Let’s start with some honesty from the heart. The last X-Men film (Days of Future Past/DOFP) was a step back from X-Men: First Class. You may not agree, but let’s quickly go through a few things. DOFP started with a great action sequence (mostly in the future), then slowed to a snail’s pace for a good hour and a half. Bone-Claw Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) was present but mostly to chat, and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) was the main focus of the film. Most of the action in the movie was her martial arts skills, but we had mutants with powers all around us. Magneto brought a stadium to the White House and set it down like an Octagon, then lined it with Sentinels. Why? For a conversation. There are other reasons the movie was over-hyped, but in the credits they give us a tease of a big villain to wet our beaks. Well, despite how much it hurts to admit; writer Simon Kinberg and director Bryan Singer delivered.
We begin by learning a little about the titular villain. Seeing him as the god-like figure he was worshiped as centuries ago. En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) doesn’t need to speak for us to understand his power. We get a glimpse of what the disciples, that are willing to give their lives to protect him, can do. Then we are shot like a bullet into the 1980’s. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait long for Apocalypse to emerge in our modern world. Bring on the fight! Every threat you have heard uttered in a trailer should be taken literally. Human life means nothing to Apocalypse and the air of royalty in his cold stare could put anyone in their place. If the success of the film were dependent on Isaac’s performance every studio executive at FOX could rest easy. But, to the audience’s delight, there is far more going on here than the excellent portrayal of Apocalypse.
We are introduced to Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), a teenager that has just begun to experience his abilities. For those that remember Havoc (Lucas Till) in First Class, Scott is his younger brother. He’s charismatic, and introduces the audience to many new and old faces upon his orientation into the school for the gifted. One of those introductions being Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), the telepath whose nightmares wake up the entire school. Summers and Grey have an almost instant connection as two people unable to control their powers and are both feared by fellow students for it. Even the most casual fan of comic books are sure to see where that will lead. Summers is given the rare opportunity to shine onscreen. In other films he is primarily seen as Jean’s husband reminding Wolverine (the fan favorite) to stay away from his woman. It’s a safe bet that Cyclops is going to make a lot of fans with this movie.
Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) makes a return after sitting the last film out. Her role here is of little more importance than to get laughs for Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) as he stumbles trying to win her heart again. But, she does provide some insight to the god-like being that has made an earth shattering return. The professor emerges onscreen just as hopeful and fatherly as always. His school is meant to teach, and help others learn to control their powers. He is not building an army, as some might expect. The largely televised event that took place in 1973 (see above mentioned Octagon debate) put the world on notice that mutants are here. Since then, the world has been trying to accept mutants as peaceful beings with power, and Charles wants to help mutants integrate into society.
There is one mutant that has not been forgiven for the 1973 act that definitely struck fear into the world’s heart: Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender). A worldwide manhunt has been underway for a decade. We find Erik living out his life peacefully with his wife and daughter. Things seem to be going all too well for Erik, and we know that it can never last. Erik’s turn into Apocalypse’s horseman is an emotional one that can make someone forget the acts he has committed, and sympathize. We feel his rage, and the lack of acceptance that he hoped for, but knew could never be. Much of the movie hinges on his emotional state, and unlike the Mystique heavy DOFP, this pays off very well.
Newer characters like Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) really keep us engaged in the events taking place. Not only are we racing toward an extinction level event, we’re still learning about the strangers we’re traveling with. Nightcrawler was a huge hit in X2 and the new iteration is just as pleasing visually, with much more humor. Watching him fight is great because his character is not violent but his ability is so unique he’s almost impossible to beat. Angel (Ben Hardy) appears to be Wagner’s opposite in this film. Both characters make their introductions early on, then head in opposite directions. While Wagner ventures to Professor X’s school, Angel is recruited by Apocalypse to serve as a horseman, and granted great strength. B-T-Dubs (By the way), that great strength comes with killer metal wings and a face tattoo that most employers would frown upon.
One of the things that works out well about Raven’s less involved role, is she is idolized. For the last decade, young mutants have looked to her picture for strength. Mutants such as Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn), who have been waiting for their chance to make a difference. Unfortunately, they end up as horsemen for Apocalypse but only due to his promises of unlocked potential and world made better. Better just happens to be on the bones of those too weak to stop their undoing.
Sadly, there isn’t much to do for a couple of returning characters like Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Havoc. They are there to move a few keys scenes forward but relegated to pawn status. Hank still fawns over Raven, who dismisses his doe eyes while focused on finding and helping Erik. Havoc shows his little brother around the school a bit and joins Professor X on a trip to visit Moira. They do get more time onscreen than The Blob who appears just to show us how strong Angel is.
Apocalypse (the film) really pushes the boundaries of what a PG-13 movie can do. We’re all aware they can say F*$% once, right? They have before. But, the violence shown onscreen is much closer to an R-Rating than expected. From the wide scale damage to the amount of people decapitated, Singer pushed the envelope. The violence always leaves a strong impression without feeling gratuitous, and some scenes are very inventive considering the powers being displayed.
When the film was announced 2014, worldwide destruction was promised and it seemed too good to be true. That promise is kept, “Thank you, Bryan Singer.” It’s such a large film, and it makes any damage done to cities or countries in a previous comic book movie seem inconsequential. Things drag a little towards the end of the second act, but take about four minutes to run to the bathroom when things slow down. Don’t take too long or you’ll miss an old friend. That being said, X-Men: Apocalypse is why people buy popcorn for a movie. It’s a big show, and incredibly fun. Get an Icee too, white cherry if they have it.
White Cherry Icees (who do I see for a check?) make me think of a white-haired hero making a big comeback. DOFP got little right, and Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters) was undoubtedly one of the film’s highlights. This time around, Singer and Kinberg acknowledged the overwhelming cheers and returned a high-five. From his entrance to the film’s closing, Quicksilver is the silver lining (cheesy but true) of our story. He may be the new Wolverine in terms of magnetic presence and his ability to steal every scene. And, while he delivers many laughs, there is time for the character to develop. We see many layers to Quicksilver, and his relationship with Magneto is an interesting side-story.
What Caught My Attention?
- See it in IMAX if possible! The opening title sequence was so well done. The rest of the movie is no slouch either.
- Oscar Isaac, how dare we doubt you one year after Ex Machina?
- So glad Jubilee (Jubilation Lee, sorry that name always made me laugh) didn’t get too much screen time. Though, we may see her sparkle in the next one…
- Decapitations galore, let’s see what didn’t make the final cut!
- Can I get some Mister Sinister please.
- **SLIGHT SPOILER** Our friend at the end of the last trailer brings some strong concerns about going forward with a newer model. That’s something to speculate on in the comments. How do you show me a new one, when our new friends just interacted with the old one?
Even if you don’t agree with how terrible DOFP was, that’s just even better news for you. This film is leagues above DOFP in terms of story, character development, visuals, AND there is some amount of closure. The most exciting part of X-men: Apocalypse is that now we have wrapped up the origin stories and we have our key players back. Presumably the next astonishing adventure will pick up sometime shortly before the first X-men (2000). DOFP reset some things, but in a way, we’re moving toward some events previously attempted. Let’s hope this new team of uncanny heroes get more of this treatment from Singer and Kinberg. And, who would be surprised if a mercenary who just made big bucks showed up for a goof? Express excitement for Apocalypse or defend DOFP in the comments.