Twentieth Century Fox’s summer blockbuster, “X-Men: Apocalypse,” is the newest film in the X-Men film franchise. The X-Men films have ranged from abominable to brilliant, with this film resolving somewhere in the middle. Although at times clunky and a bit unfocused, “X-Men: Apocalypse” stands as a fun film with a few great character moments.
Coming off the heels of the financially and critically successful “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “X-Men: Apocalypse” takes place 10 years after its successor, seeing the X-Men all in a better place than they were at the end of the previous film.
Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has finally gotten his school running, while Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has settled down and is living a quiet and humble life in Poland with his new family. The only main character who hasn’t found some sort of peace is Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who has been spending her time tracking down and freeing mutants who are being persecuted by their non-mutant counterparts.
A scene takes place at the beginning of the film, in ancient Egypt, depicts the origin of En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the first-ever mutant. He is able to pass his consciousness from person to person and through that process has accumulated a vast amount of mutant powers. A coup eventually leads to Apocalypse being trapped in a tomb unconscious for thousands of years.
In the present, Apocalypse is awoken and begins to recruit four mutant followers. He convinces Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy) and a recently grief-stricken Magneto to join his efforts. His cause: to destroy our world and create it anew. The X-Men are assembled to stop Apocalypse and his four horsemen.
At its core, “X-Men Apocalypse” works as a superhero story. It has all of the elements that make a decent superhero film: large stakes, a powerful villain and a protagonist force that is able to contend with the stakes and the power of the villain. What makes this film less than the two films that came before it, “X-Men: First Class” and “X:-Men: Days of Future Past,” is that it seems to forget what the core of the X-Men is: a civil rights struggle.
Lost in this film is the sweeping dialogue of the struggle of those different in society. The last two films wore the history and the narrative of the X-Men comics on their sleeves, never forgetting what their true meaning was.
This film does have a few pointed criticisms about how we handle race and sexual orientation in this country, namely a quote from Mystique that says it’s hard for people to see that prejudice exists because those who commit persecution are polite in public, but the film quickly abandons that narrative in order to tell a story that is large in scope.
Is the story that director Bryan Singer presents a bad one? No, but it isn’t the best story they could tell either. At moments it feels as if the narrative doesn’t acknowledge the meaning and resolution that the last two films left us with. That’s a shame, considering how great those two films really are. The touchstone of X-Men is acceptance of self and acceptance of those different from oneself, and while those themes are hinted at, it never really feels like the characters (or the story they live within) actually believe it.
I don’t want to sound as if all of this film is bad. It’s not. It is much better than a few other super hero films that have been released recently. The problem is that this film tries to be something that it isn’t, and that makes the film feel a little less inspired than it should be.
All of that said, some truly great moments in this film are the Quicksilver scenes and the character arc Magneto goes through. Sometimes lightning really does strike twice, because the slow-motion scene involving Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is worth the price of admission itself. It completely lives and breathes the 1980s feel all while mixing in high-tension danger and raucous comedy.
Fox’s version of Quicksilver might just be the most lovable character in any comic book film or franchise. The audience gets a sense of his character growth from the last film but with all of the changes he’s gone through, he is still very much the same. Quicksilver himself notes how much his situation has stayed the same in the last 10 years, and it only presents this character as honest, relatable and endearing.
Magneto’s arc through the film is the real heart of the story. It shows a man who has honestly tried to be the good man everyone believes he can be, but he finds it is much tougher to do, especially when faced with tragedy. It is really the combination of Magneto’s pain and Quicksilver’s charm that elevates the quality of the film, and it is appropriate and ironic for that to be the case given the relationship between the two characters.
As for actual negative qualities about the film, it feels as if this story is trying harder to set up the next film than to stand on its own. That leads to a few pacing issues, with the action of the film a bit misplaced at times. We’ve seen this before with other films released this year and when the setup of the next film begins to outweigh the narrative of the current one, it makes for a less enjoyable experience.
This film feels as if it contains about 30 percent of setup for future films and while the new cast that will be filling the roles in those films are great and are actually highlights of this film, I’d rather they showcase their abilities now than be shown a promise of what they will become.
Also, the concept of time in this film feels a little off. “X-Men: First Class” took place in 1962, and “Days of Future Past” occurs in 1973, while this film is set in 1983. The problem is that the film uses the same core of cast and their respective characters from the previous two films: Xavier, Magneto, Mystique, and MacTaggart.
None of the characters look as if they’ve aged 21 years, and the only character who doesn’t need to look older would be Mystique, considering her mutant abilities. Professor X and MacTaggart should be in their early- to mid-40s, while Magneto should be pushing 50 years of age. None of them look as old as they should be. It’s a small detail, but it does challenge my willing suspension of disbelief at times.
The last negative point is that sometimes the visual effects look laughable. That is to say that for a film franchise of this size, scope and financial prowess, it feels as if the visual effects team phoned in some of their work. The effects should look better than they do, and I’ve seen better from films with drastically lower budgets. It gets fairly noticeable at times, but most of the effects are solid.
“X-Men: Apocalypse” is a fun film that has its faults. The core of its story is good, but it at times forgets what makes X-Men one of the greatest comic book franchises in history. In the middle of telling a giant story with a powerful villain, “X-Men: Apocalypse” forgets to take a reflective look at our society. Because of that, the story feels a bit foreign to the franchise, even though it is ultimately worth a watch.
I give “X-Men: Apocalypse” a 7.5 out of 10.