invalidates the events of The Last Stand and the two Wolverine films, (the weakest entries of the saga) which means that the the first two X-Men films and the last three now form a solid five-part story, with only minor quibbles with consistency (most which were neatly tied up by Days of Future Past’s ‘happy dream’ ending). I only hope the upcoming third Wolverine film and the proposed X-Force spin-off don’t undo Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg’s good work.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★