Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

Following up his last stellar entry into the damaged but deadly X-Men franchise, with 2014's time-bending Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer dives further into comic-book lore to unearth his next blockbuster of X-Men: Apocalypse. Offering up one of the superhero team's biggest and baddest foes to take on a whole new line-up of X-Men, Singer elegantly intertwines your stereotypical end-of-days disaster film with another captivating tale that blends comic nostalgia with real-life emotional stature. With a fantastic cast under his wing -- from Michael Fassbender's riveting Magneto to a motley collection of younger heroes -- as well as some crafty action scenes worthy of the source material, Singer once again proves that the X-Men don't need the Avengers at their side to deliver a powerful summer blockbuster.


When an ancient evil suddenly awakens after centuries of being entombed in Cairo, Egypt, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his school for gifted youngsters are soon drawn back into mutant war, as this deadly new opponent seeks to cleanse the world for only the strongest to survive. Quickly drawing in other mutants, from the shady Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) to the now-secluded family-man Magneto (Michael Fassbender), the ancient threat of En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) embarks on a monumental reign of chaos in order to regain his rule from the "false gods" that lead the world now. Breaking apart not only the world from the ground up, but also the fundamental alliances of the X-Men team, only the most powerful source of strength and resilience can prevent the Apocalypse from destroying Earth as we know it.


Continuing the imperfect superhero saga established by director Bryan Singer back in 2000 with the first film, X-Men, the now-ninth installment in the franchise set out to not only bring fans a worthy comic-book plot equipped with its own massive villain and colorful characters, but also worked to reinvent the established film series for a new age. Delivering a whirlwind of '80s nostalgia and apocalyptic chaos, X-Men: Apocalypse managed to not only succeed at fulfilling a comic-book fanboy's dream, but was also able to give us an even deeper investigation into its colorful palette of heroes. A film for the nerds seeking spectacle and comic-accurate characters, as well as for those seeking favorable character development and complex themes of loss and indifference, even with its minor missteps, X-Men: Apocalypse delivered exactly what I was looking for.

Before I get to the finer details of what makes this film both good and bad, I must first address the elephant in the room, if you will. Like most fans of the franchise know, the X-Men films have never been perfect. A film series plagued not only by its overwhelming amount of intriguing characters and storylines, but also by its flawed direction and writing at times, the once-pioneering superhero franchise that began with 2000's X-Men has since been criticized heavily for its somewhat-confusing timeline and ineffectiveness to deliver films worthy of the first two. With that, even its darkest hours -- releasing lackluster entries like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: The Last Stand -- the X-Men franchise has still managed to become one of the best comic-book franchises in Hollywood today. Perfected by directors like Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class), as well as screenwriters like David Hayter and Simon Kinberg, the time-twisting franchise of superheroes and social commentary remains clearly flawed -- its timeline forever askew and some of its characters and stories still feeling highly underdeveloped -- but nevertheless it continues to surprise fans with its most recent entries.


The question here is, does the franchise's latest installment work for or against the series' goal to perfect its mistakes. The answer...is complicated. Even as the next chapter of X-Men: Apocalypse delivers a phenomenal display of superpowered beings and complex characters set in a world of injustice and chaos, it still suffers a number of problems that once plagued the previous entries. While the newly-added characters and story arcs of the deadly Apocalypse and other comic-book favorites may add a dynamic flair to the franchise, this film in particular felt much like a carbon copy of its predecessors of 2011's First Class and 2014's Days of Future Past. Still reliant on its planted basis of social indifference and discrimination of the mutant kind, it appeared that Apocalypse didn't work to resolve nor evolve this central theme, but simply place it there for the audience to know it's still there. One of the few flaws I found in this film had to be its somewhat-lazy writing. While the spectacle of Apocalypse's reign of terror and the enjoyment of seeing the new characters cautiously step into their defined roles may have worked to sway your attention, it was very clear that elements of the plot remained undeniably flavorless.

At the center of this homogeneous structure, there sits another flawed -- but nonetheless star-studded -- element of the film -- the cast. Still one of the most enjoyable aspects of the newly-formatted structure of the franchise -- which brought in a younger cast following First Class and Days of Future Past -- the cast of this film remains both stellar and undoubtedly unsound. Even as characters like Jennifer Lawrence's Raven aka Mystique and Michael Fassbender's Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto work to bring novel concepts and storylines to the franchise, these two -- along with many others -- remain just as they were in previous installments. Still working towards a similar goal of making mutants the dominant race among an unjust society, even as the film works to reinvent these characters, their motivations remain the same as they ever were. With that, even as their motivations remain unchanged, it goes without saying that Fassbender and Lawrence remain two of the most notable performances in the film, with Lawrence stepping into a new role and retaining her Katniss confidence, and Fassbender's turmoil as the semi-villain Magneto continuing to stun.

Much like Dwayne Johnson, Jennifer Lawrence remains the "viagra"
to any Hollywood franchise these days 
While the rest of the returning cast, from James McAvoy's phenomenal Charles Xavier to Evan Peters' sharp-witted Quicksilver, continued to perform superbly as their comic-book counterparts, it was really the new members of the cast that stood out for me. From Oscar Isaac's sinister yet clichéd central antagonist to the motley collection of young faces like Sophie Turner's Jean Grey and Kodi Smit-McPhee's Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler, the pristine players of the franchise definitely worked in this film's favor. Offering up both characters we've never seen on the big screen like Apocalypse and Psylocke, as well as younger versions of famous X-Men like Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm, the new cast members were one of the most refreshing elements of the film. As for the characters who have never graced the silver screen, newcomer to the franchise Oscar Isaac offered up a fantastic display of wickedness and power as the ancient evil of En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse. While his motivations and strategy were bludgeoned by commonplace themes we've seen all too often in films like these, beneath all that blue and grey make-up and prosthetics, you could definitely feel Isaac's unique intensity present in his character. Among the villain's four followers, or Horsemen, there was a similar intensity as each of the four -- from Alexandra Shipp's Storm to Olivia Munn's bad-ass Psylocke -- offered up their own unique take on their characters.


Even as they were muddled in fast-paced jolts of CGI, the action sequences of the film also managed to stand out. From the final -- and quite underwhelming -- battle between the X-Men and Apocalypse's Four Horsemen to that one scene featuring that one character you always knew would show up in the film, the action in the film might have been some of the best in the franchise. Better, or least up to par with the action of Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse delivered excellent spectacle worthy of any comic-book fan's time. Whether it be Professor Xavier and Apocalypse duking it out within the astral plane or a certain clawed maniac leaving splatters of blood in his wake, the action of the X-Men franchise is definitely maturing and becoming increasingly more exciting as we go along, even if it remains a tad bit like your stereotypical action flick.

Once again, a highlight of the film was another memorable
scene from the speedster Quicksilver
Overall, while it suffered from its somewhat-flavorless writing and clichéd formula, the latest entry in the X-Men franchise managed to keep me captivated through the majority of its lengthy runtime. Offering up some excellent callbacks to the original films and comics as well, and some superb action sequences, X-Men: Apocalypse can be appreciated by any moviegoer who's seeking a worthy disaster film mixed in with superpowered heroes and solid commentary about society and its many flaws. If you're a fan of the franchise or the comics, I think you will greatly enjoy this film for its spectacle and slight character development, looking over its minor repetitive themes and run-of-the-mill structure.

I gave this film a 7 out of 10 for its continually phenomenal cast of mutants and megalomaniacs, its maturing action and storylines that still remain a bit commonplace, and its ballsy tactics to keep the X-Men franchise alive and kicking even as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to rule the big-screen superhero scene.  
      

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