Review by Ivan Davison
The latest edition in the ever expanding franchise, X-Men Apocalypse, gives audiences familiar with the mutant universe everything they crave whilst also expanding its character roster in satisfying ways.
Directed by Bryan Singer, who has been behind the lens for the all but one of the last five core films in the X-Men franchise, has taken his clear love for the comic book source material and adapted a much loved villain and infamous back-story into a well crafted narrative. This is one that feels inventive and new, in spite of this series of films occupying our cinema screens for nearly sixteen years.
This entry in the series tells the story of an ancient and all-powerful mutant, En Sabah Nur (aka the eponymous Apocalypse), who is suspected to be the first mutant in all of history. For thousands of years, he would attempt to conquer & destroy civilisations in order to create a new mutant-led society. Aiding him at all times were a hand-selected group of four highly powerful mutants, whom he dubbed his four horsemen of the apocalypse. After being entombed in the rubble of an ancient Egyptian pyramid, En Sabah Nur is accidentally revived in the 1980s, where he resumes his goal of destroying the earth and rebuilding it in his own image. The mutants of Charles Xavier’s school for Gifted Youngsters (i.e the young X-Men) then must unite to try to stop Apocalypse and his newly appointed four horsemen (Magneto, Storm, Angel and Psylocke) before his plan for destruction is complete.
Acting highlights come from the established actors who return for their latest outing as the mutants. Michael Fassbender is once again incredible in his role as Magneto, portraying a character who is essentially a villain, but one who who’s harsh circumstances and tragic life can’t help but make you feel that he is deserving in his want for revenge & retribution. James McAvoy as Professor X is also wonderful in the way that he conveys his earnest desire to help other mutants, despite the many setbacks and heartbreaks he has faced in his quest for peace.
With that being said, X-Men:Apocalypse expertly introduces a number of fresh faced & talented actors into the mix, with many of them playing younger versions of the previously established X-Men alumni. Game of Thrones’ star Sophie Turner shines as the young Jean Grey, with her portrayal of the character growing from a shy and vulnerable teen into a commanding, powerful presence. Tye Sheridan’s performance as the cocky but insecure Scott Summers (Cyclops) is another highlight. And as a welcome change of pace, Kodi Smitt-McPhee (Nightcrawler) is great as the fish out of water comic relief with a Catholic consciences, and Evan Peters returns to dazzle as the cocky and quick witted (no pun intended) Quicksliver, with one of the highlights of the film being his hilarious slow motion rescue scene at Xavier’s Mansion.
In contrast, Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) and Nicholas Holt (Beast) feel slightly underused in this chapter, as their characters seem to spend a great deal of the film’s run time either bringing other mutants together or delivering exposition, and never really develop in any way that is meaningful to the overall story. That being said, with so many other plot threads developing throughout the movie, its not strange to see some established characters taking a back-seat to the introduction of new players in the X-Men universe.
While the overall conflict and general story itself may seem somewhat predictable at times to those well versed in the superhero genre, the addition of an ancient and god-like villain, who is not driven by a political agenda or personal vendettas, (as has been a staple of the X-Men franchise since its first appearance in 2000) is a welcome change, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens star Oscar Isaac plays the character with a brooding ferocity that sets him apart from most villians seen before. In addition, the Egyptian setting and set pieces (both ancient and modern day), and the variety of new faces and characters is a welcome change of pace for a series that basically reset its playing field after 2014’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past.
Those hoping to see any of the actors from the previous saga, or a similar story to previous films, may be a little disappointed (despite an satisfyingly brutal cameo appearance from a certain A-list fan favourite mutant), as this film firmly concerns itself only with the newly established prequel time-line.
In doing so, it establishes itself from the previous X-Men prequels of X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, as Apocalypse takes time to develop its story and established characters, but also introduces new key players and does so in a way that feels different from past films, without having to rely on the established formula set before it, or a convoluted time travel setting.
While it may not serve as much fan service gratification as previous editions of this new set of X-Men films, Apocalypse instead moves the prequel franchise forward in order to tell newer stories and explore newer characters and exciting and different versions of fan favourites. As it stands, this is just a tale of young mutants trying save the modern world form an ancient threat, and its all the better for it.