Release Date: May 27, 2016
Running Time: 144 Minutes
X-Men: Apocalypse is the latest offering in the reinvigorated X-Men franchise. The plot centers around the threat of the world’s first mutant, the ancient Apocalypse. Trapped within a pyramid due to his tyranny, he is reawakened in the 1980s, where he is disgusted to learn that humans, not mutants, are in charge. He also has a god complex, brought about by his ability to collect new mutant powers by transferring his consciousness into other bodies. Standing in his way are the X-Men, but there are also disgruntled mutants that serve him as the Four Horsemen.
This is a movie that is somehow good and messy at the same time. Almost all the elements, from individual scenes to characters to subplots, are good to great. It’s just that there is so much of them that they fail to form a cohesive whole. There’s one particular part of the movie that gets off on a tangent just to provide unneeded fan service. What will make it difficult for casual moviegoers is that it builds on and references over fifteen years of X-Men movies.
Since the timeline for the franchise was rewritten in Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer is given carte blanche to do whatever he wants with the story. For example, Nightcrawler, who was not on the team in the first X-Men film, is now available as one of the first major students of the Xavier mutant school. Actually, one of the film’s greatest sins is giving us interesting and well-acted teen X-Men and not giving them more screentime. The only one who gets significant development is Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and even then the conclusion of her little arc is rather rushed and unnecessary.
Apocalypse has his own followers, the Four Horsemen, but half of them end up being mere henchmen. Angel (Ben Hardy) is just there to fly around and attack X-Men. Likewise Psylocke (Olivia Munn), is just there to look hot and act cool, forming an energy katana and flipping around. Storm, wonderfully played by Alexandra Shipp, is the standout of the new “villains”, playing a streetwise, yet naïve thief who seems a little too easy for Apocalypse to recruit.
The real standouts are Apocalypse and Magneto and Professor X. Apocalypse is played by Oscar Isaac, who I’ve only seen in a couple other movies. But I can tell the guy has amazing acting range, easily convincing you that he is in his role (though it helps he was under facial hair in Robin Hood and make-up in this one). His Apocalypse is a bit clichéd, just your typical super-powered villain, but somehow Isaac gives him incredible presence and makes him one of the most memorable villains to grace a comic book film. I found it surprisingly easy to understand his powers, something I had trouble with in the comics. Many people have been complaining about how he won’t use matter manipulation to simply disintegrate the X-Men, but you’ll notice that he can only use this power on non-living tissue, so it’s not an oversight.
Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy return as Magneto and Professor X and as usual kill it. Magneto starts the film with a new life, having put his super-villainy behind him, but thanks to circumstances he winds up as part of Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen. His story arc is good, but it’s one of many subplots that clutter the film. But without his subplot his motivation for joining Apocalypse would be poor, so it just has to be in there. After spending Days of Future Past in a depressed state, Professor X is back to being the optimist. He does struggle with wanting to keep his school just a school, when threats demand that he form a little superhero army.
There are quite a few characters I didn’t mention, because there are a ton, but one I have to single out is Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique. Lawrence, who’s a fantastic actress, puts on a shockingly average performance, scowling her way through the whole movie unless she really, really has to display some emotion. What really bugs me is that since she’s such a gung ho mutant rights activist, how come she’s always concealing her blue-skinned, yellow-eyed appearance? I’m guessing either Lawrence used her political pull to spend less time in the extensive makeup or the producers wanted to have her real face to better market the film to her fans. Regardless of the reason, Singer does have her give a reason for hiding her natural mutant appearance, but it’s pretty lame.
This movie is two and a half hours long. I didn’t feel that it dragged on too much, but I can see moviegoers getting tired with it. There’s really not much in the way of action scenes until the last act. Singer is instead focused on character development and drama, though ironically because there are so many characters many of them still wind up underdeveloped. I also was a little disappointed that they didn’t incorporate aspects of the 80s into the storyline that much, as they incorporated the 60s and 70s into the last two films (Cuban missile crisis in First Class and Nixon in Days of Future Past). Maybe Apocalypse and the Four Horsemen could have formed an eighties rock band, since that does sound like an awesome band name.
When the action does take over, it’s pretty cool. For a while it’s just the two teams sparring, but once it’s everyone against Apocalypse, things get pretty awesome. You get the sense that Apocalypse is practically a god, shrugging off energy attacks, recovering from even the greatest of blows, and mentally battling Professor X while at the same time physically thrashing over half a dozen characters. I love the opening as well. It’s a bit long, but I’m a sucker for prologues set in the past (which was how the very first X-Men movie opened, no less), This particular one takes place in Ancient Egypt, a setting which guarantees cool visuals.
X-Men: Apocalypse has a bit too much in it, and there are a couple elements that could have been cut out or trimmed down to better develop student characters like Jean Grey and Cyclops, but almost everything in it is still good. I feel a might be generous with my rating, but I didn’t feel bored and only got frustrated once.