Early reviews from the US for the latest entry in Bryans Singer’s long-running mutant saga have been absolutely scathing but is X-Men: Apocalypse really the cinematic catastrophe it’s being made out to be?
In a year that’s already given us the big screen adventures of Batman V Superman and Captain America Civil War, such films are not only accepted but highly successful. It can be hard to remember just how much the current crop of superhero movies owe their success to 2000’s X-Men movie (and of course, Wesley Snipes in Blade, two years prior).
Bryan Singer’s X-Men went out of its way to avoid what had, by then, become laughable comic book trappings, jettisoning the goofy outfits for relatively functional leather and taking a far more serious tone than say, Batman & Robin. So considering that there are now children old enough to see X-Men: Apocalypse in theatres who weren’t born when the first movie came out, it’s something of a surprise just how much more in line with the comics the franchise has become.
In the third of the rough trilogy formed by Matthew Vaughn’s reinvigoration of the franchise, X-Men: First Class, and Singer’s continuity tidying X-Men: Days of Future Past, there is no X-Men team to begin with. In the decade since the events of the last movie mutants and humans have been living together in an uneasy peace. Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Children is finally in full operation, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique travels the world helping persecuted mutants wherever she can and Magneto is living a simple life in hiding.
Welcome to the 80’s
This all comes to an end with the awakening of En Sabah Nur, who’s never explicitly referred to as “Apocalypse” in the film, possibly the first mutant who wants to wipe the earth clean of man and his weapons, laws and “systems” for a fresh start. It’s never really addressed why he wants to do this, apart from him seeing everyone as weak and he wants only the strongest to survive but it’s merely a shadow of the driving force behind his comic book counterpart.
Add to this the introduction of new versions of old mutants like Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Storm, and a version of Angel, as well as catching up with the rest of the surviving alumni from First Class like Beast and Havok, even at 2 and a half hours you have a pretty packed film.
While it does suffer from a slow beginning that will have non X-fans scratching their heads, X-Men Apocalypse soon settles into a rhythm of checking in with each of its group’s heroes and villains as they slowly coalesce into their respective teams; Xavier with his new X-Men and Apocalypse with his Four Horsemen.
New Faces, Familiar Mutants
Unlike Civil War, X-Men can’t rely on other movies to establish these characters and just build a standalone story around them; it’s got to do all the heavy lifting itself as well as try and tell an engaging story, which can end up leaving some characters feeling a little lightweight. The main trio of McEvoy, Lawrence and Fassbender, having had plenty of exposure in the other films, feel fully rounded and of the newcomers Sophie Turner’s take on Jean Grey fares best, with Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler getting some funny moments. Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops, however, is hampered by some truly humungous shades that make it difficult to like him.
Evan Peters returning Quicksilver gets some of the best moments, including a stand-out action sequence that harkens back to his big scene from Days of Future Past that beautifully and humorously shows off his super speed. Despite publicity material indicating that fan-favourite Jubilee would finally get some decent screen time, Lana Condor is reduced to little more than a cameo. More material may come to light in a later director’s cuts however as the Easter egg tweeted about by Sophie Turner never appears in the actual film.
— Sophie Turner (@SophieT) April 29, 2016
As for the “Big Bad”himself, Oscar Isaac deserves better, his charisma and talent are buried under thankless make-up and an annoying modulated voice that kicks in at moments of high drama. Much of his role is relegated to a “fetch quest” as he assembles his team of Horsemen (and women) from around the world, although annoyingly he never names them as such. Angel never even bears the moniker of “Death” which would have been a nice tie-in to the comics.
En Sabah Nur’s motivations are pretty muddy as well. He doesn’t quite like what the world has become in his absence and wanted to build a better one but that’s all there is to him.
References to Future Past
There are still plenty of moments to enjoy however from cameos from certain other well-known X-characters to shout outs to the comics and set-ups for future movies that reference much loved classic comic tales and there’s plenty of humour from the cast as they react to the weirdness of each others lives. Singer handles action well although an over-reliance on CGI for the climax may leave audiences cold. Fans may also rankle at Scott Summer’s concussive eye beams setting fire to a tree but for the most part, everyone’s mutant abilities are well realised.
As much as Bryan Singer slavish homaged Richard Donner’s Superman in Superman Returns, at times here, he seems to homage himself. There’s some in-jokes aimed at the X-Men series as a whole (particularly Brett Ratner’s much derided third entry in the main series) but what could seem like self-indulgent twaddle in lesser hands comes off as light-hearted ribbing here.
X-Men: Apocalaypse is a fine entry in the series that may not scale the heights of Marvel Studio’s output, or even Fox’s Deadpool team, but like most of the X-Men movies before, it’s an enjoyable Summer style blockbuster.
X-Men: Apocalypse will be released in Malaysian cinemas on 19th May 2016
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Lucas Till, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, Lana Condor.
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Official Site here.