Fox’s X-Men series has been an interesting exercise in franchise development. We had an initial trilogy–X-Men, X-2: X-Men United, and X-Men: The Last Stand*— whose first two entries were good but whose final entry was ill-received; and a few solo movies (two about Wolverine and one about Deadpool), and two period-piece films–X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past— which were terrific in their send ups of the decades of the 60 and 70s and, in the latter film’s case, how it employed time travel as an alternative to rebooting in order to reset continuity. The structure of this series is weird in that it’s not a linear string of episodes, but also not quite a real shared universe. It is its own weird collection of stories. Now comes X-Men: Apocalypse (essentially the cap on a second trilogy), a decently entertaining film that, in my opinion, does not deserve the hate it’s getting.
In case anybody didn’t see or doesn’t remember the ending of the excellent X-Men: Days of Future Past, by time-traveling from a not-too-distant-future back to the 1970s, the X-Men managed to change the series timeline, meaning X-Men, X-2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and The Wolverine, never happened; meaning that we can sail into unknown territory with this movie without having to go too far into the future.
As such, X-Men: Apocalypse is another period-piece film, this time taking place in the 1980s. And what of the plot? Well, it turns out that Apocalypse, a seemingly all powerful mutant from ancient Egypt who was trapped inside a tomb for thousands of years, has now woken up to reek havoc on the world anew; and it’s up to the X-Men to stop him. It’s a pretty standard type of plot for movies like this, and nothing too awesome or surprising happens to push it over the edge into amazing territory, but I think it works okay. The action is acceptable, if not too remarkable, and the 80s ambience–fashion, music, and general pop culture– is fun to see, though less iconic than the 60s and 70s revisits we saw in the previous films of this trilogy.
What really sells this picture, though, are the characters, both returning and new. I have really come to love James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto. They have grown into those roles perfectly. In Magneto’s case, the arc the filmmakers crafted for him is somewhat unexpected but certainly very emotional and fitting for so tragic a character. We see the return of Nicholas Hoult’s Beast and Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique/Raven. I really like what they’ve done with Mystique in this second trilogy. She’s a more complicated, proactive, interesting, and pivotal character then she was in the original movies; and I enjoy the way Lawrence plays her. I think she’s better here (more emotive, seems to care more) than she is in the Hunger Games movies.
We also see the return of Quicksilver, whose unique ability to speed through time arguably made him the breakout character of Days of Future Past. He gets some very fun moments in this movie as well, and I’d really like to see this character get his own solo feature. Speaking of solo films, though he’s only briefly in this movie, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine gets a pretty badass scene helping out some of the other X-Men; and I suspect this will lead into the upcoming third Wolverine solo picture next year.
Next we have some new characters to talk about. For starters, we see younger versions of the likes of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, and Storm. Okay, technically these aren’t new characters, but they’re new for the reset continuity of this series. They’re just kids here, but they’re promising, and I want to see them grow in coming movies. That goes especially for Jean Grey–we get some nice foreshadowing of her Phoenix powers in this movie, which will hopefully, in a future film, be shown off much better than they were in X-Men: The Last Stand. Other new characters also include Angel (who is so different from how we was in X-Men: The Last Stand that I’m calling him new here) and Psylocke, who doesn’t get to do or say a whole lot, but whose ability to create laser swords and laser whips out of thin air is definitely one of the cooler powers of any mutant.
And lastly there’s Apocalypse himself. Played under heavy makeup by Force Awakens rogue Oscar Isaac, I found him to be appropriately menacing. He’s strong but crafty, and the way he convinces some people to follow him through legitimate offers of power early on feels surprisingly genuine. True, he does look like Ivan Ooze (for those of you who know what I’m referring to), but I think it’s fittingly bizarre. To some extent, the filmmakers were trying to sell the grotesque uniqueness of this mutant amongst others, and I would argue that they succeeded.
Clearly, there are a lot of characters in this. I guess the movie is somewhat crowded in that regard, but I never thought it was too bad or that it detracted too much from the plot. Each character gets their time to shine, threads are followed through to appropriate ends, and, in general, it works alright. I know some people are accusing this movie of being oversaturated; clearly, there’s much going on in this film, to be sure, and a few character moments could have used some more time, but for the most part, the various plot points in this movie all coalesce towards a satisfying conclusion; and so I would argue that the story flows okay. Is it a little overstuffed? I guess, but I assure you, I’ve seen way worse from superhero movies in that regard this year.
A more valid complaint towards this film, in my opinion, is that, as I mentioned earlier, there’s no truly over the top or amazing moments in this film. It’s all good, but nothing that, for lack of a better phrase, truly blows ones mind in the way, say, the finale of The Avengers did back in 2012 or the opening of Man of Steel did in 2013. For some superhero films that’s okay; but for this one, which caps off a well-regarded trilogy and is about the end of the world at the hands of an all powerful mutant; it doesn’t give us any truly epic, monumental moments, and I think that is a problem for this movie.
That issue aside, this flick is okay, above-average, even. I’m actually a little surprised and saddened to see that Apocalypse has been getting reviewed so negatively in some circles; and, while still a financial success, it has performed somewhat below expectations. Clearly, many people have more of a problem with this movie than I do. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all, I guess. For the record, despite the lackluster reception of this movie, I don’t think it’ll be a franchise killer. In addition to the upcoming Wolverine film, I think we will get at least one or two more straight up X-Men pictures, and I look forward to seeing them whenever they come out, particularly if they follow through with the Phoenix plot they hinted at in Apocalypse. It would be nice to see that done right in filmic fashion.
Even if this were the last normal X-Men film though, I guess I’d be okay with that. We have gotten an overall decent series (nine films with a tenth one to come next year) out of this (most of the entries are at least entertaining). And for what it’s worth, X-Men: Apocalypse does manage to put a decent cap on everything. The ending of the film finally sets up the X-Men the way we like to see them, while some of the final lines echo back to the original X-Men film in 2000, which is a nice touch and brings everything full circle. As I said, I don’t think this will be the last time we see the X-Men, but there’s certainly worse films to end a series on than this.
And really X-Men: Apocalypse is a good film, so you should see it.
Lastly, as a final thought, praise to the person who put together the soundtrack for this movie. Being set in the 1980s, it contains much music contemporary for that time period. In addition to classics like the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” somebody also saw fit to stick in the thrash metal band Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen,” and the obscure proto-black metal band Venom’s “Countess Bathory,” into this movie, and that is absolutely awesome. You can’t hate a film too much when it’s that bold about what tunes it will share with mainstream audiences.
*A better title for that film would have been X-Men 3: Kill ‘Em All.