X-Men: Apocalypse Review
Reviewed by Lewis Hurst.
There’s a moment in X-Men: Apocalypse where a group of characters exit a cinema showing of Return of the Jedi. As Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jubilee (Lana Condor) debate if the first or second film was better, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) simply says “Either way, we all know the third one is always the worst”. While intended as a sly dig at the much maligned X-Men: The Last Stand, it can also be taken as talking about the current trilogy; the First Class trilogy and the high expectations placed upon this entry. Does X-Men: Apocalypse surpass all expectations? Or does it collapse under its own weight, falling victim to the “threequel” curse?
After the time travel shenanigans of the previous entry, it’s almost a relief to see the X-Men franchise return to the typical plot of “bad guy wants to destroy the world, let’s go stop him”. Free of the continuity of all the films released prior to Days of Future Past (bar First Class), it gives the film a sense of freedom to do what it likes. The fact that only a few characters in this movie are confirmed to still be alive in the “good” future seen at the end of the previous film adds a new level of threat to the film; anyone not seen in the final scene of Days of Future Past can die at any moment. The film never follows through on this dramatic opportunity however. And that’s good. Like Captain America: Civil War, the film knows it doesn’t need death to force an emotional reaction. Instead it drives much of its emotional drama from the relationships between the characters and how they’ve built up over the last two films. The emotional crux of the film is the relationships between Xavier, Magneto and Mystique providing a rewarding experience for those who’ve followed the First Class trilogy since 2011. While the plot is never anything complicated, there’s enough going on that it never feels too simple.
However, a sequence in the middle of the film is entirely superfluous. A sequence involving Stryker (Josh Helman) where several of the X-Men are captured by Stryker and taken to his base at Alkali Lake feels like a waste of time within the movie. It’s enjoyable, but it slows the movie down and stinks of something added during reshoots. It’s still a fun sequence, it offers some of the best action involving a certain character since X-Men 2, but that doesn’t change it’s “out of place” feel within the film. The sequence doesn’t add anything to the plot, any developments that happen would have happened anyway. There’s no denying it’s forced. The rest of the film almost pauses just for it to occur; it doesn’t gel naturally with the rest of the film and is never brought up again. Despite this, it includes a great action sequence and one of the funniest lines in the film for fans.
Speaking of action, this is easily the biggest X-Men film when it comes to action. The huge battle between the X-Men and Apocalypse and his Horsemen at the film’s climax is wondrous with action that feels lifted right out of a comic book page as energy blasts, lightning bolts and other superpowers are thrown across the screen in increasingly engaging action. One flaw with the climax however is the amount of collateral damage that occurs. Maybe it’s because we’ve just had two superhero films devoted to calling out the collateral damage superheroes cause (Batman v Superman, Captain America: Civil War), but the damage caused here is almost overkill. There’s only so many CGI shots of buildings being destroyed you can take before you begin to wonder if it’s a bit much.
The best action sequence has to go to Quicksilver however. Many wondered how they were going to equal the Quicksilver scene from Days of Future Past. Well… they did it. They made a Quicksilver scene that’s BETTER than the last one. Set to the tune of Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams, it’s easily the best scene in the movie as Quicksilver makes his way through an exploding building trying to save everyone he can. It’s also the funniest scene in the film. If there’s one scene that’s worth paying the cinema ticket price for, it’s this once. If we hadn’t had the Airport battle in Captain America: Civil War I’d argue it’s the best action sequence in a superhero movie of 2016 so far.
There’s little denying that this is the funniest film in the X-Men series. Seemingly taking a note from the MCU and Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse doesn’t take itself too seriously allowing the more comic booky aspects to fit in better. The film clearly tries to ape the MCU’s success with audiences by throwing in lots of jokes and one liners. However, this never feels forced. Unlike other films that have tried to copy the MCU, the humour works fantastically in X-Men: Apocalypse and if Deadpool hadn’t been released this year it would have been the funniest superhero film of the year. From Xavier’s attempts at flirting with Moria MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) to Magneto’s rather crude question when he sees Apocalypse and the other horsemen for the first time, there’s lots of great humour on display. But those looking for a darker, more emotional film needn’t worry. The humour never detracts from the more emotional parts, with this film reaching strong emotional depth. Magneto’s character arc is a particular example of this. Throughout the First Class trilogy, we’ve seen Magneto is more a villain of circumstance than actual malicious intent. He believes there can never be peace between mutants and humans, because that’s his experience not just through the holocaust but through the events of this film as well. And this film reinforces that in several heart breaking scenes.
The cast fare very well. Michael Fassbender again proves himself to be one of the best casting the X-Men series has done to date as Magneto, delivering another excellent performance as the tortured villain. James McAvoy manages to believably portray a young Patrick Stewart as well as keeping the roguish charm the young Xavier had in First Class showing a nice blend of the two as towards the end of the film Xavier grows into the Professor X we all know and love. Jennifer Lawrence is decent as Mystique, even if there are moments in the film where it feels as if she’s getting tired of the role. But considering Lawrence has been jumping between X-Men and The Hunger Games for the past six years it’s perhaps understandable that she’s a little tired of the big blockbusters. In fact, Mystique is barely involved in the action sequences in this film, whenever this is due to logistics of filming or simple logic (Mystique can’t quite take on mutants like Storm and Psylocke in a straight fight) it’s quite strange to see her sidelined during the action.
The actors playing the young X-Men all fare pretty well. Sophie Turner is the best here. Already showing strong acting skills in Game of Thrones, Turner is a perfect fit as the young Jean Grey. When Turner asked Famke Jannsen (Jean Grey in the original trilogy and Wolverine movies) for advice, Jannsen responded with “You don’t need any. You’re perfect.” And it’s easy to see why after this film. If any of the young cast makes the most impact it’s Turner, possibly due to Jean getting the best material out of the young X-Men. Hopefully the sequels continue to give her a great role. Tye Sheridan also fares well as Cyclops, but it feels as if Cyclops is here only to be established so he can have a larger part in other movies. Not to say he has a small role, he has a large role, but he’s not as in focus as the others. Kodi Smit-McPhee (who was originally to play the young Wolverine in X-Men Origins before dropping out) is great as Nightcrawler, showing excellent comedic timing. The film definitely sets up Nightcrawler to be the comedic relief of the new team which fits in with his playful nature from the comics. Evan Peters is great as Quicksilver and there’s not much to talk about. If you liked him in Days of Future Past; great, here’s more. If you didn’t, this film won’t change your mind.
Oscar Isaac is pretty menacing as Apocalypse, doing the best with what the material gives him. He emerges as a pretty good villain if a little underdeveloped. Scenes showing Apocalypse as a character are very brief, much like Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Apocalypse seemingly decides to destroy the world after five minutes learning information. While Apocalypse is by no means a bad villain, there’s no doubting he’s not as developed as Magneto, Stryker or Sebastian Shaw as an antagonist leaving him to be a just “good” villain rather than great. Hopefully there’s an extended cut coming that will give Apocalypse more character scenes to flesh him out and considering the last two X movies (The Wolverine and Days of Future Past) both had extended cuts, I’m hopeful.
The rest of the cast meanwhile, deliver decent performances. Not to say they’re bad at all, they just don’t get enough to do. The decision to bring back Moria MacTaggert seems a strange one considering she gets very little to do beyond being Xavier’s love interest. Beast (Nicholas Hoult) is just… there and offers very little. Same for Havok (Lucas Till) who gets even less to do.
X-Men: Apocalypse however manages to deliver the best climax to an X-Men film yet, one that had myself (a huge X-Men fan) cheering with joy. It does incredibly justice to the characters and sets a very strong foundation for the next few films as well as some of the best action involving these characters seen in film. The final fight against Apocalypse may possibly be one of my favourites in the genre.
Special mention must go to John Ottman’s score which is a huge highlight of the film. It’s amazing to listen to both in and out of the film and adds an emotional heft to much of the film. If you’re a score lover and haven’t listened to this score yet, you’re missing out on one of the best scores of the year.
That said, the film does have its flaws. The script is littered with some corny lines and clichéd dialogue. Like most superhero films today, the script feels one draft away from being complete. With some fine tuning, the script could have been excellent. As it is, the film is well written but has some big issues in terms of dialogue and structure. The opening half hour to an hour is pretty slow and at times feels like it’s jumping about with no aim. While it’s no big problem, it leaves the first act being the weakest with things picking up once Apocalypse starts his plans.
Overall, X-Men: Apocalypse is another good entry in the franchise. While it has its flaws, it doesn’t stop the film from being very fun to watch. It has excellent action, excellent music, and brilliant characters and has the perfect emotional punches. However; it’s too long, has an entirely unnecessary sequence in the second act and some characters feel very underused and underdeveloped which stops the film from achieving true greatness.
So yes, the third film is the worst it seems. Apocalypse is a step down from First Class and Days of Future Past, but it’s still a hugely entertaining instalment in a franchise that continues to succeed despite its failings.
A NOTE ON MY SCORING: A 7.5 may seem low for a film it seems I enjoyed a lot, but for me a 7.5 is good meaning it falls just short of being great. Likewise the scoring is the film ranked against the other X-Men films. For a better idea of how this film stands; here’s my rankings of the entire series:
- X-Men: Days of Future Past 9.5/10
- X-Men: First Class 9/10
- Deadpool 8.5/10
- X-Men 2 8/10
- X-Men: Apocalypse 7.5/10
- The Wolverine 7.5/10
- X-Men 7/10
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine 5/10
- X-Men: The Last Stand 4/10