X-Men: Apocalypse is the fourth X-Men film to be directed by Bryan Singer and the ninth film in the series overall. I have enjoyed this series of films since I first saw X-Men in theaters back in 2000, particularly the themes of isolation and bigotry and the life of an outsider that have been explored in most of these films. Some are great (X2: X-Men United and X-Men: Days of Future Past), some are a lot of fun and special (Deadpool and The Wolverine), and some are terrible (X-Men Origins: The Wolverine). The series has consistently showcased great performances from amazing casts (seriously, how many film series has a cast this amazing, maybe Harry Potter?), some amazing action sequences (the White House opening in X2 and any Quicksilver scene), and thought provoking conflicting ideologies between Magneto and Professor X. But then there are its inconsistent quality of films, to the overly convoluted timeline and continuity issues, to its tonal inconsistencies.
And the latest in Fox’s franchise falls somewhere in the middle of those two sides of the series. It has both the good and the bad. It is very entertaining, it has great performances (Evan Peters as Quicksilver and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler steal every one of their scenes), it has some great action scenes (one involving a pseudo-prison breakout and the opening sequence come to mind), but the characters haven’t aged or changed all that much over the 20 years that the last few films have taken place, and it is overstuffed with several characters that are wasted and do not contribute much to the film besides being another mutant with cool powers to pop in and add something to an okay action sequence. This is a mediocre entry in the franchise, a fun summer blockbuster that doesn’t do anything extensively new that hasn’t been done before in other superhero movies, including previous X-Men movies. It’s by far better than other entries in the series, but it does not meet the the amazing heights of X2 in terms of story and character, which is okay, not every film in a series of nine (!!!) films need to be the best, they can be serviceable and entertaining, which is what I want from a summer movie. Yes I want the best movie achievable, but I was never bored during the two and half hours of Apocalypse, which I find to be the most important thing for a big summer action movie.
But enough about comparing this film to every other X-Men film. Let’s talk about the positives. First, the performances are great. Sophie Turner brings a lot to the role of Jean Grey, as does Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers/Cyclops. They both made me feel the struggle they face having these incredible powers and they felt like teenagers in over their heads. As I mentioned earlier, Evan Peters and Kodi Smit-McPhee steal the whole movie. You can tell they are having a blast making this movie and it works. They bring a lot of levity to the serious proceedings and they are great in every one of their scenes. And yes, the Quicksilver action scenes live up to the amazing “Time in a Bottle” sequence from Days of Future Past. As always, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are incredible in their returning roles as Professor X and Magneto, respectively. They bring such grace and gravitas to the roles, and the entire first half of Magneto’s journey before he joins up with Apocalypse as on of Apocalypse’s four horseman is heart wrenching and very effective. His plight is one of the best parts of this film.
But great performances do not make great characters. Mystique played by Jennifer Lawrence, Beast played by Nicholas Hoult and Moira Mactaggert played by Rose Byrne do not do much. Sure they service the plot in a couple of scenes and add some cool factors at moments, but they do not add a lot to the film. Many of their scenes could have been rewritten to reduce the number of characters. Which is too bad, because these three actors are very good in their roles, even if Hoult and Lawrence seem a little bored at times. And yes Mystique has a slight arc in this movie, but it’s not much. The relationship between Beast and Mystique is barely explored and MacTaggert has no real reason to be in this movie besides to kickstart the plot.
Then there is Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse. I love Oscar Isaac. He is one of best younger actors out there today and he is very good as Apocalypse, I love some of his line readings, they are so campy and fun. But that’s the problem. Apocalypse isn’t played for laughs but he comes across as campy and overly self-serious. His plan to destroy the world isn’t that developed and is incredibly simplistic. Yes I understand his motivations, but there could be more layers to him outside of being an all powerful mutant. I don’t mind the fact that he isn’t larger than everyone and I don’t mind the make-up and costume, unlike a lot of people out there. I have a problem with the writing and the direction they chose to take the character. Because a lot of the fun I had with the character is, I’m sure, unintentional. When he says the word “Learning” early on, I laughed. Others laughed. But it’s not supposed to be humorous. It was supposed to be threatening. And that speaks volumes to the problems this film has. There is too much happening in terms of characters and destruction that many things feel underdeveloped, most of all is the main villain.
I really enjoyed this film, though I admit that it could be a lot better. It leaves me excited for the new younger cast (I really want to see more of Alexandra Shipp as Storm) and I will always enjoy Professor X and Magneto converse about their beliefs in humanity and mutants. But the film could have been better in balancing the cast and excising certain sequences or characters to give more room to more development to the villains.
This series isn’t perfect, and should never be considered perfect, but it is one that is always being compared to itself as if it had a consistently great output, which I find unfair. A lot of people are throwing a lot of hate at Apocalypse for not living up to the standard of the series, but what is that standard? Wolverine being launched from an exploding jeep to cut down a helicopter? Another movie that Magneto lifts up and moves something big to then say some corny lines? I love this series and I had a lot of fun with Apocalypse. Should this movie be better? Yes. But does that make it a bad movie? No. X-Men: Apocalypse has Bryan Singer creating some crazy and ballsy sequences, many filled with turmoil or excitement or genuine glee. He knows how to make an entertaining blockbuster, and like many of the other X-Men films, this one can’t balance its multitude of characters well, but it can still be a thoroughly enjoyable flick.