Movie Review: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)
I’m not hearing great things about X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016), the latest film in the Marvel X-MEN series, which is too bad, because all things considered, it’s a purdy darn good movie, one well worth the price of a movie ticket.
Let’s turn back the clock a little bit, to 2011, when the X-MEN series was rebooted featuring younger actors in an X-Men origin story, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011). I absolutely loved this movie, and it ranks in my Top 5 List of the best Marvel superhero movies ever made. A big reason for this was the performances by James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto.
The second film in the rebooted series, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) played with time travel and combined cast members from the original series with the cast from X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. A creative idea to be sure, but the film stumbled with its execution, and I was not nuts about this movie.
Now comes X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, the third film in the rebooted series. This time around, we learn that mutants have been in existence since the beginning of time, and one such all-powerfult mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) sets his sights on taking over the world but is betrayed and buried in a pyramid in ancient Egypt.
Jump to the 1980s, twenty years after the events of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, and ten years after the events of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, and Apocalypse escapes from his Egyptian grave and once more sets his sights on taking over the world. His strength is that he can enhance the abilities of others, and so he always assembles four mutants, four horsemen, to be his minions, and he uses them by making their special ablities even stronger. He gathers four mutants, including a young Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and the grand prize, Magneto (Michael Fassbender).
Magneto has been doing his best to blend in with society. He has a wife and a young daughter, and he has given up his powers so he can live in the real world. But things go sour when he is discovered, and his wife and daughter are killed. This leaves Magneto feeling very bitter indeed, and so he is more than willing to join forces with Apocalypse.
Meanwhile, Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) is running his school for gifted mutants, when there is a great disturbance in the force— oops, wrong series. But there is a great disturbance, an energy surge, coming from Apocalypse. When Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) shows up and informs Professor X that Magneto has joined the bad guys again, it’s up to Professor X and his students to save the day.
Except that Apocalypse wants Professor X’s mental abilities for his own, and so he abducts the professor in order to force him to work for him. And so now it’s up to Mystique and the latest and youngest X-Men recruits to save the world by going up against the most powerful mutant in existence, Apocalypse.
This is no small task, which is why the last third of the movie is so exciting.
There are many things to like about X-MEN: APOCALYPSE.
However, when talking about the Marvel superhero series, you have to start with the acting, and that’s because these films have assembled an A-list cast on a regular basis, meaning that when you watch a Marvel superhero movie, you’re pretty much guaranteed A-list caliber acting. The acting in these films is far better than what you would expect in a superhero movie, and the acting in X-MEN: APOCALYPSE is no exception.
Both James McAvoy as Professor X and Michael Fassbender as Magneto are excellent in this movie. They also work extremely well together, and so whenever we are fortunate enough to see them in the same scene, the film is that much better.
In addition to McAvoy and Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence completes the star triumvarate as Mystique. Now, as much as I like Jennifer Lawrence, I’m not nuts about her as Mystique. She has shown so much range in other roles, in films like SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012) and JOY (2015), it’s difficult to accept her in a role where she’s covered in blue make-up. She also plays Mystique like a mutant cousin of Katniss, her character in THE HUNGER GAMES movies. It’s just not my favorite mix.
The rest of the young cast is first-rate.
Nicholas Hoult is very good as Beast, Sophie Turner is mesmerizing as Jean Grey, and Kodi Smit-McPhee who was so memorable as the young boy in the vampire movie LET ME IN (2010) and also in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) is charmingly electric as Nightcrawler.
And as he did in the previous X-MEN movie, Evan Peters provides scene-stealing fun as Quicksilver. Reprising her role from X-MEN: FIRST CLASS Rose Byrne is effective in her return as CIA Agent Moira Mactaggert.
Oscar Isaac makes Apocalypse a formidable villain. A frequent stumbling block in the otherwise pristine Marvel superhero films is their inablity to craft a worthy villain for their heroes. It hasn’t hurt the movies since the Marvel superheroes generally are such an entertaining lot on their own, as they are full of flaws and can’t seem to stop arguing and fighting amongst themselves. Still, a decent villain would only help, and here in X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, Apocalypse is a decent villain, and then some. And you can’t fault his agenda: he just wants to destroy the world, that’s all. Technically, he wants to wipe out everyone on Earth who possesses great power so he can then rule it with ease. Greedy bastard.
Apocalypse is all-powerful, so much so he fathoms himself a god, and his powers are indeed god-like. What this means is that even the combined strength of all the X-Men mutants, even with Professor X and Magneto working together, they can’t stop this guy, which makes for some dramatic cinema. And how they finally do gain the upper hand against this superpowerful villain makes sense and works.
I enjoyed both the direction by Bryan Singer and the screenplay by Simon Kinberg.
Singer is no stranger to the X-MEN universe, having directed the first two films in the series, X-MEN (2000) and X-MEN 2 (2003), and the most recent film in the series, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014). He crafts some powerfully emotional scenes in this one, including the scene where Magneto’s family meets a tragic end. The conclusive battle is also very exciting.
Kinberg’s script strikes a nice balance between witty snappy dialogue and poignant moments, like when Professor X tells Magneto that he is not alone, that he hasn’t lost everybody.
That theme, being alone, is prominent throughout the film, and is what Professor X ultimately uses to set him and his X-Men apart from Apocalypse- the villain is alone, while they are not.
As there are in most of these Marvel superhero movies, there is an additional scene after the end credits, but it’s hardly worth the wait, and so if you’re not in the mood to sit through the credits, don’t bother. You won’t be missing much.
I liked X-MEN: APOCALYPSE a lot. While I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as this year’s DEADPOOL (2016) or CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), it’s still a very good movie, a worthy entry in the Marvel superhero universe.