Anticipation: 2.5/5 I didn’t like the trailers. Everything seemed to be pointing to shoddy effects, bad storytelling involving Roland Emmerich-type schlock; the antithesis to Days of Future Past (2014).
Final Verdict: 3.5/5 I have to say X-Men Apocalypse one of the most entertaining X-Men movies to come out; perhaps even my favorite in the franchise after Days of Future Past and X2: X-Men United (2003). There are serious plot issues, but the film seems to be another soft reboot to establish core characters that will be leading the X-Men in future movies. With the exception (no pun intended) of Jennifer Lawrence, the X-Men franchise may be headed in the right direction.
The plot is simply the X-Men unite to stop Apocalypse and his four horsemen from destroying humanity. The remainder of the film is laser fights, mass destruction and casual PG-13, albeit plot justified, murders. The audience never really understands what Apocalypse’s motivations are except that he keeps mentioning that he will “cleanse the Earth” and that “only the strong shall survive.” That makes the antagonist a flat out villain of the week and therefore diminishes any stakes the film pretends to have. Is that a bad thing? Not in the least. X-Men Apocalypse isn’t so much interested in creating a long-lasting villain, but rather setting up the next team of mutants for the future of the franchise.
On the performance side of things, James McAvoy is again wonderful as Charles Xavier. I’m glad he has toned down the temple touching for the times he does use his telepathic powers. Oscar Isaac is fine as Apocalypse. He’s covered in so much makeup and with the post-production voice alterations, it’s a wonder why the casting director didn’t simply use someone that isn’t as A-list as Isaac. Jennifer Lawrence is fine as well and I don’t think she’s phoning it in, but I don’t like that Mystique is leading the X-Men, so I refuse to spend any time reviewing her character. I want her out of the series as much as she wants out and I’ll leave it at that. There is another character that didn’t need to be in the film at all. All his presence does is underline how insecure the filmmakers are moving forward with the franchise without him. The scene he’s in is jarring and would’ve been better in the hands of a director like Sam Raimi (watch the Dr. Octopus scene in Spider-Man 2. That’s how you shoot a berserker rage scene). Of the newcomers to the franchise, Sophie Turner, Kodie Smit-McPhee, and Alexandra Shipp are all perfectly cast as Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, and Storm, respectively, but the standout is Tye Sheridan as Cyclops. I really enjoyed how Cyclops was written this time around. He came unto his own and really started showing signs of the leader he can become in the future. Sheridan made wise decisions in how to portray his character, cocky at times, but vulnerable and calculated in others. I’m looking forward to seeing how Cyclops develops from this installment on because he may finally get the respect he deserves a character in the X-Men universe.
Which brings us to Michael Fassbender. As Magneto, Fassbender has always been a stellar casting choice for this new iteration of the X-Men and he truly shines in Apocalypse, when he’s given something to do… Magneto’s character arc is poignant through the first two acts, but Singer drops the ball in the third act when he chooses to have Magneto hover in one place, pulling infinite amounts of metal from the Earth, I guess to change the Earth’s axis? It’s weight distribution? To simply destroy everything man made? Right… it’s called Apocalypse, so to destroy the world… Magneto’s arc could have been much better had the divide between him and Charles been explored through the character of Apocalypse. In X-Men First Class, rather than continue to fuel his want for revenge, Magneto worked with Charles to harness the pain he felt into a more constructive source of power, emphasizing that the separation between Magneto and Charles isn’t personal, but rather ideological. I always thought that these iterations of the characters were loosely based on Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.; Magneto embodying Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary” approach and Charles channeling the pacifist approach of Martin Luther King Jr. Both, X-Men First Class and Days of Future Past tour that aspect quite well, but Apocalypse, much to my discontent, chucks it out the door. By making Magneto’s journey through the film personal (read tragic), the filmmakers sadly turn his ideologies into mere selfishness and that sets the character back to where he was at the beginning of X-Men First Class. They even have Apocalypse go through a similar learning process Magneto shared with Charles. Apocalypse has Magneto discover his true power by instead harnessing his pain for destruction? Really? Is that the best you could come up with? You’re reducing Magneto to puppet status. A man who’s lived through WWII, been in Concentration Camps, witnessed mass genocide, who has struggled hard to reform himself with the help of a friend who empathizes with him although doesn’t share his ideology, isn’t someone you have commit mass genocide because of something personal. You simply don’t do that with a character as thematically rich as Magneto. The filmmakers’ choice of dodging the nuance they built into Magneto over the course of the series is very counterproductive and quite stupid. But, Fassbender made it compelling to watch in the first two acts.
On the positive side, I’m happy to say that they’ve finally gotten the X-Men right. The new team feels as though it were ripped directly from the comics. There’s a shot in the film where our heroes, Cyclops, Jean, Nightcrawler, Storm, Quicksilver are lined up one next the other and no one feels out of place (again except Mystique). I loved how the characters held their own and how they didn’t have to play off some other character to create tension or relatability, ie: Wolverine and Scott in the first three X-Men movies and their love triangle with Jean; Nightcrawler and Mystique for simply being blue. I also appreciated that the “mutant factor” isn’t much of an issue in X-Men Apocalypse. Sure it’s explored in Magneto’s arc, but the argument isn’t so much that he’s a mutant, but rather that he’s Magneto, a very dangerous wanted man that’s been in hiding. Other than that, the “mutant factor” is touched upon here and there and the film does highlight the differences between mutants and humans, but it isn’t a central motivation as it is in the other films. Instead, the audience gets to spend time with the X-Men, learning about them and what makes them unique, rather than looking from the outside and simply seeing what makes them different. After 16 years, it is a welcome breath of fresh air to let the fantasy of X-Men be at the forefront of the narrative rather than the harsh realities of how humanity would react to the presence of mutants.
There are very apparent shortcomings in X-Men Apocalypse, and even if it takes a little time to get going, it delivers as an action movie. It may not know what it wants to say, but it does define key characters for the future of the franchise. X-Men Apocalypse is the most comic book-y of comic book movies and I cannot fault it for being so. It’s one of the best dumb movies I’ve seen this year, I’m optimistic for the future and recommend seeing it. Now, I implore you, make a Magneto film.
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