Way back in 2000, it was Bryan Singer’s X-Men who started the ball rolling on the comic book movie genre as we know it, bringing the mutant team to the silver screen for the first time, albeit in tight leather suits. The explosion of comic book movies that followed owes its popularity to the tentative first steps taken by 20th Century Fox and Singer, but now we find ourselves in 2016, and X-Men has to wrestle for the limelight with a wealth of other comic book franchises, as well as different vying studios. Can the latest addition to the franchise, X-Men: Apocalypse, stand fast against the rapidly rising tide of opposition?
X-Men: Apocalypse, set in the eighties, tells the story of the world’s supposed first mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), as he awakens from thousands of years of slumber to herald a new age of his rule with the help of his four horsemen, Magneto, Angel, Psylocke and Storm (Michael Fassbender, Ben Hardy, Olivia Munn and Alexandra Shipp). It is up to a new generation of X-Men, lead by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Professor X (James McAvoy), to foil his plan and save the world from complete annihilation.
The actual plot of the film takes a long time to properly get going, with the film spending 45 minutes, somewhat haphazardly, setting up the characters that are set to drive the film forward. We witness the burying of Apocalypse in Ancient Egypt before being whisked from character to character, barely giving us enough time to settle in and get to know these new additions to the franchise. X-Men Apocalypse is so desperate to fit in so many different and new characters that we hardly get to spend any time getting to know them. The result is an over long first act of shifting incoherently between four different plot points that don’t feel connected, lacking the focus needed throughout to set up such an ambitious film.
In terms of the new characters that were added to this reboot/prequel hybrid of a franchise, I liked the ones we were given a chance to get to know. Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) all enjoy extended screen time as the new generation of X-Men, with the new cast growing into their roles very well as the film progressed. It is also nice to see Cyclops get some overdue justice after the treatment of his character in the original trilogy that saw him unceremoniously killed off in the abominable X-Men: Last Stand. The rest of the new characters aren’t really given the opportunity to let themselves known to the audience, with the majority of the horseman getting a pittance of screen time, their characters and personal motivations getting criminally simplified or completely thrown out in favour of just looking cool in some Apocalypse custom tailored uniform. Storm, for such an iconic character and member of the X-Men, gets particularly short changed, only given a handful of lines and very limited screen time. There just wasn’t enough runtime to do the film’s amazing characters justice.
The lack of justice for characters also extends to the film’s titular antagonist, with Apocalypse turning out to be all talk and very little action. Oscar Isaac is hidden away under heaps of makeup and prosthetics but he does the best job he can do, delivering long speeches about his disdain for the USA and USSR’s arsenal of weapons, as well as his horror at the ‘weak’ taking control of the world, but he’s just not given much to do. Apocalypse spends much of his time gathering his horsemen and designing their very fancy uniform (I assume anyway), that not enough time is devoted to actually getting down to the barebones of what Apocalypse actually wants. Yeah sure, he wants the world to end, but what does he want to do with it once the ash has cleared? We get a throwaway line about Apocalypse’s own version of natural selection but that needs to be fleshed out more for me to differentiate it from the other thousand times I’ve seen global destruction at the cinema.
The returning cast fare slightly better, with McAvoy having really grown and matured into his role as Professor X as he finds himself at the centre of Apocalypse’s plan, teaching his students to control and overcome their fear of their powers, with a very nice pay off in the film’s final act. It is Michael Fassbender’s Magneto who enjoys the strongest arc of the film, with a tragic yet incredible scene early on setting Magneto on the war path and directly into the open arms of Apocalypse. With some very cool callbacks to First Class and Days of Future Past, Fassbender does an excellent job of grounding the film emotionally, in an otherwise shallow affair. However, it is Quicksilver (Evan Peters) who steals the show yet again. His presence just livens up the film; bringing some much needed humour to proceedings, especially in the small moments that really allow his characterization to flourish. I may have to watch it a couple more time to make an executive decision but Quicksilver’s introduction to the X-Men in Apocalypse may well have topped his phenomenal kitchen sequence from Days of Future Past, song choice and all.
There is a lot of fun to be had with X-Men: Apocalypse as it sets a solid foundation for a slew of X-Men movies to come, but it really misses a beat with its introduction of certain characters, and ultimately doesn’t make it’s villain interesting enough to top the emotional edge that Magneto has carried in the previous two films. Apart from anything involving Quicksilver, the action is fairly standard and rather uninspired for a final act that sees the X-Men fighting for the fate of the world, but seeing the new generation get to grips with their powers, overcome their fears and learn to work together is extremely satisfying to witness. I’m very excited to see where this franchise, and its ever-increasing cast of X-Men, goes next.