Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Simon Kinberg
Starring James MacAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac
Review by Billy Seguire
Massive. Ancient. Extrordinary. X-Men: Apocalypse is the story of Apocalypse, the First Mutant. Awakened from a millennia-long slumber, he is single mindedly focussed on his mission to conquer and rule Earth as God, a goal which impacts everything and everyone in the X-Men franchise as we know it. It’s a story as much about new beginnings as it is about power, its scale a natural progression of the franchise’s ever-growing mythos and push for bigger, more impactful storytelling. As a kid growing up in the early 90’s, the character of Apocalypse is as important to me as Sentinels, Wolverine, and that killer intro music from The Animated Series in creating a full X-Men experience. The intimidating villain demanded a story that meant business, concluding the series’ second trilogy on a note we hadn’t felt before. This film lives up to my expectations. Since returning to the franchise with Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer hasn’t wasted any time giving fans exactly what they’ve been craving, providing more mutants, a harder strain on relationships, and the franchise’s grandest villain in a film which can only be described as an incredible experience.
The film delivers mutant action in a massive display of big budget filmmaking technique. Aided by John Dykstra’s magnificent visual effects, the film manages to put the scale of Apocalypse’s abilities into perspective. Huge shots of crumbling buildings, floating magnetic fields of debris, and unimaginable destruction keep you engrossed in the story of all-powerful mutants at the height of their strength and captures the imagination of the original comic page in fantastic gritty detail. Setting a large portion of the film in Cairo, Poland, and other international locations gives the film a varied foreign perspective, and it serves to underline the global threat of Apocalypse as a villain. It’s not a personal battle for the X-Men in this outing, no longer in the shadows, but an all out war that puts the weight of responsibility on the X-Men’s shoulders. Xavier’s mantra within the film, “to those with great power… protect those without”, is a reminder of the X-Men’s mission amongst the chaos. This movie is holding nothing back and shows each member of the team unleashing the full force of their powers. Remember when it was impressive that Magneto moved a bridge? It’s child’s play compared to the apocalyptic destruction wrought in this film’s armageddon.
An incredible strength of this sixth installment comes in the form of the villain Apocalypse. More than mutant, he is self-identified as God, ancient and all-powerful. With an intimidating presence that seems both to empower and corrupt all that surrounds him, Apocalypse is a true cosmic force within the X-Men universe, with a vengeance for his lessers. Oscar Isaac is unbelievably intense in the role, maintaining a steadfast determination and ego that makes him an unrelenting threat. The makeup used in X-Men: Apocalypse accomplishes the goal of making him other, though it did distract in some scenes as the facade becomes more noticeable in close ups. Regardless, Oscar Isaac’s remarkable performance always shines through, bringing me back into the movie’s world. A large and imposing figure, his sheer size is a constant reminder of the power he holds over others, both through his abilities and powers of manipulation. Apocalypse dwarfs the tiny young Storm, for example, and his approach to her as his disciple is one of mastery and ownership. While his antagonistic aims towards humanity can initially seem similar to Magneto’s, Magneto has always played from a defensive position, making him sympathetic. Apocalypse is unapologetically offensive in his attack.
Compared to Days of Future Past, Fassbender’s Magneto is even more tragic in X-Men: Apocalypse. He has always been the most relatable and sympathetic villain, but here, his story immediately starts out as a man trying to live a quiet life away from conflict. As we all know, that won’t ever be possible, but the way his peace is ripped away from him this time is agonizing, and you genuinely feel empathy for how a character would turn to violence as an immediate response to the hardship he’s facing. At his core, he has always been, from his perspective at least, an anti-hero, set on the same goals as Xavier but approaching them with vastly different politics. Fassbender reminds you X-Men has always the best acting in any superhero franchise, with names like Stewart, MacKellen, MacAvoy, Fassbender, and Isaac consistently and rightfully dominating reviews.
Visual design is everything in this film. Each mutant has a look specifically tailored to them while also reminding us this movie takes place in the 80s. Let it be known I am into Storm’s aesthetic something hard, and the looks for Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Nightcrawler all remind us both of the era and their youth as portrayed in this film. As seen from the trailers, Psylocke is literally in her comics costume, though tragically both her and Jubilee are given little to do, and I feel like Jubilee’s most prominent scenes may have been left on the cutting room floor, such as the scene in the mall, seen in set photos that regretfully never makes an appearance. Overall, the costuming, especially once we get down into X-Men battle-mode, is a nice bridge to the original films, while still keeping it fresh with modern audiences.
Thematically, the film makes approaches from a few directions. Mainly concerned with explorations of strength and power, X-Men: Apocalypse features an antagonist whose mutant ability increases the limits of other mutants potential, and Magneto and Xavier’s constant battle over what mutants should be doing with the power they possess. While the latter have debated endlessly over the course of the franchise, Apocalypse’s actions throughout the film are consistently guided by an ancient moral: the strong survive. As the most powerful being on the planet, this moral motivates him towards a goal no less than being acknowledged as God himself. He sneers at the weapons mankind has made for itself, for the systems we have created to support each other. It would almost be beneath him to use these man made weapons against us. To him, they’re an admission of weakness. No more weapons. No more spears. No more slings. Mankind will be wiped out by mutant ability alone.
There’s also an undercurrent of new beginnings. Apocalypse is “the first mutant”. The “new” crop of students make their debut in this film. All over the film, new beginnings and births make their appearance. This theme in particular appears with good reason. The end of Days of Future Past was a love letter to the original films. A firm standpoint that the characters you remember are safe and happy in the new continuity, but it’s time to tell new stories from a fresh perspective. This film is a purposeful break with continuity of the old films, reinforcing that ending to the fullest. That new crop takes a while to get to the forefront, but when it does, you’ll find yourself embracing the recast versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, and Storm. Especially in Storm’s case, Alexandra Shipp delivers that character in a way that Halle Berry never quite hit on in terms of authenticity to the character. While Berry played the character as Storm, Shipp plays Ororo Monroe in her full breadth, a scared and headstrong orphan determined to make something of herself even as she’s lost her way.
The movie fits the tone the second X-Men trilogy has taken since First Class, focussing on the ensemble cast, allowing light hearted moments but with the pathos running deep with Charles and Erik at the forefront. It’s not Avengers light or Batman v Superman dark. It slots comfortably in between the extremes to deliver a rounded experience. Quicksilver is flat out hilarious, with a highlight being the slow motion sequence saving students from Xavier’s school. It feels a bit like its retreading the kitchen scene from Days of Future Past, but with a harder lean on comedy and ridiculous high speed camera work, it has a welcome place in an otherwise heavy film.
The version of the film I saw was in 3D, which added to the experience in subtle ways that make it clear how this was intended as a 3D feature from the start, as there’s none of the cardboard cutout effects you can sometimes see in poorly upscaled features. Undoubtedly, Cerebro was made for 3D, with images of mutants surrounding Xavier on the three dimensional plane. Likewise Magneto’s magnetic fields and the Quicksilver quicktime segment added additional layers of awe to the movie, though I wouldn’t say the 3D is essential to enjoyment of the story. I occasionally found subtitles a bit difficult to read based on where they were placed in the visual mix, but that may have had more to do with the necessity of me wearing 3D glasses on top of my regular prescription than a fault of the movie itself.
See It. The X-Men comics have some of the richest themes and characters among any of the big superhero franchises. It’s unsurprising that the films have been nearly-universally fantastic. This second trilogy, following the X-Men through First Class, Days of Future Past, and Apocalypse, all tell a single story of genesis, of Charles and Erik finding themselves and growing properly into their familiar personas. It’s an appropriate third act twist of genesis for God to show up, and the struggle against Apocalypse in this film feels like an accomplishment that truly forms the shape of the comic book characters we know. At 140 minutes, it’s long for an action movie, but every moment is well spent on building the world or creating the excellent ensemble dynamic that makes the film stand out. There were only a few characters I felt didn’t get their fair shake within the runtime (what happened to Jubilee?!) But I was so satisfied overall by the unrelenting onslaught of action and a truly intimidating villain.
X-Men: Apocalypses releases May 27, 2016