The uncanny X-Men return to cinemas with their sixth outing (ninth counting spin-offs), introducing a new cast as well as bringing some closure to the old. The result, while a complicated plot out of necessity, provides their wildest adventure yet. At this point, the X-films resemble something like the pre-2009 reboot series of Star Trek. In that way, it will more satisfy devotees, but hardly bore greenhorns.
Ten years have passed since the events of Days of Future Past. The world has learned of the existence of mutants, and Professor X (James McAvoy) now openly runs his school for mutant education, which now includes young versions of Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), as well as Xavier’s assistant Beast (Nicolas Hoult). Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has retreated to domestic life after his failed assassination attempt against Nixon, and Mystique (a very thin Jennifer Lawrence) has become something of a Che Guevara for mutantkind, operating in secret to rescue other mutants from abuse. The actions of the X-Men in 1973 have radically altered history from the original series continuity, however: the CIA has discovered a cult which accidentally revives the ancient mutant En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), an extremely powerful maniac bent on absolute domination of the planet. To resist the coming threat, Xavier and his X-Men tap his old flame Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) for help, as Apocalypse begins recruiting his own minions: Angel (Ben Hardy), Psyloche (Olivia Munn) and a young Storm (Alexandra Shipp).
The plot of the film might seem overly complicated, though considering it carries the baggage of five other outings, it shows extraordinary balance. Director Bryan Singer helms again, this time with relish and gusto as he finally delivers on the promise the X-Men comics, and of his previous outings. Following the precedent of Days of Future Past, Apocalypse jet-sets all over the world, weaving together complex storylines of family, romance and even religion. As a result, the Magneto-Xavier rivalry which provided anchor for the best entries of the series falls by the wayside, leaving the movie somewhat off center. Singer wisely compensates by focusing on the relationships of other characters, in particular the bittersweet reunion of Moira and Xavier, as well as that of Beast and Mystique. He also builds on the franchise’s action precedents; if sequences involving Nightcrawler and Quicksilver stole the show before, here he puts newbie Kodi Smit-McFee (as young Nightcrawler) and a returning Evan Peters to good use. Of the new actors, Turner and Shipp stand out, as Singer continues his fascination with the character Jean Grey, and Shipp finally imbues Storm with the classy, tough regality the miscast Halle Berry never could (not to mention the accent).
In the midst of it all, Isaac oozes seductive menace as baddie Apocalypse, and his scenes in Egypt recall some of the best moments of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Stargate. The character is a logical choice given his popularity and long history in the comics, but a perilous one. Apocalypse is a one-note villain by design, so much so that it almost seems Isaac and his talents go to waste. On the contrary though–a lesser actor would fall adrift in the role. Isaac, however, injects Apocalypse with the narrow, egotistical vision of a real megalomaniac along with enough charisma that it’s easy to see why anyone would fall prey to his charms in the first place. The movie employs him more as a force of nature than a character; a real threat to make the X-Men examine their choices in life. Singer uses the occasion to show off his own lyrical gifts, designing shots with religious imagery, including a bravura opening credits sequence through time, and provide the kind of mutant battle royale hereto only seen in the X-comics, or on the popular X-Men cartoons. He also delivers on at least two of the teases in the first two entries of the series, which I’ll not reveal here. Needless to say, fans of the series will know them when they happen.
At 144 minutes, the movie still seems abbreviated: a number of scenes and roles feel condensed, perhaps because a Blu-Ray extended cut has become standard for this kind of blockbuster. I mean that as more an observation than a criticism; in it’s current form, X-Men Apocalypse is wonderful entertainment at the movies, providing spectacular imagery and some jaw-dropping action. The actors play their roles with total commitment and, I suspect, love–nobody here phones in a performance, probably because everyone is having a great time. While Apocalypse isn’t their best outing, it certainly is a commendable one. After the overreach of Batman v. Superman and the Marvel infomerical of Civil War, X-Men Apocalypse refreshes the comic book genre with fun, adventure and the occasional philosophical meditation. Like the Phoenix, Singer and the X-Men rise to the occasion to entertain the film affords, promising plenty more adventures to come. Again.
Directed by Bryan Singer
Lauren Shuler Donner
Screenplay by Simon Kinberg
Based on X-Men
by Stan Lee
Music by John Ottman
Cinematography Newton Thomas Sigel
Michael Louis Hill
Bad Hat Harry Productions
The Donners’ Company
Hutch Parker Productions
Distributed by 20th Century Fox