“X-Men: Apocalypse” Movie Review


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     Marking the ninth film in what has been an impressive sixteen year run, “X-Men: Apocalypse” returns both director Bryan Singer for his fourth outing, as well as the younger versions of these heroes first seen in 2011’s “X-Men: First Class”.  Written by “X-Men: Days of Future Past” vet Simon Kinberg, the story plays as a sort of “X-Men versus Imhotep” with an overall Egyptian vibe and a villain created through an ancient ritual, who has laid dormant for thousands of years, until now.  As has been the case in all of the “X-Men” films, the central characters remain the same, with Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) functioning as the good versus evil core of the film, as several notable and background characters orbit around them.  Whereas Wolverine would usually be one of those notable characters, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) steps in here as the primary focus throughout, serving as the character who kind of glues the whole thing together.

     Singer opens the film with a sequence that could only be described as what the human sacrifice scene in “Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom” would have looked like having the benefit of today’s CGI wizardry.  An Egyptian ruler named En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is known by some to be the first human with the mutant gene and is preparing to transfer himself to a younger body that will allow him to live and rule for eternity.  Of course, just as is the case in the present day in these films, there are anti mutant forces who want him dead, leading to an attempt at sabotage.  As the pyramid crumbles above, En Sabah Nur remains intact, but is buried deep below the ground in a sort of hibernation.  Now a myth and a worshipped god by some, the once Egyptian ruler is awakened after a ritual performed by a group of his followers proves successful.  

     Though all of this is fine, the resulting character, who ends up being called Apocalypse is somewhat of a bore.  When he talks, it’s mostly a bunch of typical rule the world mumbo jumbo that we have heard many times before and his overall plan to destroy the world and start over really makes no sense at all, considering the way he goes about it.  He’s all powerful, but his actions are limited to melting people into walls or giving some of his power to other mutants in order to make them more effective.  Why he really needs anyone at his side is never explained, but prior to enacting his plan, there’s a lengthy globe trotting sequence in which he comes into contact with young versions of Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Angel (Ben Hardy), each of which benefit from Apocalypse’s ability to amp up their respective mutant talents.  In one of the more ironic twists in the film, Apocalypse actually learns everything he needs to know about present day (the film takes place in 1983) culture by watching television.  Apparently it is true TV has rotted our brains.

     On the other side, Singer takes us on a completely separate and lengthy worldwide expedition as we get catch up stories on all of the “First Class” main characters since 20 years has now elapsed since Magneto wreaked havoc on the White House lawn.  Magneto is now a steel worker living under an alias with a wife and daughter.  Professor X is beginning to flourish as the leader of his school for the gifted.  And Mystique seems to want nothing to do with anyone.  After we get the origin story of both Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), as well as an update on Quicksilver (Evan Peters), the two forces begin to come together as Apocalypse seeks out Professor X and looks to steal his ability to connect with people’s minds on a large scale basis.

     Continuity is not an “X-Men” franchise strong suit at this point, as many questions continue to arise as more of these films are made.  Take for instance the fact that James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender look as though they haven’t aged at all in the 20 years separating “First Class” and “Apocalypse”, and then think of how significant they will have aged only 17 years later in 2000’s “X-Men” where they are played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen respectively.  I also don't recall Halle Berry’s Storm having the accent that Alexandra Shipp’s younger version does, nor does Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler match up with the older Alan Cumming character as seen in 2003’s “X-Men 2”.  This is also the kind of film that depends greatly on convenience, like when our heroes discover a highly advanced aircraft that can take them to their fight against Apocalypse and one them says “Look…flight suits.”  Then in the next scene, each of them is all decked out in a perfectly form fitted hero suit, including one for Nightcrawler that accommodates his tail.  

     As has been the case with nearly all recent superhero films, such as “Man of Steel” and “The Avengers”, the human race and the structures they have built take the most damage while our mutant heroes take on their powerful foes.  Buildings, bridges, homes, and presumably the people inside them are laid to waste, primarily by the superpower of Magneto and his newfound ability to unearth metal from the ground and seemingly uproot civilization on a massive scale.  Singer weaves all of these storylines together and more during an endless 144 minute running time stuffed with at least a half dozen independent storylines, some of which could have had their own movie by themselves.  

     This isn’t to say “X-Men: Apocalypse” is the same dark and brooding exercise that “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” was, quite the contrary.  Singer’s film is fun at times and engaging in others (I loved the a scene in which the group goes to the movies to see a famous film that came out in 1983 and emerge from the theater to debate its merits.), but lacks the cohesiveness and overall excitement we just observed in “Captain America: Civil War”.  The fact films like “X-Men 2” and 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” set such a high standard for the franchise, means the series is bound to take criticism when the current offering is as bloated and confusing as this one is. GRADE: C+