Film Review: X-men: Apocalypse (20th Century Fox; 2016)

James Brown, Contributor

X-men: Apocalypse has the unenviable task of being the fourth superhero movie this year, as well as being the ninth film in the X-men universe (including both Wolverine spin-offs and Deadpool). Although it manages, once again, to refresh the franchise whilst increasing the stakes dramatically, its flaws prevent it from reaching true greatness.

Things have been rather quiet since the previous movie: Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has managed to get his school for the gifted (a.k.a. mutants) up and running successfully, Magneto (Michael Fassbender), no longer the bad guy, has settled down with a family, and whilst undoubtedly strained, the relationship between humans and mutants is in pretty good shape. However, things change when an ancient mutant known as “Apocalypse” reawakens. Recruiting a team of mutants, he intends to remake the world the way he sees fit.

With this movie, we are introduced to younger versions of fan favourite characters, such as Jean Grey (Sophie turner with a poor American accent), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). We also see the return of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) along with the introduction of Psylocke (Olivia Munn). Some of these characters fare better than others in terms of screen time and presence, with Quicksilver, Cyclops and Nightcrawler being three strong points.

Oscar Issac was a surprising choice to play Apocalypse, mostly because he is usually portrayed as a hulking brute of a character. He is unrecognisable on screen due to layers of makeup and prosthetics, his voice modulated in different ways.  He does the best he can with the role, but it’s hard to fully understand his motivations and he doesn’t quite come across as the threat that he possibly should. It seems as though his powers have been toned down a fair bit compared to the comics.

While Days of Future Past (2014) had some of the more inventive superhero action seen in a live action superhero films, Apocalypse unfortunately doesn’t quite live up to the standard it set. One set piece, although entertaining, is effectively just a rehash of what came before. Consistent with the name of the film, there is plenty of destruction and the effects stand up relatively well. That said, there are still certain scenes that look fake, having obviously been filmed against a green screen.

In terms of tone, the movie seems unsure of what is wants to be. It explores both the fantastical and the human element. It has rather dark moments at times, and then later has light, cheesy moments. That said, the humour in the film is generally well done and there are quite a few “laugh out loud” moments. The movie manages to fit a lot in, but this does cause it to feel rushed at times, jumping from place to place and from one character or group of characters to another. It’s hard not to wonder if certain scenes could’ve been cut out with no detrimental effect on the story being told.

With this film, there is a sense that you have to go with the flow a bit, with some things that happen not really making any sense if you think about them too much. One such issue is the fact that the characters don’t seem to have aged since the previous movie, despite it being 10 years later. It is also slightly disappointing that the film doesn’t use the 80s period it is set in as well as the previous movie used the 70s setting.

Overall, this movie will entertain fans of the X-Men franchise, although those not caught up on the previous films may struggle. It’s difficult to know where the series will go from here given the global scale of the conflict depicted. That said, it’s easy to be optimistic about the future of the franchise, considering the entertaining young cast and all the potential that comes with having years upon years of comics to borrow from.

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