“Everything they’ve built will fall! And from the ashes of their world, we’ll build a better one!”
Following up Days of Future Past was never going to be an easy job but if anyone was going to do it right then you’d think it’d be Bryan Singer (director of DoFP, and X-Men 1 and 2). Unfortunately X-Men: Apocalypse never really lives up to it’s brilliant predecessor or even comes close to the high benchmark set by X-Men 2, the best film in the franchise. But despite what a lot of critics are saying, it really isn’t a bad film -in fact it’s actually got quite a few good bits. It’s no Civil War but it’s a damn sight better than Batman V. Superman. It’s incomparable to these though as the X-Men films have always been very much their own thing, the camp and thoughtful brainchild of Bryan Singer. Apocalypse retains a lot of the good things from the franchise but gets bogged down when it tries to compete with other juggernaut franchises. Read on to see why X-Men: Apocalypse might be one of the most divisive films of the year.
The film starts in suitable over the top fashion with a flashback to 3000 BC, showing us the big bad – Apocalypse, here old and decrepit – transferring his consciousness into the much younger and infinitely more handsome Oscar Isaac. Suddenly there’s a coup, and after some silly mechanics Apocalypse’s pyramid is collapsed into the ground and hidden for the next 5000 years. That is until somebody stumbles across his tomb and forgets to shut the door (!) freeing him to wreak havoc upon the earth. The plot is dumb and Apocalypses motivations are dumb, which is especially disappointing as the X-men films usually have pretty decent plots and even better character moments – something missing from most characters in the film. In fact I can’t think of a single character who has an arc in the film, except perhaps Magneto. Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg try to cram so many characters into the film that there’s no room left for them to actually have any sort of development. I suppose Cyclops and Jean getting a rough handle on their powers counts as an ark, but that’s it. It seems Singer is counting on those inevitable sequels for the real character stuff. Luckily though the stuff that is there is pretty good, even the new young X-Men. Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops, Sophie Turner’s Jean, and Kodi Smit-McPhee Nightcrawler are all good as the 80’s versions of their respective characters, and despite the occasional accent wobble from Turner, they’re all probably the best and most faithful versions of these characters in the series.
By this point you know you can’t go wrong with Michael Fassbender’s Magneto and James McAvoy’s Professor X. They turn in predictably great performances even when the actual material struggles to keep pace. Nicholas Hoult is also brilliant once again as Hank McCoy/Beast, although he gets little to do here. Out of all the first class lot it’s only Jennifer Lawerence as Mystique who I think is out staying her welcome. Not only is she, once again, not really the Mystique that comic readers expect she also only turns blue a couple of times. You can’t help but feel she’s fed up with the whole thing. Evan Peter’s returns as Quicksilver and once again steals the show. His scene within the X Mansion set to sound of the brilliantly 80’s Sweet Dreams is awesome -funny, thrilling and very creatively done. And the film even manages to address the question of ‘if he can do all that, why doesn’t he just run up to Apocalypse and take him out’. Speaking of, Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse is getting a bad rap for how hammy and ultimately useless he is but I think he’s pretty good. Sure, he could be more useful but for a film series as camp as this then his hammy performance shouldn’t be called into question. He’s a bright blue guy with a over the top menacing voice, he’s more 90’s cartoon baddie than modern day comic book movie villain and I loved it.
The action this time around is a little more vanilla than DoFP, and is unfortuanalty lacking in the interesting and creative hero team ups of that film. There’s still some good stuff however, and although Bryan Singer’s direction does seem more restrained than normal, there is still some fun stuff happening. One of the best, and the one that I think will outlive the rest of the film, is Wolverine’s breakout at Alkali lake. Wolverine (in full Weapon X get up) cuts through goons in probably one of the most fun and violent scenes in the series – it’s awesome. If this is what they can do in a PG-13, then I can’t wait to see the upcoming R rated Wolverine flick. The third act finale is a little much, resembling the destruction porn of a Roland Emmerich film or the millions high body count of Man of Steel, although X-Men gains points for doing this without resorting to 9/11 imagery. The actual climax is saved by an awesome mind-fight between the Professor and Apocalypse, a nice moment in an otherwise good, but standard comic book movie finale.
The bottom line: Apocalypse isn’t as good as DoFP, or X-Men 2, or First Class, or X-Men 1- but I still would recommend it. The action is frequently good, the characters are great and, well – it’s the X-Men. As someone who grew up with the franchise there’s a lot of fun to be had with Apocalypse, and the trademark camp (lot’s of people running around in black leather etc) is still there. There’s a hell of a lot of problems too, but ultimately the good outweighs the bad and I’d say definitely check out this, especially if you’re an X-Men fan.
Reviewed By Tom