The X-Men franchise is like candy: it’s not really good for you, but it’s always there when you want it. One of the more unfortunate things that can happen to a movie is for it to receive a deluge of negative reviews weeks prior to its release, and to come out just after the release of one of the biggest superhero films of the year. Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse is a lot better than a lot of these reviews suggest, and I’m not sure I would agree that Apocalypse is the worst of the rebooted trilogy. It’s a fun escape into a familiar world that left the other critics at the screening excited as they exited the theater; the lone complaint I heard was from someone who didn’t care for X-Men anyway. The divide between the demands of Singer’s more successful films and this one are in the attempts to tell a refreshed version of old comic stories, yet the meat and potatoes of the franchise are nonetheless satisfying.
The film starts with an introduction to the villain, the aforementioned Apocalypse (an unrecognizable Oscar Isaac), as he is about to transfer into a new body. Apocalypse is basically a god on Earth, and he’s not one of the nice ones. This ritual is carried out inside of a large pyramid, with numerous guards and disciples surrounding him as the process begins. Suddenly, the guards on the outside walls turn and begin to seal the pyramids, trapping Apocalypse and his minions inside. As it turns out, the ritual’s aim is to make Apocalypse essentially immortal, and he remains buried underground for thousands of years, until the mid-twentieth century, when religious fanatics finally release him from his tomb.
Apocalypse should not have been exhumed, but his powers are awesome. He literally turns people into dust (a trick I know could come in handy). Apocalypse meets a mutant named Ororo Munroe and uses one of his other ridiculous(ly amazing) powers to boost hers into its best self. He’s like Oprah for mutants: “You get better powers! You get better powers!”
Apocalypse takes what works from the previous two films and synthesizes them in a way that is crowd-pleasing, not overwhelming. It treads that fine line between Days of Future Past’s excess and that of Matthew Vaughn’s excellent back to basics approach for X-Men: First Class, the first reboot of the franchise that brought together Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), James McAvoy (Professor Xavier), Nicholas Hoult (Beast), and Michael Fassbender (Magneto). There are a number of nods to Singer’s early X-Men films (including a cage fight, and a lot of other major character and scene spoilers), all of which tie the films together in the overarching X-Men universe. In fact, the most significant aspect of the film for fans of the franchise will certainly be the most emotionally resonant for non-fans, in which the audience learns of Magneto’s life following Days of Future Past. Magneto’s continued story reminds us all of the significance of X-Men as social commentary, and the choices that must be made when a response is necessary.
Though it’s nowhere near as well planned as the Avengers and Defenders within the Marvel Cinematic Universe – with the numerous television shows, comics, and supplementary films – X-Men benefits from not needing individual films for introducing each character: we already know who they all are, and we only need a brief re-introduction to them to know how they become involved with Professor X and Magneto.
In this film, we meet teen-age Jean Grey, Scott Summers (Cyclops), and Kurt Wagner (Nightcrawler), along with a host of other background mutants. Sophie Turner’s Grey is lively in the same way that her Sansa Stark has grown up in the current season of Game of Thrones, and Nightcrawler’s genuine sweetness continues to be appealing. Seeing certain characters like Psylocke on screen is exciting for fans but will do little for the unfamiliar, but the stakes are so high that it’s likely she will be remembered for being Olivia Munn as Psylocke.
Unfortunately, my screening was in 3D, a format I have never cared for, as I feel that it is more often than not just an assault on the eyes. The screen becomes too dark, and the action too much about the spectacle of something popping out rather than the spectacle of The Actual Apocalypse, often adding little to the film. It becomes more about the experience of a 3D film than anticipated immersion. Apocalypse would have been better served without the gimmick.
The last quarter of the film should have been trimmed down to speed up the inevitable, but when it finally gets to its climax, it is certainly worth the wait. There’s a fine line between building suspense and anticipation and dragging the run time: the film is just under 2 ½ hours. Yhough Apocalypse certainly is imperfect, it knows it’s an overblown superhero flick with numerous films preceding it. It doesn’t claim to be a re-invention of the genre so much as it is another chapter in the complicated story.