I trust professional critics in many scenarios. They’re people who’ve made a career on reviewing films. They’ve probably seen a lot more films than I have and are probably a lot more knowledgeable than me too. On many occasions, I tend to agree with the critical consensus for the most part. However, sometimes the critical consensus falls into a viewpoint I cannot bring myself to agree with. X-Men: Apocalypse currently (at the time of writing) sits at a relatively poor 51% on Rotten Tomatoes, a rating especially low when compared against Bryan Singer’s other outings at the helm of an X-Men film. Yes, the film has some serious issues in regards to its pacing and treatment of some of the cast, however, X-Men: Apocalypse has managed to do something no other comic book film to date has ever done to date, to bring the scope of the original comic’s mythos successfully to the screen.
X-Men: Apocalypse begins in 3600 B.C. as a rebellion in ancient Egypt causes the god-like mutant Apocalypse to fall into a long stasis. In 1983, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has taken charge of a new generation of mutants at his school and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) is living a life of peace with a family. However, their idyllic lives are now shattered by the re-emergence of Apocalypse, who recruits four powerful mutants, including Magneto, to be his horseman in a mad quest to take over the entire planet. It is up to the X-Men, old and new, to stop him.
Apocalypse has been widely criticised as being extremely dull and with a 144-minute runtime, the film definitely takes its sweet time getting to the grand finale. But what it does use that expansive runtime for is key bits of world building, and as a comic-book and literature fan, I’ll take good world building over a rushed, propulsive plot any day. Apocalypse has an epic scale, and the massive build up certainly helps to add weight to the explosive climax, but some elements of the film’s scale work against it. The cast is huge and many members are either underutilised or under-written to an embarrassing degree. Lensherr/Magneto has a compelling, dramatic story in the film’s beginning, but gets little to no resolution when the dust clears. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is as aptly mysterious in her motivations as ever, while Beast (Nicholas Hoult), barely has an identity in the bulging X-Men roster. The Four Horsemen are the worst offenders, with Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Angel (Ben Hardy) practically having about 5 lines of dialogue between them in the entire film.
However, the rest of the film’s cast manages to salvage their parts in fantastic fashion. Singer used Days of Future Past to establish the ‘First Class Timeline’ as standing alongside but separate to the original X-Men film universe and James McAvoy continues to distinguish himself as a different Professor X, who’s funny and yet heartfelt performance stands alongside Patrick Stewart’s iconic portrayal of the character. Newcomers Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Game of Throne’s Sophie Turner) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) bring a fresh and welcome set of perspectives to the film and it’s nice to finally see a Cyclops audiences can truly empathise with onscreen. Oscar Isaac does the best he can as the maniacal main villain, Apocalypse, but the character is fairly one-dimensional and audience reactions to him will be hit or miss depending on your preference. A character that has been proven to be consistently excellent and a standout, though, is Evan Peter’s Quicksilver, who plays a much larger and more involved role here than his previous outing in Days of Future Past. He has another standout, spectacle scene and probably the best action sequence in the film all to himself. This speedster is right on the money with solid characterisation and a strong performance from Peters.
Despite all negatives I could pick with the slow-moving plot, some weak sections of the cast and a few other completely forgettable technical nit-picks, Apocalypse certainly knows how to show its audience a good, fan-service filled time. One thing I could never criticise the X-Men franchise of is becoming stale, especially Singer’s entries, which is a lot more than I can say for most of Marvel’s last few entries in their cinematic universe. With the original film, Singer redefined the superhero genre in cinema, with X-2 he created a multi-layered conflict between multiple factions of humans and mutants and with Days of Future Past he gave audiences a gripping time travel adventure. Apocalypse takes a step even further away from the franchise’s ‘based in reality’ roots but does so with grandeur and confident swagger, while retaining a sense of realistic emotion and genuinely funny humour that never overplay’s itself. The film is a behemoth, a comic-book epic of a level of ambition I’ve never seen successfully put to screen before. The film does something that no other film has ever done: made me feel like I’m watching a comic brought to life from page to screen right before my eyes, and the feeling is absolutely glorious.
The action is electrifying, the powers bright and flashy and displayed in their full glory, from Psylocke’s energy sword to Cyclops eye beam. This is X-Men for the people who loved the original stories in their Chris Claremont days or grew up watching the 1992 animated series. The soundtrack even gets into the sometimes ridiculous mood of things, jumping from eighties pop to a grand, bombastic score when appropriate. By the time the obviously shoehorned in Weapon X appearance comes into play, you’re too immersed in the spectacular gravitas of the film to care and you’ve strapped yourself securely in for a rollicking good time. The final scene before the credits packs a special punch for long-time X-Men fans that I won’t spoil here, but in many ways, they make the entire film almost worth the price of admission alone.
In the end, X-Men: Apocalypse ends up being one of the most memorable comic-book films to date, perhaps because it is easily the most comic-booky film I’ve seen yet, in that it showcases this set of compelling super-powered characters in an event of such grand scale, I thought it could only appear on the page. Ignore the critics and make your way down to your local cinema to make up your own mind. Any fan of superheroes, especially of X-Men, will most likely appreciate the ambition on display here, even more so that it works so splendidly. In my opinion, though maybe not superior to Civil War in terms of overall quality, I enjoyed this film significantly more. In fact, X-Men: Apocalypse may well be my favourite comic-book film since X-2 came out in 2003, and it definitely serves as an appropriate send-off to the ‘First Class’ as a new generation of X-Men begins.
*Update – I apologise for the lack of content over the past month. University and exams have kept me busy. The final parts of Adapting the DC Universe are still on the way. Thank you for your patience.*