Apocalypse will have a hard time swaying movie fans over to its clunky, bombastic style that feels more like a comic-book adapted to the screen than even Snyder’s Watchmen, and this latest X-Men sequel isn’t even strictly based on any one story.
Other factors work against Apocalypse in the sense that it will lose many different types of viewers along the running time. It still suffers from problems it can’t readily solve, like with how overwhelming this cinematic universe has become in terms alternate timelines, the large cast of characters, and keeping your mind off of its now irrelevant predecessors (especially when Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey makes a not-so-subtle wink at how Last Stand is the “worst.”)
These were problems with Days of Future Past, too, but for the first time since X2, an X-Men movie has come along that does far more with its material than we should have otherwise suspected. Flaws and all, X-Men: Apocalypse is an excellent work of film in both ambition and execution, despite how alienating it will be for a wide swatch of viewers.
Even at its most convoluted, director Bryan Singer offers a movie with some thrilling set pieces that connect a lot of meandering pieces. They’re some of the best moments in the franchise, even if they have to share screen time with some of the weirdest flaws in the franchise.
This is the third film of the trilogy started by First Class, and it even sports several flashbacks to both that and the second film in order to deepen the lore many of us took for granted over the years, including plot involvement from Rose Byrne’s Moira and even Alex Summers.
Some of the loose story threads from those films come to a head in Apocalypse, though not in a way that feels paid off by the main narrative of this movie. Apocalypse opens with the origin of its titular villain, the “first” mutant played by Oscar Isaac, a power-collecting man worshipped like a god who was buried by rebellious followers thousands of years ago. Mystique and Magneto’s actions in D.C. ten years prior have since sparked mutant cults, including one that sets out to resurrect Apocalypse for no real explanation beyond…well, he exists to be worshipped.
While this happens, the film spends a lot of time catching fans up with the established characters and setting up new mutant students that will inevitably team up to face this new threat. The pacing and plot jumping from these characters is actually quite competent, though sure to confound anyone who skipped First Class or hasn’t seen it since 2011. If you’re invested in this universe, it’s more exciting than worthy of head-scratching.
For once, Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops is given the screen time worth his due, including a sub plot that better sets him up as a future leader within the ranks. Jean Grey’s character arc is a little messier, but easy to latch onto, and Nightcrawler is handed scraps he turns into some meaty offerings, thanks to a fun rivalry established between him and Angel.
Jennifer Lawrence plays a more relaxed Mystique than her somewhat lazy performance in Days of Future Past. She still seems miscast here, but Apocalypse seems to have a better idea of what to do with this hero/villain who constantly finds herself switching sides. In Apocalypse, she has a more solid foot in the heroic camp, and it’s refreshing to see her work with the X-Men without the tedious guesswork over whether or not she’s sincere. It’s a testament to the film’s willingness to allow Mystique a story in these movies that follows swiftly from the first two films, rather than a correction to make her evil for the sake of being truer to the comic.
As for Apocalypse and his four, loyal followers, the film falls a bit short in giving them time to shine, aside from a satisfying continuation of Magneto’s tragic story. Yet once again, we’re forced to sit through familiar stories that place Charles Xavier and Magneto at the center, with offhand characters (including the villain and a just-as-good-as-last-time Quicksilver played by Evan Peters) working around them.
In other words, Apocalypse lives, breathes, and dies as a comic book story, not a movie. Like a comic, it shifts locations quickly and without much cohesion. Its colors brightly match the 80s time period in a way that makes me wish for more X-Men films in this decade. And the plot boils down to a simple battle between good and evil that focuses more on the main characters deciding what truly is good and evil, as well as how their actions in this battle will affect future storylines in the series.
Its biggest flaw is probably where it falls extremely short with visuals. The CGI is either decent or poor to the point of distraction. You have to be fully onboard with this universe of zany characters and over-the-top action in order to overlook some of the weaker effects, but it’s somewhat matched by some of the most entertaining fight choreography seen in these films, including what may forever be a wholly underrated fight sequence between Beast (reprised by Nicholas Hoult) and Psylocke (played by Olivia Munn), that utilizes both characters in a way X-Men fans probably never expected to make it to the movies.
Perhaps along the way, Singer decided to make this the X-Men film that pays more service to fans of X-Men, rather than movie fans. Unfortunately, that’s sure to be a problem for plenty of big X-Men fans as well, but that doesn’t negate much of Apocalypse that is just solidly entertaining.
- I really wanted to give this film a higher score, if only because I was so enthralled by it, in a way that rivals Deadpool and Civil War even. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to overlook some of the bigger flaws and how they will be deal breakers for most audiences. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy Apocalypse as much as I did, because it’s easily one of my favorite X-Men films to date.
- No spoilers, but stick around for the end of the credits. Not like you needed to be reminded.
- Comparisons will likely be made to Dawn of Justice, a film that is also likened to being too much of a comic-book in terms of structure, so it’s off-putting to movie fans. The big difference is that Apocalypse does a much better job, all around. At no point was I shaking my head at plot holes or gaps in character motivation.
- I was always a fan of X-Men: Evolution more than the older animated cartoon. Sorry. But for that reason, Apocalypse worked on a deeper level for me considering the similarities. Something about seeing Jean, Scott, and Nightcrawler as students felt right.
- Not enough Storm. Not even close.
- I might actually be in the camp of people who now wish for an X-Men movie that takes a break from Magneto and Mystique for a while. Apocalypse might have been something really special (and for everyone) if it had streamlined its characters more and made this an Xavier vs. Apocalypse affair.
I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni