X-Men 'Apocalypse' Review: A Fun, Propulsive Superhero Movie But Falters In Originality, Depth
For an alternate view on the film, one less forgiving as this one, check out my brother Francisco's piece " " by clicking here.
Back in 2006, Bryan Singer stepped aside away from his first X-Men trilogy to do "Superman Returns." After guiding the franchise through two genre-defining films, his departure was a huge disappointment and the resulting "X-Men: The Last Stand" was even more so.
Now ten years later, Singer has decided to finish the story, bringing the second trilogy to a close with "X-Men: Apocalypse." There is no doubt that this entry is far superior to Brett Ratner's 2006 effort and yet this film is on some level plagued by some of the problems that burdened that entry.
A Solid Opening
The new movie kicks off with a visually stunning prologue set in 3600 B.C. in Cairo. As has been the case with this new trilogy, history is being rewritten constantly with the Egyptian pyramids now being used as a ritual to allow the first demon En Sabah Nur (AKA Apocalypse) to transfer his consciousness to a new body, thus allowing him to possess the traits of his new host in addition to retaining all of the abilities of the previous iteration. But treason strikes and he left buried underground all the way through the 1980's.
The film's title sequence zips us through a tunnel with historical symbols of hate popping up on the screen, not only reminding viewers of the saga's persistent theme of persecution and prejudice, but also establishing the main antagonist Apocalypse as the newest version of Hitler and other such persecutory rulers.
From there the story splits a number of ways, bringing viewers up to speed on the main heroes of this saga. Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) is still running the school while Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) is on the lookout for new mutants that she can recruit. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) is still hanging around Xavier while Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has started a family in Poland.
Magneto Remains Most Compelling Character
Magneto remains the trilogy's most interesting and complex character as he tries to blend into society and restraining the hatred that he feels toward them. But when tragedy strikes for him, he seeks to turn the pain he has suffered onto others.
Meanwhile the big bad Apocalypse is recruiting demons to try and take back over the world, cleanse it of weak humans and then rebuild it alongside strong mutants.
These plotlines eventually converge leading to the film's most potent imagery - Magneto's destruction of Auschwitz. The place of his suffering becomes the place that first untaps his power and now his annihilation of it has pushed him to yet another level of superhuman strength. It is an emotionally riveting scene played with searing pain by Fassbender.
From there, the film moves rather conventionally to an exciting, albeit predictable finale. While there may be some gratuitous missteps in some of the plotting (a sequence in a bunker is virtually unnecessary save for the inclusion of a fan-serve cameo), it is filled with some nice combination of pathos and comic timing.
Quicksilver's Comic Scene Stealing
Quicksilver provides the film's major comic moment. Much as he did in the Pentagon sequence, Evan Peters' mutant hero slows down time during a rescue mission that is filled with cheeky but unforgettable moments. A climactic scene between him and another major character gratefully avoids the cliché route as well, a smart decision by Singer and writer Simon Kinberg.
Lack of Character Growth is Troubling
Individual character development is virtually non-existent as this large cast of character really makes it too difficult to examine any one single mutant's development. Unlike the original X-Men films, which centered on Wolverine, this one has sought to continue the philosophical struggles between Xavier and Magneto and their differing views on mutants and humans co-existing. That argument takes a back seat in this film, largely because of Apocalypse's existence as a world-wide threat. That the villain (played by the great Oscar Isaac) is rather one-dimensional overall, save for his cool powers, does little to add depth to conflict.
The film's final twist likely would have benefited from one character getting the spotlight and having Singer track this character's struggles with using the mutant powers. But the shift at the end lacks the catharsis because of the ultimate lack of struggle for this character in the middle acts of the film.
This is ultimately where Ratner's movie fell apart. He emphasized a propulsive pace filled with loud action, ultimately leaving these characters that had been built up over the two previous installments to dry. Singer does construct a film of far better pace, but his characters are growing stale by this time around with the same conclusion to the Xavier/Magneto storyline reappearing for the third time in this series.
But when all is said and done, "X-Men: Apocalypse" with its balance of lighter and darker tones is a thoroughly entertaining movie. It might not be as ground-breaking as the franchise's first entries or as engrossing as its immediate predessor "X-Men: Days of Future Past" but it certainly tops most of the other fanfare in the superhero genre hitting theaters today. The visual effects, while gratuitous at times, are still solid through and through and the cast delivers some of the finest performances you can expect in this kind of film.
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