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, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Lucas Till, and Hugh Jackman
With the emergence of the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse, the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.
“You can fire your arrows from the Tower of Babel… but you can NEVER… STRIKE… GOOOOOOOOOOOODDDDD!!!” – An enraged yet collected Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac has no time for dance numbers in this one).
Not to compare X-Men: Apocalypse or the franchise to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the one consistent flaw that can be lobbed at those films is a lackluster villain with poorly defined and/or generic motivations. There are a couple of good ones here and there, but Marvel has basically reached a point where Captain America is a villain in his own franchise, which isn’t necessarily an insult considering that Captain America: Civil War is fantastic. It’s just a truthful statement. To be fair to Marvel, DC didn’t improve on that front seeing as they thought Lex Luthor hyped up on Mountain Dew portrayed by the creator of Facebook would make for a wonderful performance.
The point I’m trying to make with all of this is that weak characterization aside, Apocalypse is one hell of a memorable super-villain, and a force of reckoning that will live on as one of the most intimidating, menacing, and all around badass foes of the genre. Even the simple idea that he can improve the superpowers of those around him is an intriguing one, and one that director Bryan Singer (now directing his fourth film in the franchise) uses to full effect, most memorably with a sequence transforming Angel’s heavenly wings into something metallic and much more malicious. It’s also a surprisingly graphic sequence for a PG-13 superhero movie, but I suppose that’s one of the reasons I have always strongly enjoyed the X-Men franchise; they aren’t over-the-top hilarious and full of mainstream appeal similar to what Marvel goes for, but nowhere near as dark and philosophically brooding as whatever the fuck Zack Snyder is going for in the DCEU. There’s a great balance, typically resulting in not just a great superhero movie, but an all-around fantastic film period.
Circling back around to Apocalypse himself however, Bryan Singer throws the world’s first mutant through the gauntlet, constantly making viewers wonder just how in the hell our heroes will come out on top. It makes for an exhausting extended action sequence, but definitely not exhausting in a “this movie needs to hurry up and end” manner, but an “I’m on the edge of my seat, I can’t wait to see what these warriors do to each other next” mood. Give Oscar Isaac all the credit in the world for making the battle cries and dark trash talk come to life with a deep otherworldly voice that is actually downright terrifying, despite its inherent cheesiness. I may have enjoyed the last 30 minutes of X-Men: Apocalypse more than the airport sequence in Captain America: Civil War; the stakes were much higher and the level of intensity was matched.
The problem is that much like Apocalypse himself, the movie is considerably more style over substance. The script is obviously getting at a thematic element preaching that these gifted beings need to embrace their abilities, rather than learn how to suppress them. Charles Xavier can’t hide that these men and women of all ages are warriors whether he likes it or not, and that the world needs the X-Men. Monstrous planet destroying ancient mutants aren’t going to hold back their power, so the rest of his students need to learn to unleash everything they have at maximum power. However, so many characters are given focus that it’s all spread too thin. It feels like there are about seven different primary protagonists, coming across as a detriment to the cohesiveness of the narrative.
Apocalypse’s disciples are also given an embarrassing amount of characterization, mostly feeling like fodder posing no threat at all. The one exception is obviously Magneto, and although some of what is in the script to once again turn him evil definitely makes sense, it sometimes comes across as forced and unbelievable. There is a very sad sequence that plays out that only really works because Michael Fassbender is such a tremendous actor, otherwise I wouldn’t buy any of his good/evil alignment flip-flop at all, rather than just half-heartedly.
For whatever reason, X-Men: Apocalypse also feels to be ticking boxes based on what worked in the last few installments. Quicksilver has another spectacularly created super-speed sequence that does arguably steal the movie, but I don’t know how anyone could disagree that the scene comes at the complete inappropriate time tonally. Viewers are going to be laughing uncontrollably while clapping in applause at how awesome what they are seeing is, but that’s the issue; it is sandwiched right between one of the most important and emotional moments of the movie. It does continue to suit the argument however that X-Men: Apocalypse is mostly well executed style with wonky presented substance.
Even the major cameo in the film feel strangely out of place, and as if someone at 20th Century Fox said there was no way a X-Men movie could exist without… well you can probably guess who. It is neat how much of this ties into the overarching plot of the series, but at some point you have to step back and question the amount of content that is being crammed into one superhero feature. X-Men: Apocalypse could potentially be a nightmare to follow along for its plot if you aren’t familiar with the last nine movies, but at the same time, in some bizarre way I appreciate the studio and script for choosing not to insult the audience, permeating the experience with as many callbacks to the franchise as possible.
The bottom line though is the X-Men: Apocalypse is a very entertaining and exhilarating entry into the superhero genre. Even the focus on a younger age of mutants is actually interesting when you factor in how great a cast was assembled (Tye Sheridan seems to be in about literally every independent film I buy off of Google Play and smashes his role out of the park, while Sophie Turner does an admirable job as Jean Grey although her American accent does need more work). Don’t expect the superhero plot of the century, but a very memorable villain who lives up to his name, paving the way for some of the most intense action we will see all summer.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★