With a strong social justice message and a huge A-list cast, the X Men franchise is one that is both beloved by fans and (mostly) critically acclaimed. As one of the first successful comic book movie franchises, it’s had its ups (First Class was brilliant), and it’s definitely had its downs (we don’t speak of the Last Stand), but where does the latest installment, X Men: Apocalypse, fit in?
When an all-powerful, ancient Egyptian mutant mysteriously resurfaces, hell-bent on destruction, Professor Xavier must recruit old friends and new students to form the X Men and defeat him. For a fairly complicated villain and plot, not much really happens. This film acts as a teenage origins story for many of the characters we know from the original films – Scott (Tye Sheridan), Jean (Sophie Turner), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-Phee) – but we also meet some new characters, are reunited with familiar ones, and then of course we have the regular players of Charles (James McAvoy), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Erik (Michael Fassbender) and Hank (Nicholas Hoult). Bryan Singer is trying to cram in so many characters and give them substantial arcs and backstories that the first three quarters of the film is introduction, leaving about 40 minutes for a very underwhelming showdown. But, because there are so many characters, none of them are done justice; much of Jean’s characterisation relies on the audience being familiar with the original trilogy, which Days of Future Past famously erased. A lot of emphasis is placed on the most uninteresting characters, the ones we know so well; yet the characters we all wanted to see more of, like Quicksilver, Jubilee, and Psylocke, were sidelined, so the audience wasn’t really getting anything new.
The story had the possibility of being an interesting history-meets-fantasy superhero epic, but the incredibly cheesy script and lack of emotional heft left much to be desired. No matter how totally 80s the setting, no one can (or should) forgive Singer for some of the lines he’s used – I rolled my eyes way more than I should have. And, for a franchise that has always centred on prejudice and acceptance, and derived its emotional depth from that, X Men Apocalypse lacked the heft of the previous ones. In fact, it used flashbacks from the other films to service its depth, which is even worse. The ancient Egyptian element was interesting, but it left Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) seeming a bit too convoluted, and his motives were confusing too. The final act was missing any real weight, feeling more like a video game boss-battle than anything, and the CGI heavy destruction was too evocative of Man of Steel, over the top and seemingly without repercussion, to make an impact.
The performances are also a mixed bag. James McAvoy was his usual charm as Professor X, but Jennifer Lawrence looked less than thrilled to be there. You could tell that Michael Fassbender was trying his hardest to give Magneto his usual emotional punch, but with a script full of lines to be screamed at the sky, he did the best he could. Evan Peters was brilliant as Quicksilver, with a fantastic slow-motion speed scene (like the scene from DOFP, which is one of the greatest scenes ever) and an attempted relationship with his father, Erik, but he was so lazily written with no attempt at backstory (“I’ve just been living in my mom’s basement for the past ten years… I’m such a loser” – like come on) that there wasn’t enough of him to enjoy. It was quite easy to picture the young cast as teenage versions of Scott, Jean, Storm and Nightcrawler, and I’m actually keen to see how their friendships evolve, but hopefully we can see some more Jubilee next time. And, of course, the Big Bad: Oscar Isaac gave a good performance as En Sabah Nur, the ancient God-like mutant from thousands of years ago, but his powers were confusing, his prosthetic blueness too distracting, to make him interesting.
The X Men series is one that is very close to my heart – they were some of the first films that really started my love of movies. And though X Men: Apocalypse is certainly subpar to most of Singer’s X-films, I still enjoyed it. It was a fun, entertaining afternoon, and there were still things to love about it: Quicksilver; Charles and Alex Summer’s (Lucas Till) banter about Moira McTaggert (the lovely Rose Byrne); the 80s soundtrack and costuming; and the return to the school we love from the first movies. Singer just tried to do way too much, with an overcrowded cast, convoluted plot and heavy CGI, and hopefully the next X Men film (because, yes, I still want to see more) will be much more like First Class, and not try to outdo the previous one. Like Charles says during his opening narration: ‘Make someone all powerful, they think of ruling the world.’
What a cast! Here’s my list of the top 5 films starring the cast of X Men: Apocalypse:
- Penelope – James McAvoy
- Star Wars: the Force Awakens – Oscar Isaac
- The Internship – Rose Byrne
- Mad Max: Fury Road – Nicholas Hoult
- Ex Machina – Oscar Isaac
- (and of course)… X Men: First Class – at least half the cast.