Once again it’s time to check in with everyone’s favorite mutants: The X-Men, now in their ninth installment in the franchise with X-Men: Apocalypse. This time around we travel to the 1980s where the Egyptian god-like being En Sabah Nur, also known as Apocalypse, is resurrected and tries to take over the world and mold it in his image. Along with his four horsemen, he goes up against a new crop of X-Men mixed with our older crew from the past few films. What could have been a mess, and there are moments that are, turned out to be a rather fun X-Men flick and a worthy part of their franchise as a whole.
Going to put this on front street: I’m not a Bryan Singer fan. In fact, I think he’s an awful director. He’s passable at best. He brings nothing creative to the table and has been riding his Usual Suspects coattails for far too long. He manages to align himself with wonderful writers and talented cinematographers. So when he was brought back to the X-Men franchise I was not excited. Now he has managed to “direct” four X-Men movies. And I’ll never take that away from him; he was part of the group that began the comic book movie craze, and for that I would thank him. But I feel he has said all he has to say with the X-Men. It’s time to move on to messing up other properties. Time to bring in new directors, more creative and accomplished people who can do something special with the new wave of X-Men movies.
In saying all that, which I do truly believe, X-Men: Apocalypse does manage to have some great filmmakers moments, which I assume are due to good producers and the work of the wonderful cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel. Singer may be learning because this movie has some creativity to it, albeit way too late in the game for him as a director, but it’s nice to see nevertheless. So besides terrible direction, the movie manages to be mutant crazy fun with some amazing X-Men moments, which really do carry you though the movie more than plot and story.
The movie brings us to 1983, where Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is awakened when Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) discovers a cult worshipping him. Believing humanity has lost its way without his presence to lead them, Sabah Nur decides to destroy the world and remake it in his image. He starts recruiting new Horsemen: Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) Angel (Ben Hardy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender).
As the big bad and his horseman start to travel the world gaining power, Xavier (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Havok (Lucas Till), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and new X-Men recruits Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters), all thrown together by the plot, manage to be at the battleground to stop Sabah Nur and fight for humans and mutants alike in a grand fight to end all fights. The two new teams must learn to become one and stop the evil before it’s too late.
Let’s start with what works: The story is decent. Not great, and En Sabah Nur is played a little like an evil Saturday morning cartoon villain rather than giving him real motivation. He works well for the story, but more time spent with him rather than with other useless characters would have been better. But Oscar Isaac is so good you don’t mind much. Unfortunately he is very little the Apocalypse character we know from the comics. He is a movie version with some hints of the character we know and love. But overall he is a good villain, even if he doesn’t seem to have a purpose other than to be evil for evil’s sake.
Another shinning moment is the new X-Men: Jean Grey, Cyclops and Storm. Each brings a new quality to the roles we know. Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers brings merits we’ve come to expect and adds some more depth that was never there before. Same with Alexandra Shipp as Storm. She is new and wonderful in the role. As I’m someone who believes we’ve never seen a good Storm, it was nice to see an actress take the role and make it hers, but keeping to the character we love.
But who blew my mind was Sophie Turner. She is wonderful and really is talented. It’s wonderful we get to see Turner at the start of a career in the making. She brings a wise old soul value to the role of Jean Grey that really was never there before. No shade towards Famke Janssen, but after four appearances as Jean I still never felt she understood what she was doing. But here we get a little more time and effort to giving Jean Grey motivation and we’re given some wonderful scenes with her.
The returning actors McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Hoult and Byrne are all still amazing. Not much really left to say about them. After three movies they know these characters inside and out and it really shows. Fassbender is still the best of them all in the role of Magneto. He’s so damn good. And in this movie he gets all the scene stealing moments, a few too many it could be said. It’s clear the filmmakers like Magneto more than the X-Men and the villains. So much time and character development is given to Fassbender, which he plays amazingly. But he is part of an ensemble, and sometime it doesn’t feel like that.
Now the negative: Angel and Psylocke, two amazing X-Men in the comics, are wasted here, each having nothing to do. Psylocke (Olivia Munn) has more to do than Angel, but barely. They seem forced in, just there to fill two of the horseman roles. Their motivation is never really explained and they don’t really bring anything to the plot. But the performances are entertaining at least. Munn is enjoyable as Psylocke, but Angel is such a waste. Especially since in the comics Angel is so connected to the Apocalypse character, which is the only reason he’s in this I’m sure. Someone read a comic once and ran with it. Angel is terrible in the movie. The time they spent on him could have been better spent on another character.
The movie is filled to the brim with mutants. It almost feels like “throw them all at the wall and whoever sticks, we’ll use.” No matter if it makes sense or not. The filmmakers want to give winks and nods to us, the fans, by dropping new characters or jokes here and there. The problem is, these filmmakers aren’t good at it. Marvel seems to understand how to do that better than anyone else right now, so the movie doesn’t feel new. Singer has issues of repeating himself, because it’s safe and it worked once so let’s do it again. An example is the Quicksilver slow-mo scene in Days of Future Past. It’s great, and it worked well for that movie. So Singer does the same scene again here, just bigger. Bigger isn’t always better. The scene in this is good, no doubt about it, but at the core it’s the same thing.
The movie and the X-Men franchise on a whole really relies on Wolverine and Weapon X way too much. The First Class cameo was great, but then to have the same joke in Days of Future Past, and then once more here: we get it. Wolverine is great. But what are we going to do when Jackman leaves for good and we no longer have our good luck charm to fall back on? The filmmakers need to quit reusing old things that work and move on to more creative plots points. We’re on to the formula now.
Over all this new X-Men movie is good, very enjoyable even with all the flaws. What carries the movie are the big X-Men fan favorite moments. And there are lots. They are so wonderful to see on screen in a live action flick that you no longer sweat the small stuff. Watching Fassbender do or say anything is amazing. So is Jean Grey having her Phoenix moment or even Cyclops and Storm giving a nod to that awesome cover of Uncanny X-Men #201. So there is lots to enjoy here. Is it the best X-Men movie? No, but it’s far from the worst.