Film Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

X-men poster

X-Men: Apocalypse Plot Summary:

It’s been ten years since Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) stopped Magneto (Michael Fassbender) from killing the President. Mutants and humans have coexisted in peace. When an ancient, and immensely powerful mutant known as En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) awakens from eons of slumber, all is threatened when he amasses an army of mutants to cleanse the earth and bring forth the apocalypse. When Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and his school get in the cross hairs, it’s time for the X-Men to return, both old and new.

Let’s get this out of the way right now – this is not as good as X-Men: Days of Future Past. That was never going to happen. That film is a masterpiece in superhero filmmaking, behind only The Dark Knight Trilogy. X-Men: Apocalypse is a damn good movie though. Some of its best elements are the big X-Men moments. As someone who’s loved this franchise since 2000, never wavering, I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was some level of disappointment here. I want to stress how little that disappointment is though. We always have to do these grand explanations and preambles when reviewing a superhero movie. I want to be very clear about this – X-Men: Apocalypse is a great film. Go see it. As an X-Men film, it’s just a tad below the bar. That’s all. Everybody relax. I don’t have any massive criticisms, other than it plays it very safe.

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The film gets off to a rocky start. The opening is a prologue for En Sabah Nur, otherwise known as Apocalypse. Set in Ancient Egypt, it’s a pretty lame opener, especially when you compare it to the first ten minutes of Days of Future Past, which knocks you on your ass, both emotionally, and spectacle wise. This feels like a lame Mummy ride at Universal Studios. The music is generic. The setting feels small. Apocalypse does nothing. I felt like I was watching a horrible sword and sandal movie they crap out in January. Worst X-Men opening ever.

Once we get to Xavier’s school, we’re good to go. It’s an X-Men film. One of the first scenes we get, and there’s no doubt Bryan Singer made this a point of emphasis, was the introduction of Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan). Yes. Cyclops finally gets his due in an X-Men film. Glory, glory, hallelujah! His first scene is more emotionally gripping than all of Cyclops in the previous films. You still grasp it’s the same guy James Marsden played, but they simply wrote him better. There’s fire to him, but he still has that sense of honor. Tye Sheridan nailed all the subtleties, playing this introverted, moody kid, who still showed the signs of a great leader.

Most of the new characters (or re-introductions) were hits. Sophie Turner as Jean Grey was superb. This was a crucial character, and Turner gives her a real maturity and wisdom, yet she was still a child terrified of her powers. If you know anything about X-Men lore, or the previous films, we know the level of power Jean Grey can obtain. Kodi Smit-McPhee was solid as Nightcrawler, and definitely had some good comic relief. I found him less annoying than Alan Cumming in X2. The other new characters came from the evil side, which were a mixed bag.

Apocalypse gathers four mutants (his horsemen), and aside from Magneto, we didn’t dive into great detail with any of them. When Apocalypse goes to recruit them, their first scenes are fantastic. When we meet Storm (Alexandra Shipp), she’s a fascinating character. You get a great sense of her desperation and naivety. Her back and forth with Apocalypse was stirring, and should have been explored more. It fizzles out rather quickly, as Storm is relegated to simple minion duty. That’s what it was like for Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) as well. Great first scenes with Apocalypse, but they peter out. Apocalypse himself was magnificent. Once Oscar Isaac spoke, I was on board. He commands the screen like a God. Simon Kinberg really stepped it up with his dialogue. It wasn’t just the way he spoke. Watching Apocalypse interact with the new world was just as compelling. What makes this villain work though is I felt legitimately terrified every time he was on screen. The use of his powers are strange and confusing, but it’s the mystery that made him so dangerous.

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As good as the newbies were, it all goes back to the returning players. James McAvoy can play this role in his sleep. Bringing back Rose Bryne as Moira Mactaggert also added to his character. Her first scene was great, and very reminiscent of First Class. Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Wow. There’s nothing else to say. What I loved about the Quicksilver scene was it came out of no where. When it first begins, you’re like “what the hell is thi-oooooooh, that’s awesome.” I won’t say they topped the previous sequence, but it’s absolutely comparable. Amazing. It was also nice to see Lucas Till back as Havok. Unfortunately, the two characters who get hosed are Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Mystique. Beast was so endearing in the previous film, but gets nothing to do here. Mystique plays a larger role, and Jennifer Lawrence is fine, but no where near what she did in the previous two films. I’m sure everybody and their mother will blame Jennifer Lawrence, but if you really sit down and listen to the writing, it’s pretty bland. There wasn’t a whole lot she could have done. I did like her very much as the drill sergeant of the X-Men.

We’ve gone through a gluttony of characters, but I saved the best for last. This is Magneto’s film. Michael Fassbender has now joined Hugh Jackman as someone I want to be in this franchise till the end of time. Everything involving Magneto is sad, touching, gut-wrenching and all out painful. What Apocalypse does to manipulate this guy is cold as ice. This may be Fassbender’s best turn as the character, and that’s saying a lot. His relationship with Xavier remains the best part of this series, and their first sequence together in this film is especially gripping. Fassbender alone is worth the price of admission.

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The climax is also worth that price. When you have a villain named Apocalypse who wants to cleanse the Earth, the final battle is going to end with a bunch of crap blowing up where the heroes punch things. Singer makes a very cliche action sequence pretty cool. The staging is well done, and there’s a ton of twists and turns. It’s still focused on character, but there’s plenty of spectacle. The battle is essentially building towards one moment though, and when that happens, it makes the whole damn movie worth while.

When you think about all the characters in this film, Bryan Singer does a masterful job of telling a tight, efficient story. There are many great elements here, but unlike First Class and Days of Future Past, it stops short. Those movies would have delved deeper into the Storm/Apocalypse relationship, or found even more character moments for Cyclops. While a flawed X-Men film, it’s still a great one. And even though I ranted and raved about Wolverine in the trailer, they manage to catch you off guard in one regard. That was awesome.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.
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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.