It may have taken eight movies but the X-Men franchise finally reached its moment in the sun. Coming off its biggest creative and financial success with Days of Future Past, Fox’s longtime superhero series hit its stride after a string of near-hits and big misses.
X-Men finally showed it was ready to play with the big boys and that meant competing in the most densely populated year for superhero films, maybe ever. Deadpool differentiated itself through graphic, fourth wall-breaking irreverence; Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War, meanwhile, both explored the world’s response to heroism, albeit in very different ways.
X-Men: Apocalypse doesn’t have the grand, genre-bending aspirations those three films had. Instead, in a market that’s mostly trying to push boundaries, the latest X-Men film is content to be a simple, epic action film on a much larger scale than the series has gone before.
In going a straightforward route, the movie suffers from a lack of depth and more than a few integral characters being sidelined.
But once you get past the feeling of air being let out the expectations balloon, it doesn’t take long to recognize that X-Men: Apocalypse is a fun, by-the-numbers superhero flick with large-scale action, a showy villain and an expanding universe that’s closer to truly solidifying the X-Men universe for the better.
Rather than a deep, emotional conflict running under the action, Apocalypse is just focused on the superficial fight against Apocalypse and his horsemen. Barring a couple strong emotional moments, most of the film’s emotional catharsis comes from directly calling back via flashbacks to X-Men: First Class and the foundation that movie set up.
I get the idea of tying things back to the original in a third installment but this movie missteps be simply revisiting them instead of recalling and expanding upon them.
Thankfully, the film makes up for this deficiency with a number of dazzling action set-pieces, neat reintroductions of classic members, a bold new music score from a returning composer and a few surprise appearances.
Perhaps the deciding factor in chalking this one up as a win is that it actually feels like an X-Men movie. It may be a largely simple action plot but the aesthetic finally feels like it’s in the right place.
Having the main X-Men ensemble on screen doing X-Men stuff in a vibrant way is just exciting — pure and simple. And they did it without leaning on Wolverine again.
More than Hugh Jackman and flashy new powers each time around, the X-Men series found its biggest strength recently in James McAvoy’s Professor X and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto. Ever since X-Men: First Class, these two have been the glue that not only holds the new series together but also makes you look forward to revisiting these characters.
McAvoy’s Professor X is allowed to shine, displaying a new confidence since the last installment. McAvoy’s portrayal is charming and brings life to a character that can easily become too dry.
Fassbender’s Magneto, meanwhile, has a thankless role here. After getting some promising buildup and carrying the film’s most emotional moment that isn’t a callback, Fassbender is largely left to hang around until the plot needs him to hover in at the end.
As one half of this series’ Lennon and McCartney (though still not as evil as John Lennon), the character deserves to be put to better use.
But with Magneto mostly benched, Apocalypse steps in to serve as the main foil. Sure, his plan is pretty standard supervillain stuff but it doesn’t really matter that much because the filmmakers and Oscar Isaac admirably sell how frightful and all-powerful the character is. Every moment Apocalypse is on screen is made great by Isaac’s performance and some awesome, boisterous villain monologues.
In any case, he’s clearly having more fun in his role than Jennifer Lawrence, who looks ready to ride that paycheck off into the sunset and away from the series that helped establish her.
Sophie Turner makes for an interesting Jean Grey — who may get a more satisfying treatment going forward –, Evan Peters gets more time to shine as Quicksilver in another amazing speed sequence, Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops is an actual character and Kodi Smit-Mcphee as Nightcrawler is amusing.
They fare better than Angel, Psylock and Jubilee, the likes of whom are given nothing to do.
And let’s not even get into where we stand with the timeline. That is a flaming hornet’s nest, aka nothing you can or ever want to try to fix. Isn’t that right, 45-year-old Havok who looks like he’s the same age as his teenage brother?
There may be a number of things to rag on this movie for but, at the end of the day, the fact remains that there was certainly energy put into make X-Men: Apocalypse brazenly entertaining.
And honestly, after two films this year addressing the recent, buzzkill notion that we should feel guilty about large-scale superhero action, it is wholly refreshing to be given a film that goes back to basics.