‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ review!

'X-Men: Apocalypse'
'X-Men: Apocalypse''X-Men: Apocalypse'
The heroes of 'X-Men: Apocalypse'
The heroes of ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’The heroes of ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’
  • Script by Simon Kinberg
  • Story by Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris
  • Directed by Bryan Singer
  • Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan and a whole lot more!

With the emergence of the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse, the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.

‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ is in UK cinemas now and hits cinemas in the US on Friday 27 May!

Coming off the back of a film like ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ which was the seventh film in the franchise overall and the fifth in the main continuity of the universe ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ needed to step up from the usual anti-mutant agenda that films past had featured and take the characters in to new territory.

Bringing the titular villain out of the pages of Marvel Comics and on to the big screen does exactly that. ‘X-Men’ films have traditionally never featured a world ending level threat often choosing to keep things closer to home. Never before have we seen the levels of destruction like the trailer for ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ but sadly after this we might never again.

Bryan Singer has now reached his fourth directing entry in the franchise and it is beginning to show. That is both a positive and a negative for ‘Apocalypse’.

On the positive side he knows these characters inside out and knows how they fit together, what works and what doesn’t. Although the film is heavily stuffed with characters old and new they each have a place within the story. There’s a relevance to re-introducing characters such as Cyclops and Jean Grey whilst franchise returners Mystique, Charles and Erik are re-contextualised in to a new decade.

One exception to the rule is Jubilee. Her character has had cameos in most of the X films to date. Here we were promised an expanded role which fails to come to fruition. She has sparse dialogue and no chance to use her powers making her relatively redundant to the story.

Much criticism has been levelled at the film for stepping away from the heavy character development of previous films. There’s no denying that ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ is more of a character driven story than a story about character. Watching the film I felt heavily caught up in the story and there is a lot for the characters to do to get them from start to finish. But on reflection there are still huge changes for many of the characters in the film.

‘Apocalypse’ is a transitional film for franchise returnees from ‘X-Men: First Class’ and ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ as Charles’ hopes for the future are heavily tested. Mystique has to accept that her role in the events in Washington in the 70s have made her a hero and a leader. It is Erik who has the largest arc once against falling from a place of stability but finally rising to become something other than the pantomime villain of films past.

McAvoy, Lawrence and Fassbender all put in great performances throughout. McAvoy clearly gleeful at finally shaving his head (worked so subtlety in to the story). Fassbender gets chance to really chew at the scenery and play Erik at his emotional best and worst. Lawrence is perhaps a little colder than we have seen her in the past. But ultimately her role is to be emotionally separated until she embraces her place in the world.

If this were to be the end of the trio, given that their contracts are reportedly up, then it would be a satisfying conclusion to their stories. However great it would be to see Fassbender as a more heroic Magneto the character needs a rest. His constant presence on a knife edge of hero or villain is beginning to get repetitive.

Any future ‘X-Men’ film would struggle without having the Mystique character given her placement at the end of ‘Apocalypse’ and naturally the franchise would not exist without having McAvoy. I’m cautious how continuity could be affected if these two were to be recast at this point.

Of the younger mutants it is Cyclops and Jean who get the most development. Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner both enter the ‘X-Men’ world with strong performances. Sheridan easily showing why Cyclops becomes the eventual leader of the team. His arc is emotional and played well to the actors strongpoints. Turner, who admittedly I’m not a huge fan of in ‘Game of Thrones’, really made me care for this new version of Jean. Thankfully she can pull off an American accent and isn’t played too much as the whiny teenager.

Singer uses the Jean character to cleverly take shots at previous flaws in the ‘X-Men’ franchise. Particular venom is spat in the direction of ‘The Last Stand’. Planned to be Singer’s third film in the franchise it was eventually directed by Brett Ratner after Singer departed to helm ‘Superman Returns’.

‘The Last Stand’ famously descimenated the Phoenix storyline from the comics. A storyline that Singer has said he always wished to tackle. So in ‘Apocalypse’ he begins to retread that path. I hadn’t expected him to jump in so soon with even a hint that the Phoenix exists but instead we get one of the most standout moments in the film. It’s clear that Singer is planning for the franchise to go there in a big way in the future. Even Apocalypse himself is given a moment to recognise the enormity of the Phoenix force. In one short scene Singer is able to wipe the memory of past mistakes and faithfully show that he is capable of moments of huge payoff to comics fans.

Where ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ falls down is in it repitition of past highs. Standout moments from past films are recalled from new angles. We return to Alkali Lake which in fairness gives us a brilliant Hugh Jackman as Weapon-X cameo. Jennifer Lawrence is forced in to a skimpy outfit and made to speak a foreign language. German this time in place of Vietnamese. Of course there is also the Quicksilver sequence heavily teased in the trailers.

Alkali Lake feels like another Singer apology for past mistakes. Wolverine was never given the opportunity to show his bezerker rage in the past. Alkali lake became a metaphor for his past in ‘X2’. Here it’s fleshed out without having to again show the adamantium injection process. It does feel a little forced for the sake of seeing Jackman however it’s context within the film just about works. We’ve been to this location too many times with too many casts now. It’s time to give it a rest.

A standout moment in ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ was seeing Jennifer Lawrence tackle speaking Vietnamese as part of her plan to attend the peace accords meeting. In ‘Apocalypse’ the moment is about rescuing newly reintroduced Nightcrawler from a German cage fighting ring. Seeing Lawrence flirt and then knock the bad guy out just feels repetitive. There’s much more to the Mystique character than this.

Quicksilver rescuing the X-kids from the mansion as it is blown to pieces is a huge moment for the film. We know the sequence took two weeks to shoot and it looks stunning. The effects are outstanding. The methods by which he saves the kids are cleverly scripted. There’s moments of huge comedy within a scene of pure destruction. But overall it’s little more than a rehash of the kitchen sequence from ‘Days of Future Past’. It works, it’s great. It’s nothing new. To avoid his scenes becoming gimmicky the writers need to come at this from a different angle in future.

Oscar Isaas does a great job of playing the villain, I wasn’t one of those concerned that his Apocalypse would look like Ivan Ooze from the ‘Power Rangers’ film but I was concerned about his voice. Various trailers have featured different effects on his voice and the same can be said of the film itself. Depending on what action he is taking his voices changes from being effects laiden to very sparse. Actually the creative team has done a great job of putting his character together. His costume is functional whilst not ignoring the characters origins. He carries a lot of weight on screen but does feel a little constrained within the proportions of the film. He doesn’t quite reach the status of his comic counterpart but it’s a fair effort at something out of the comfort zone of the franchise. Seemingly killing him off at the films climax feels like a mistake to me as there’s so much more potential for the character.

Of the three horseman other than Magneto it is only Alexandra Shipp as young Storm who has much to do. Angel and Psylocke are lost amongst the ensemble both having more to do physically than vocally. With only a handful of lines it is easy to think of them as throwaway characters but I can’t negate the importance of their presence in the film.

Shipp plays Storm well without trying to mimic Halle Berry’s performance in previous entries. It’s great to get chance to spend some time with a young Storm. Sadly what time we spend with her is too little as she is very quickly thrust in to the role of horseman. Her inclusion in the film seems purely contrived to bring her in to the X-Men group for the next film but given how well she comes across I’m not going to complain about it at length.

As expected the film is hugely effects heavy. There’s very little about this film which is low key. The effects are great throughout. The only acception being a shipyard which appears a bit less photo realistic and a little more rough around the edges. It’s a small faux pas in a film which is impeccably well made. At a reported budget of $234M the film looks and sounds brilliant. After so many films ‘Apocalypse’ really stretches the boundaries of what the ‘X-Men’ films can do and I hope this continues in to the next entry in the franchise.

The score is once again provided by John Ottman. Admittedly whilst watching the film only the music that features in the flashback to Ancient Egypt and the brief recall of ‘Hope’ from the ‘Days of Future Past’ soundtrack stood out. But listening to the isolated score today actually there’s a real classical feel to the music. There are the more generic fight scene moments peppered throughout but moments like opening track ‘Apocalypse’, ‘Erik’s Rebirth’ and ‘Beethoven Havok’ are truly unique pieces of music that set this film aside from other popcorn blockbusters.

Overall ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ doesn’t quite eclipse ‘Days of Future Past’ for me. I have a long standing love affair with X-Men time travel stories so it was hugely fulfilling to see that on screen.

I saw a great comment on an article about ‘Apocalypse’ which reads: People have this notion that a movie has to be the worst, or the greatest. Sometimes a movie can just be okay or simply good. ‘Apocalypse’ is better than good, it’s great but it’s not the greatest. It doesn’t have to be and I’m okay with that. It’s a great jumping off point to do some real fan service in the future and make the X-Men one of the strongest franchises in the comic book film world. It writes so many wrongs and does away with so many gripes of films past. It doesn’t function purely as a next entry it serves as a full on re-emerging of a great group of characters.

4 stars

 

 

4 stars

About Neil Vagg 947 Articles
Neil is the GYCO Editorial Chief. He has a BA in Film & Tv and an MA in Scriptwriting; he currently works 9-5 as an office manager and 5-9 as a reviewer/web designer. He has been subscribing to comics for around nine years but has been reading them as long as he can remember. Favourite comics: Batman; Nightwing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and All New X-Men Favourite films: Batman (any apart from & Robin); Star Trek Generations, Underworld, Beetlejuice Favourite TV shows: Fringe; Buffy, Arrow, TBBT, Being Human UK and Star Trek TNG