The X-Men have long been my favorite group of superheroes as their struggle for acceptance as others in a world of people who are wary and distrustful of them mirrored my own experience growing up gay. The fear that people would turn against me for explaining who I truly was played out in the comics and movies in much the same way. Hell, we even got the now famous moment in X2 when Iceman’s parents ask, “have you tried NOT being mutant?” Thus, I’m always excited for a new film in the series and even more so after First Class reset the tone and helped make amends for the horrible X3. That said, I really wish Apocalypse could live up to the movies that have come before, but there are just too many missteps for it to take its place as the definitive X film. It’s not bad by any means, but it ends up being merely good instead of great.
Set about 10 years after the events of Days of Future Past, the team is divided and going about life the best way they know how. Xavier (James McAvoy) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) are busy bringing new mutants into the fold at the former’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is working as a freedom fighter liberating mutants who are being held captive or left to fend for themselves in a world that fears and hates them. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has finally found peace and a family of his own while trying to fit in as a human in a small village in Europe. But peace cannot last as the creature that is considered the first mutant, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), is brought out of slumber and is hell-bent on bringing the world back under his rule. The weakness of mankind has grown out of control, and he will do whatever it takes to cleanse the land and ensure that only the strong survive his upcoming apocalypse. He recruits the best to his side – Angel (Ben Hardy), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and a grieving Magneto – as his Four Horsemen who will enact his will across the globe. Xavier and the rest of the X-Men must race against time to face the wrath of a god in a desperate attempt to save billions of lives he finds unworthy of existing in a world remade in his image.
Heroes are only as good as their villains, and Apocalypse definitely fits the bill as the biggest baddie they’ve ever faced. Which is why it’s so unfortunate that Apocalypse has so little to do throughout the entire ordeal. Sure, he has the power of a god and uses this to further his goals, but he literally spends most of the movie fixing up his Horsemen’s uniforms. Seriously. It’s like he’s busy prepping for Fashion Week on Project Runway. I wish I was being facetious or over exaggerating, but it’s the truth. Why on earth would you waste the talents of such a wonderful actor like Oscar Isaac and one of the best villains in the X-Men universe on something so trivial? I wish I had an answer, but I’m at a loss for words.
It also suffers from a serious case of recycling what has come before and hoping we will be happy with the result. Did you love the Quicksilver scene in DoFP? Of course, so it’s back again, just a bit bigger and crazier. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it’s the best scene in the movie (well, second best for me personally, but I won’t say more because it’s a huge spoiler), it really leaves us wanting more and wishing they would try something new.
Also, there’s an annoying 20-30 minute tangent they follow about two-thirds of the way through which I can assume was a marketing ploy to sell more toys. There’s no other reason for it to exist despite having a fun moment that long-time fans will also enjoy. I’m perfectly fine with paying fan service, but this was completely unnecessary and detracted from the finished product.
But enough griping, because there was a ton here that was fantastic!
All the new characters were absolutely wonderful and fully fleshed out their roles in this universe. Cyclops, Nightcrawler and Jean Grey were perfectly realized by their new actors and didn’t make us think twice about their previous incarnations. Cyclops has always been hit or miss with me, but Tye Sheridan really made me feel for him as he was both vulnerable and also cocky. Kodi Smit-McPhee (who also costarred with Fassbender in Slow West) stood as an equal with Alan Cumming in his role as the character in X2. And of course, Sophie Turner as a young Jean Grey was stunning. There were moments where she almost seemed like she was stuck in situations she had no clue how to handle, but she more than redeems herself by then end. She, alone, is worth the price of admission to this movie.
And of course McAvoy and Fassbender are perfect as they have matured even more into their roles as frenemies, but that’s to be expected.
I take it back. The Quicksilver scene, while derivative of DoFP, is also worth the ticket. Seriously, in a screening of just critics, we were all cheering and whooping him on!
It was also refreshing to see another superhero movie that relied more on dialogue than punching each other repeatedly. Yes, there is a decent amount of action, but the best moments are the quiet parts when everyone is just talking and hashing things out in a much more intimate way. Further proof that you can make a tent pole blockbuster without relying solely on green screens and ‘splosions.
In the end, Apocalypse does succeed as a really good movie, just not a great one. Coming so soon off the excellent Civil War and also DoFP, it doesn’t quite meet the incredibly high bar set by both those films, but that’s doesn’t mean it’s bad or even mediocre. It’s fun, if derivative, and I will be more than happy to shell out money to go see it again when it hits theaters. I just really wish it had utilized its villain and premise like it should have instead of merely letting them sit around until the inevitable showdown. This is the end of the world we’re talking about, but Apocalypse seems to be content with giving us the preshow instead of the real thing.
Quality: 3 and a half out of 5 stars. There is a lot to love here, but there is so much wasted opportunity that it leaves us all wanting. Thankfully, the characters and interactions make up for its shortcomings and delivers a solid, if not wonderful, X-Men movie.
Queerness: 1 out of 6 Kinsey’s. The X-Men are a fictitious imagining of the real life LGBTQ struggle, and while that’s touched on here, it doesn’t really focus on it. Let’s hope that they’ll come back in the next movie with that premise more firmly in mind.