X-Men: Days of Future Past tackled the enormous task of not only interweaving the original cast alongside the new, but creating visually stunning and memorable moments. It also reset the entire story by creating an alternate future (and cleverly erased the travesty of X-Men: The Last Stand). This allowed for a new telling with well known characters, but how does X-Men: Apocalypse take advantage of this fresh start, and does it stand up to its predecessor?
The film begins in ancient Egypt with Apocalypse at the height of his power, spending a bit too much time on set up. It’s an unfortunate but necessary evil in order to tell us why he’s so dangerous, but it creates a sluggish introduction because we also have to sit through the debut of Storm, Nightcrawler, Angel, and Cyclops, then catch up with Magneto, Mystique, Beast, Professor Xavier, and the rest of the enormous cast (all set in the year of 1983).
Once the backstory is up to speed, the rest of the hefty 2 hour and 24 minute film moves by at a decent pace. Disgusted with the current state of the world, Apocalypse (played by Oscar Isaac) decides that he wants to destroy everything and build anew. It’s a plot point that feels as old as Apocalypse himself and unfortunately he isn’t given any characterization beyond the goal of world domination. Outside of being enormously powerful, there’s just not enough to find interesting about him. Villains are as vital as the protagonists in superhero films, and while Isaac is adequate as the titular character, he feels somewhat wasted in the role.
Apocalypse’s plan is to find the strongest mutants to join him as his new horsemen. He selects Storm, Angel, Psylocke, and Magneto (played by Alexandra Shipp, Ben Hardy, Olivia Munn, and the ever phenomenal Michael Fassbender), with his only logical choice being Magneto. The other three mutants are far from weak, but for a villain so terribly paramount, it’s like Kobe Bryant asking high schoolers to join his basketball team; they’re just not anywhere near his level. They’re also largely wasted as characters with very little screen time, dialogue, or motivation for wanting to also destroy the world.
Where the movie falters with its villains, it succeeds with its heroes. One of the major issues of the X-Men franchise is the focus on a select one or two mutants (typically Wolverine, and more recently Mystique) at the cost of the rest of the cast, but X-Men: Apocalypse deliberately spreads the love across the board and is all the better for it. Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Mystique has been terribly weak in the previous two movies, but Lawrence finally ups her game and the writing makes good use of her character. She still plays an important role in the film, but doesn’t stand in its center.
Showcasing new mutant powers and the destruction of major landmarks, the visual effects in X-Men: Apocalypse are somewhat of a mixed bag; impressive in some scenes and dated in others. The fighting feels lackluster in comparison to what we’ve seen before. The choreography doesn’t quite excite, and with the reintroduction of physically combative mutants like Nightcrawler, Angel, and Psylocke, it feels like so much more could have been delivered. While 3D is a viewing option, it adds very little to the cinematic experience.
Much of the movie’s plot revolves around James McAvoy’s Professor X as Apocalypse attempts to control the world using Cerebro, but newcomers Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Nightcrawler (played by Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, and Kodi Smit-McPhee) receive solid screen time that allows the story to lay down the foundation of their characters and make use of their powers. Turner even sounds surprisingly natural with an American accent. The three actors do a great job capturing the spirit of their characters while keeping them fun and 80’s fresh.
Evan Peters also returns as Quicksilver and once again knocks it out of the park with an explosive sequence involving Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (not to mention an outstanding choice of song). Quicksilver felt too powerful in Days of Future Past, but his abilities and lack thereof are much better situated in Apocalypse. He’s lightning quick, but can no longer solve every problem surrounding the X-Men, and it makes the movie all the more believable when including him a second time around. McAvoy and Fassbender may deliver exceptional performances, but it’s Peters that steals the show with Quicksilver’s wit, charm, and well placed levity.
Pacing amps up during the final act and it solidly brings together everything the film has been building up to. The X-Men and Four Horsemen duke it out while a battle of the minds takes place between Professor X and Apocalypse, giving McAvoy a chance to join in on the action. The crux of the battle comes as Professor X urges his team toward a bold, momentous act that’s as visually spectacular as it is captivating. It elevates the fight from exciting to electrifying and allows Sophie Turner to shine as a heavyweight.
X-Men: Apocalypse manages to overcome its early weaknesses by delivering gripping moments alongside a deft and compelling ending. It is not perfect by any means, but manages to juggle its huge cast with ample screen time amongst most characters. While it doesn’t surpass the excellence of Days of Future Past, Apocalypse proves that the X-Men still have exciting, worthwhile stories to tell.
- Much more evenly shared screen time amongst characters than in previous X-Men movies
- Jaw-dropping action sequences especially Quicksilver doing Quicksilver things
- Excellent ending with solid payoff
- Slow pacing early on
- Villains that are relatively one dimensional
- Mixed quality on special effects