My mind had accepted I’d not be seing X-Men: Apocalypse in theaters. I hadn’t seen X-Men: First Class, or X-Men: Days of Future Past in theaters, and I usually see comic book movies in theaters. Go big or go home. Ultimately, I enjoyed both, even if I may have seen Days of Future Past on a bootlegged copy (can’t be sure). 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand had just left such a bad taste in my mouth I had transcended seeing X-Men movies in the theater. I’m glad that fate had other plans for me and that I saw Apocalypse on the big screen, lounging in a plush recliner, eating zero popcorn, for I am adhering to a diet that allows coffee and water as the go to accouterments for moviegoing experiences. That was about the only downside to the experience: X-Men Apocalypse is a visual and auditory feast.
Director: Bryan Singer
Release Date: May 27, 2016
The events of Apocalypse take place ten years after the events of Future Past (the Past part), but the film begins in 3600 BCE in a beautifully imagined and designed reconstruction of ancient Egypt. How can events 5,600 years in the past possibly be releveant? We are dealing with an X-Men movie, after all, and that means mutants, and in this case it means a mutant who has found immortality. The scene, accentuated by a brilliant soundtrack, sets up the rise of this immortal all-powerful mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) as the main antagonist to do battle with our intrepid X-Men in the future (present, or, 1983).
Cue up the eighties, captured in appropriate homage whenever possible, accentuated by the long hair and clothing that defined the decade (maybe even more now in nostalgia than in reality). The movie weaves three-lines together: there’s the assembling of the new X-Men at Xavier’s School for the Gifted (now just students with extraordinary abilities, no longer warriors); there’s Apocalypse’s quest to find his “four horsemen,” disciples who protect him with their ultimate powers; and then there’s X-Men cornerstone, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and her pursuit of mutant freedom and equal rights.
Of course, Mystique’s course aims her back towards the X-Men as two revelations happen almost concurrently. First, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has emerged from isolation after 10 years. He’d been living the good life of working in a smelting factory, having a wife, and daughter, and generally keeping his head down while avoiding anything mutant and confrontations. You think he’s learned from the last two films. You would be wrong. When things go wrong in his life, he goes wrong and is back to his usual hijinks. Secondly, in trying to locate Magneto, Professor Xavier and Mystique inadvertently locate Apocalypse and discover that his aim is his namesake: the end of the world as we know it. Or the end of the world for humans and the rise of mutants. Of course Magneto would be drawn to this message!
Ultimately, the X-Men, reformed, do battle with Apocalypse and his horsemen; choices are made and shit gets real. No spoilers here: I want you to see this movie. I don’t think it’s getting the fanfare it deserves. It’s not quite at the level of Captain America: Civil War, but it’s close, and I would argue that visually, its more stunning. Meticulous attention was paid to every detail and it shows. There were only one or two moments when I found the effects to be less than flawless, and that may have only been a reflection of my having seen it in 3D, which coincidentally, the film looks great in.
The cast has expanded to include Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) as Jean Grey, Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler, Ben hardy as Angel (Archangel), Alexandra Shipp as Storm, and Olivia Munn as Psylocke. Nightcrawler and Angel and Storm far surpass earlier iterations of the characters, a benefit of taking the characters to their pasts where young talent can take the place of established names—it works and it works well. I’ve never been a fan of minimalizing the talent pool in Hollywood so that the same three dozen actors star in and voice every character in live and animated work and for a director and studio to embrace new talent that embodies a well-defined character role is refreshing. Shipp and Munn, in particular, kill it. While the scale of the movie demands limited attention to their roles as established characters and plot demand more screen time, they maximized their impact with what they were given. Purely, brilliant casting.
And while on that topic, let’s give credence to Michael Fassbender. When we first see him, gone is the arrogance of Magneto from earlier appearances. He owns the family man as he has owned the villain. The character is prone to irrational reversals of opinion precipitated by the slightest of urgings from someone else, but Fassbender does what he must with the absurdity and owns all moments.
Evan Peters is back as Quicksilver, who fans know as Magneto’s son, and who finally embraces this fact in this movie. He seems to exist to allow action sequences that are beautiful and fun to watch unfold on screen, but that serve no true purpose other than to fill quotas and screen time. It’d be nice if he were given more true purpose, though his expanded role since the last film was appreciated.
Also back are James McAvoy as Professor X, Nicholas Hoult as Beast, and Lawrence, who are all adequate, if not replicas of their own earlier turns. McAvoy does finally own the role that Patrick Stewart perfected in the original trilogy when he shaves his head—the sign that all true movie stars have reached the pinnacle of their acting careers. An actor’s hair is their livelihood, after all.
Finally, let’s give a round of applause to Bryan Singer for staying at the helm after returning for Days of Future Past. Singer bore the comic book movie into the modern era with 2000’s X-Men, before even Spidey crushed box office numbers with 2002’s Spider-man. He then made it great with X2: X-Men United. And lastly, he abandoned it to lesser talent (sorry Ratner) with The Last Stand (thankfully it turned out to be only one of many stands as the new films saved the franchise by restarting it). These last two X-Men movies have been real spectacles, but also fully enjoyable rides. It’s great to have him back at the helm.
This movie is by and large more violent than past X-Men movies. Perhaps Deadpool finally paved the way for comic book movies to mirror the comics they sprung from. But it works. When they pull it back and swords never pierce another person, you become incredulous, and really, I was only incredulous at one point (we’ll get there in a moment).
Apocalypse really, really likes pyramids. I get that he had one 5,600 years ago. Architecture still had a ways to go, as did technology, but why build another now when he has absorbed all human (and mutant) knowledge? Well, they broke his old one and now he’s gonna get himself a new one anyhow and you can’t stop him, na-na-na-na!
There’s a great cameo from another staple, and he too proved, like Singer in the director’s seat, that he owns this role.
Stay tuned to the very end of the credits for a hidden scene, for true comic fans, it’s worth the wait (as the credits are not short … all these effects take a lot of collaboration!).
As Singer has taken ownership of the franchise again, and as events of the new trilogy are approaching events of the own, he is able to pay homage to his own work and begin to make the worlds mirror each other. We’re heading for something good here, folks.
Finally, for the incredulous, and it is one of my only qualms, if you can call it that even as I was pretty busy enjoying myself: why, if Apocalypse augments the powers of his horsemen by amplifying them with his own does only Magneto get crazy out of this world powers. I mean, he can now pull all of the metal around the entire planet, at the same time, while Angel gets shiny wings, and the two women get fancy bikinis. I found this odd, unless Apocalypse just likes having chicks in bikinis around him—they could have set that up in the Egypt scene with some great bikini hieroglyphics on the pyramid walls. Magneto’s powers were almost too unbelievable, even for the realm. And that’s a problem, but it was one of the only ones I saw, and that’s a big win.