REVIEW: X-Men: Apocalypse
James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, Oscar Isaac
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…a blockbuster with heart, soul, and brains.
Continuing the current trend of stacked-to-the-top superhero movies jam-packed full of characters and driven by snaking, complex narratives, X-Men: Apocalypse is an even bigger affair than the series’ previous entry, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, which incorporated time travel and ingeniously melded the two strands of the X-Men franchise. Topping that massive but finely calibrated epic would be a big ask, and while director, Bryan Singer, doesn’t quite get there with X-Men: Apocalypse, he does deliver another fine chapter in the continuing X-Men saga, achieving the same mix of action, character, social comment, and mythology that has made these superhero movies so popular…and so good.
Set in the eighties – several years after the cataclysmic events of X-Men: Days Of Future Past revealed the existence of super-powered mutants to the world at large – X-Men: Apocalypse kicks off with Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) seemingly at peace at his School For Gifted Youngsters…but don’t worry, trouble is brewing. The hugely powerful Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is hiding out in Poland; Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is more conflicted than ever; Quicksilver (Evan Peters) wants to connect with his absentee father – the aforementioned Magneto; and a group of young mutants (Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops, and Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler) are coming to terms with their burgeoning powers. Oh, and another thing: the world’s first mutant – the all-powerful Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) – has awoken from a centuries-long sleep, and he’s not happy. In fact, he’s so unhappy that he wants to destroy the entire world, and then rebuild it from the ground up.
Yes, there’s a lot going on here, but Bryan Singer’s control of the narrative never wavers. The audience always knows who the characters are, what their motivations are, and why they are where they are. That may sound simple and obvious, but it’s a tenet that many character-heavy blockbusters miss, often partially, and sometimes absolutely. All of the characters have a grounding emotional and narrative arc (some more substantial than others, obviously), and the story intelligently builds upon the many possibilities established in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. There are moments of finely placed humour (Evan Peters steals his scenes again as the cocky Quicksilver), while the coming-of-age antics of Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler offer a lot in the way of relatability and charm. The eighties are referenced amusingly too: check out Professor Xavier’s Sonny Crockett-style get-up, some great music cues, and a cool cameo from one of The Breakfast Club. But the much touted reference to eighties kitsch icon, Dazzler – Marvel’s mutant pop star of the era – has ended up on the cutting room floor…booooo! Visually, the film is also one of the most comic book-faithful yet of all the superhero movies. The fearsome, admittedly cartoonish Apocalypse looks as if he’s jumped right off the page, while his fearsome sidekick, Psylocke (Olivia Munn), sports the most fetishised, sexualised, and, well, risqué, costume of any female superhero yet.
The real core of the film, however, remains the noble, decent Xavier’s fight for the souls and minds of both Magneto and Mystique, who constantly teeter on the line between good and evil. The performances of McAvoy, Fassbender, and Lawrence (and, in fact, the cast as a whole) are all excellent, and – in what must be one of the most talky, intellectually involved superhero flicks yet – given plenty of room to move in a number of emotionally charged scenes. And, as hinted in the film’s trailer, there is another essential ingredient of the X-Men universe here too: Hugh Jackman does indeed make a brief – but very, very good – cameo as Wolverine in a scene that will be a real thrill for comic book die-hards.
Tonally spot-on despite mixing the heavy with the light, and a sliver of goofiness with a real cerebral bent, X-Men: Apocalypse is just like all of the previous best entries in the X-Men series: a blockbuster with heart, soul, and brains.