Review: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

X-Men Apocalypse isn’t the best film in the franchise, but it might just be the most faithful.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).

Director: Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns, X-Men: Days of Future Past).

Cast: James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Filth), Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Inglorious Basterds), Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class, X-Men Days of Future Past, The Hunger Games), Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Mad Max: Fury Road), Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ex Machina), Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class, Bad Neighbours), Evan Peters (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones), Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life), Lucas Till (X-Men: First Class), Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Boy in the Road), Ben Hardy (Eastenders), Alexandra Shipp (Straight Outta Compton), Lana Condor (X-Men: Apocalypse), Olivia Munn (Magic Mike), Josh Helman (Mad Max: Fury Road).

X-Men: Apocalypse pits the team against their biggest threat yet, the world’s first and arguably strongest mutant. While not the best film in the franchise, Apocalypse surrounded by its 80’s setting feels like the most faithful adaptation of the comic books yet.

The film opens on Egypt, thousands of years ago, where we see an old Apocalypse transferring his consciousness into a new, immortal body that comes in the form of Oscar Isaac. A few loud and flashy CGI moments later, Apocalypse is betrayed, and left under the rubble of a giant pyramid, where he will ‘sleep’ for thousands of years until being awoken again. This is the first and last time you’ll say “Oh hey, it’s that guy from Star Wars“, as Isaac will later be seen under an appropriately comic-book-like costume and blue skin. I want to say it’s a waste of the actor, but when so many modern villains focus on being intelligent and outsmarting their enemies, Apocalypse is portrayed as genuinely threatening. The reactionary “He looks like Ivan Ooze” complaints should be laughed at in retrospect.

Introducing us to the new cast, Apocalypse recruits his ‘four horsemen’, starting with Storm (Alexandra Shipp), then to Psylocke (Olivia Munn), next we see Angel (Ben Hardy) and finally onto the man himself, Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Magneto’s recruit into horsemen is one of my favourite scenes in modern superhero films, it provides some real development for the character, and director Bryan Singer nails these moments every now and then in the film. It’s a bit like a 100m hurdles race but the film falls over every other hurdle. If Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a bad film with good parts, X-Men: Apocalypse is a good film with bad parts.

Back to the new cast, Munn and Hardy are complete write-offs, I don’t understand the fascination with Angel in these movies, he hasn’t been an interesting character at all. Munn’s Psylocke doesn’t do much to impress either, other than a few inquisitive stares, she just serves as cannon fodder for Apocalypse. It has to be said though, the costume design is great for the most part, except Psylocke’s ‘boob window’. Storm looks exceptional and benefits from the characterization she gets early on.

Heading toward the good guys, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are well received, Scott deviates from his asshole portrayal from previous films, and we see him first developing and understanding his powers. A lot of Jean’s scenes are her looking scared and concerned but when Turner gets to be a teenager from the 80’s, she’s great. That goes for most of the cast, they all appear to enjoy being a part of this universe and enjoy portraying their respective characters.

McAvoy and Fassbender put everyone else to shame as Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr. Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t exactly phone it in, but it also feels like she doesn’t want to be here. In an ensemble she’s passable but any scene where the character needs to display emotion, she comes across as stunted.

But just like X-Men: Days of Future Past, it’s Quicksilver (Evan Peters) that runs away with the film. Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics provides the backing track to the movie’s greatest sequence. Singer’s direction falls apart from time to time, but he definitely understands how to direct superpowers, and that is the film’s saving grace. Whether it’s in the climatic final battle where the mutants are unhinged, or just as a passive use of their powers, Singer gets it, he understands it and knows how they work. He is constantly getting closer and closer to a faithful portrayal of these characters, and the animated television series. It’s a shame that the nature of film and in the name of plot, some of these characters have to be de-powered, Quicksilver could easily ‘defeat’ any threat, but obviously there would be no tension, so the film finds a way to slow him down, so to speak (or write).

The sequel to Apocalypse will take place in the 90’s, so if Singer should get the chance to direct, I fell as if he’ll have the perfect cast, setting and plot to deliver the most faithful X-Men experience possible.

Cheesy line delivery from Apocalypse aside, he feels threatening, and as his name and the title suggests, this isn’t a matter to be taken lightly. The film could have done with fewer subplots, such as the Charles and Moira relationship and the character altogether (she’s replaceable), and a good 20 minutes needed to be shaved off, but apart from that, X-Men: Apocalypse is an entirely serviceable film in the franchise. Great visual effects, good score from John Ottman, a wonderful cast, and a menacing villain.

And you will not be prepared for Hugh Jackman’s brief but intense extended cameo. It’s wonderful.


Feature image credit: 20th Century Fox

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