Friday, May 27, 2016 marks the official US theatrical release of X-Men: Apocalypse – the latest installment in the X-Men movie franchise from Director Bryan Singer. Nerd Nation Magazine was in attendance for the official early press screening on Monday, May 9, 2016 courtesy of 20th Century Fox, Allied Marketing, and Regal Cinemas.
While X-Men: Apocalypse is technically the ninth installment in the X-Men series, it is the third in the quasi-rebooted X-men series, serving as a direct sequel to 2011’s X-Men: First Class, and 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. While the franchise has certainly seen its ups and downs over the years, both films since the (again, quasi/sort-of) reboot (it’s hard to explain, and involves time travel, alternate realities, etc.) have been very well-received by both critics and audiences alike. But enough prefacing here… let’s get down to the real question on everyone’s minds – does X-Men: Apocalypse live up to the hype? Is it on-par with last two films? And most importantly, is it any good? Read on to find out more!
Set in the 1980s, X-Men: Apocalypse picks up not too long after the last film left off. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy of Shameless) is heading up the Xavier School For Gifted Youngsters in Westchester, NY, and, alongside Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult of About a Boy) is helping a sizable class of young mutants to develop and control their extraordinary abilities. Meanwhile in Egypt, an ancient being –and the world’s first mutant– that once ruled the world and was worshipped as a god, En Sabbah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Issac of Star Wars: The Force Awakens) has awoken after thousands of years in hibernation. Apocalypse possesses near limitless power, including immortality, and the ability to transfer his conciousness and powers into other hosts, taking on the abilities of any mutant he possesses. Over the milennia, Apocalypse has gained the power of regeneration (similar to the healing factors of Wolverine, Sabertooth, and Deadpool), telekenesis, superhuman strength, technopathy, matter/energy manipulation, and perhaps most importantly to this film, the ability to enhance the mutant powers of others.
Seeing the new world he has awoken to as weak and unworthy, Apocalypse sets out to completely destroy it and remake it in his own image, promising that those who survive will be rewarded, and the most powerful mutants will rule alongside him. He seeks out his Four Horsemen to be his chosen lieutenants, the first of which being Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp of House of Anubis) followed by Betsy Braddock/Psylocke (Oliva Munn of Attack of the Show) and Warren Worthington III/Angel/Archangel (Ben Hardy of EastEnders). Apocalypse amplifies their mutant abilities, and the three assist him in tracking down his fourth horseman, Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassneder of Inglorious Basterds) who following the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past has gone into hiding in Poland.
Meanwhile, a returning Raven Darkholme/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence of The Hunger Games) alongside Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee of Dawn of the Panet of the Apes) learns of this, and comes to Xavier to warn him of Magneto’s resurfacing and Apocalypse, and encourage him to re-assemble the X-Men to fight against the impending threats. Among this new lineup of reformed X-Men are Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters of American Horror Story), and the first appearances (in the rebooted universe) of young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner of Game of Thrones), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan of Mud), and Jubilation Lee/Jubilee (Lana Condor in her first film role). With the sides chose,. the battle lines drawn, and the fat of the world at stake it all comes down to a big, epic showdown of good vs. evil. What happens? Who survives? Who dies? You’ll just have to go watch and see for yourselves!
If all of this plot explantion and character inclusion seems a bit too much to digest, you’re not alone. This is a very overstuffed cast, and in a universe as vast and in-depth as X-Men, it’s pretty hard not to be. For fans of X-Men, particularly those of us who grew up reading the comics and watching the animated shows, there is a lot of fan service and a lot to be happy about. For everyone else, including most casual fans of superhero films, there is a lot to not like about this. It’s rather confusing at times with all the different characters, seems a bit rushed, and doesn’t offer quite enough with character development. If you already know the characters (through the comics, animated shows, etc) it’s perfectly fine, but if you don’t, you don’t really get to know them very well in this one – apart from very basic stuff, anyway. The overall story is a pretty basic, paint-by-numbers, good vs. evil in a big, epic showdown action/comic book/superhero film style. It’s chock full of outstanding special effects, which both practical and CGI effects are impressive, and the cinematography is very typical Hollywood bliockbuster quality.
What really shines most of all in X-Men: Apocalypse is its cast. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continue to do excellent jobs in portraying the two central characters of the entire X-Men universe as Xavier and Magneto, respectively. Evan Peters absolutely steals the show once again as Quicksilver, turning in a standout performance. Sophie Turner also particularly shines as Jean Grey, breathing new life (and no, that’s not a Phoenix joke, I promise) into a character that hadn’t previously seen a particularly great casting in older X-Men films. Oscar Issac does an excellent job as the psychotic, ruthless, and immensely powerful Apocalype, but could have really benefited from more character development. Still, he did a fantastic job with what he had.
Returning castmembers Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult were the obvious weak links in this cast, turning in serviceable and acceptable jobs in their roles as Mystique and Beast, respectively, but not particularly stellar or memorable ones. The same could honestly be said for Tye Sherridan and Ben Hardy as Cyclops and Archangel, although they did a little better of a job than Lawrence and Hoult, there just wasn’t much to either of their performances, beyond the fact that they did very well with what they were given. Likewise, other newcomers Alexandra Shipp, Olivia Munn, and Kodi Smit-McPhee all did outstanding jobs with their characters, as did Icelandic actor Tómas Lemarquis in a bit role as Morlock leader/underground mutant sleazeball Caliban. Again, this was a HUGE cast, and as such, there just wasn’t enough good writing and runtime to properly let them all shine… but they were all very good, with some of them truly standing out.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, X-Men: Apocalypse wasn’t a perfect film by any stetch, but it was very good. For fans of X-Men, it absolutely delivered and offered plenty of fan service, including a couple big cameos (that I won’t spoil here) and a funny line that subtly rips on how many people hated X-Men 3: The Last Stand. It’s absolutely a big fight, big explosions, end-of-the-world action movie, and does lack a lot of substance because of that, but fans who already know the characters really shouldn’t mind that, especially considering the cast does a nice job for the most part. That said, people who aren’t already fans of the X-Men comics and/or don’t know all the characters, will likely find a lot to gripe about here. Honestly, it falls on the top side of the middle as far as X-Men films go. It’s certainly not as good as X-Men: Days of Future Past or X2: X-Men United, but also not nearly as bad as X-Men 3: The Last Stand or (and I apolgize for mentioning it) X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Definitely as good as X-Men: First Class, though, and definitely not the one to ruin the new, quasi-rebooted franchise, as some overreacting aggros will likely say about it. All that said, if you’re an X-Men fan, it’s definitely worth seeing, as you’ll really enjoy it… if you’re not, you might ought to skip this one, as you most likely won’t. – 7.0/10
Editor/Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine