Bryan Singer gives us another dose of Mutant Mayhem with X-Men: Apocalypse; an entry that tries to be bigger than any X-Men film that we’ve had before.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as sequels are designed to raise the stakes in such a way that the challenge feels different to the one in the previous film. In that regard it succeeds in feeling distinct from the previous outing X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Initially it seems that the purpose of this entry is to reintroduce some of the major characters from the first 3 X-Men movies with younger actors playing them since the previous actors are a little too old to pass for teenagers. We are reintroduced to Scott Summers aka Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Ororo Munroe aka Storm (Alexandra Shipp) who all enter the story in different ways but are instantly recognisable from the beginning.
Telling the origin story of the X-Men as we knew them is a good idea and it was something I wanted to see back when this franchise was starting but it suffers in the execution. A big problem is lack of focus on any specific element of this. Scott finds himself at Xavier’s school because he is unable to control his powers so it would seem logical for him to be the main character of this movie. In terms of the trilogy that started with X-Men: First Class the idea of a fully functional school for mutants is a fairly new one so Scott could be the one to bring us into this world in the same way that Wolverine and Rogue did in the first X-Men film.
Sadly Scott isn’t the main character and neither is anyone else. There are shades of an interesting ensemble developing between the young actors but it doesn’t build organically because it is buried under so many other plot threads. This could easily have been a tightly focused movie about a group of young people learning to be a team. On one level it is but it’s far from the focus and isn’t developed as well as it could.
The young cast does a really good job for the most part. Scott Aka Cyclops isn’t what many people consider to be their favourite X-Men character but Tye Sheridan is really likeable in the role and puts across the smartass teen persona really well. Kodi Smit-McPhee is really fun as Nightcrawler with a playful yet tragic edge to him. It’s a shame the script doesn’t allow much time for exploration of how his appearance makes him feel like an outcast. It’s in there but barely. Alexandra Shipp’s Storm suffers from a huge lack of anything to do as she spends most of the film as a gormless henchman.
Sophie Turner steals the show as Jean Grey. She perfectly portrays a young woman who doesn’t understand what she is capable of while being afraid of it. It’s clear that she hides a lot of power and when that pays off it’s incredibly believable that it could come from her. I would definitely say that her performance transcends the writing.
There are lots of familiar faces as well. James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier is as wise and intelligent as ever while still retaining that youthful touch. He is able to switch from carefree to deadly serious in an instant and is always a joy to watch. Michael Fassbender’s Erik Lensherr aka Magneto gets some really strong material as well and the bond he shares with Xavier comes across really well. He does suffer from some poor story choices in the latter part of the film but Fassbender can always be counted to deliver the goods when he needs to.
Nicholas Hoult returns as Hank McCoy aka Beast and there’s not really a lot to say about him. Hoult does a fine job but the character has fairly little to do other than help out in fight scenes and act as a sounding board for Xavier since he’s one of his few contemporaries.
Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique pleasantly surprised me in the film. In the intervening years since X-Men: Days of Future Past she has become something of a folk hero to troubled Mutants with her reputation to come in and protect them before sending them on their way and moving on. It’s a good fit for her character and brings her into the story in a really organic way. The explanation given for her not spending much time in her natural blue form made sense while tying into one of the themes of humanity being unable to accept Mutants just the way they are. She is comfortable with how she looks but recognises that it’s dangerous to appear like that. It’s subtle and it works well.
With the popularity of Jennifer Lawrence many people feared that this film would focus on her but that definitely isn’t the case. She is a significant part of it but doesn’t overpower the story nor does she carry it on her own. In some ways she gets lost in all of the chaos.
Fan favourite Peter Maximoff aka Quicksilver (Evan Peters) makes his return as well which was inevitable after his brief yet memorable appearance in the previous film. There are two attempts to top the standout slow motion sequence and both of them don’t quite measure up but are entertaining nonetheless. Evan Peters has charisma to burn and fits in well with the rest of they cat, feeling like a suitable fit for the younger characters. He is definitely one of the shining spots of this franchise.
Other characters make a return like Rose Byrne’s Moira McTaggert and Lucas Till’s Alex Summers Aka Havok. They blend into the large cast while having a defined function in the story as well as being representative of characters introduced back in X-Men: First Class. Considering it has been around 20 years across the 3 films the character ageing really doesn’t look all that believable but it’s a small niggle.
The villain of the piece is the titular Apocalypse -also called En Sabah Nur- (Oscar Isaac) and as antagonists go he’s pretty weak. His motivations are cartoonishly ridiculous and the make-up looks really cheap. Instead of looking intimidating as was probably intended I spent most of the time trying to stop myself from laughing. Early images were compared to the Power Rangers villain Ivan Ooze and that’s exactly what comes to mind here. Oscar Isaac is a great actor and he does the best he can but the whole villain package doesn’t come together so his performance isn’t enough to salvage it.
My main issue with him is that he is stupidly powerful and decides to use that power to destroy humanity because he feels that they have messed up. It’s pretty limp and I never felt invested in the mission he was trying to achieve. I mentioned that his motivations are cartoonish and that definitely couldn’t be more accurate in terms of what he was trying to do.
I’ve already mentioned Storm and Magneto as his henchmen who fall flat in terms of character development. Unfortunately the same is true of Archangel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) who provide some impressive visuals but little else.
In terms of the set pieces everything has to be really big and each one has to top the last which gets a bit boring after a while. I found myself zoning out of all the insane carnage before the film would try to top it a few minutes later. Some aspects of the sequences were impressive to look at but they came off feeling really empty after a while. When the power levels are this high and the stakes are off the scale like this it’s really impossible to get invested in it especially when the characters only really contribute to the action with their own over the top power levels. It just becomes a mess of rubble, different coloured lights and loud noises that all blur together until the whole thing finally ends.
There is another set piece that stands out but not in a good way. I won’t spoil what it is -though it was massively hinted at in a recent trailer and has been talked about heavily in interviews- but it felt completely out of place for me. It feels at odds with the rest of the film and only exists to provide empty fan service. I imagine it’ll be a fairly crowd pleasing moment but it really didn’t work for me at all.
In general the experience feels completely misguided as the film struggles with what it’s supposed to be. Is it an origin story for the X-Men characters we know or is it a test for the characters to overcome stakes that they have never faced before? It tries to be both but doesn’t really succeed at either of them. The fanboy in me is a little confused at the continuity of this entire franchise at this point as this film explains why Charles Xavier goes bald but with the changed timeline there’s no way that it would have happened in any way that resembles the events of this film in the previous timeline. Also, how old would Scott, Jean, Ororo etc have to be in the first X-Men film to make them the age they are in this film? Little things like that annoy me but I won’t bring the score of the film down because of them. To the film’s credit it doesn’t let continuity get in the way of telling its story but I wish the story that it told was a little more engaging.
- strong performances
- engaging new versions of characters we’ve seen before
- a sloppy and unfocused story
- the weak villain
- dull and incoherent set pieces