The X-Men franchise has seen some lows (X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but for the most part, some of the best films in the superhero genre have come from this 16 year film series about mutants with superpowers attempting to coexist with the humans who fear them. No director knows the heights of X-Men film success like Bryan Singer, Director of the first and second X-Men movies as well as 2014’s hit X-Men: Days of Future Past. Singer returns to direct the latest installment in the franchise, and has the unfortunate task of following Captain America: Civil War as well as trying to raise his own ridiculously high bar.
X-Men: Apocalypse follows the trend of the recent X-Men films in picking up the story in a new decade. This time, the setting is the 1980’s where CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) has stumbled upon a cult that awakens the world’s first recorded mutant, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) aka Apocalypse, who was betrayed by his followers in ancient Egypt. Apocalypse has survived for centuries by transferring his consciousness into new mutant bodies, collecting new mutant powers along the way and upon his awakening he sets out recruiting strong mutants to be his Four Horseman followers. Joining him is weather manipulating Storm (Alexandra Shipp), psychic knife wielding Psylocke (Olivia Munn), winged Angel (Ben Hardy), and former X-Men adversary, Magneto (Michael Fassbender).
The only thing standing between Apocalypse and his mission to cleanse the world of non-mutants is peace loving telepath Professor, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his young X-Men: psychic Jean Gray (Sophie Turner), optic blasting Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and teleporting Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Helping lead the team is Xavier’s furry, right hand man, Beast (Nicholas Hoult), shape-shifting anti-hero Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and comedic speedster, Quicksilver (Evan Peters).
There are a ton of characters in this movie and it’s easy to get lost among them. The film admittedly doesn’t do as well as most in the franchise have done with juggling all of the different mutants. The Four Horseman, for example, are virtually flat, underdeveloped characters with the exception of Magneto. The film also has a few pacing issues. One scene in particular, involving returning villain William Striker (Josh Helman), seems shoe horned in only for fan service and to set up sequels (A problem no superhero film seems able to avoid these days).
But none of these problems take away from the overall splendor of X-Men: Apocalypse. The action sequences and set pieces are once again top notch. From the climactic battle to one scene involving Evan Peter’s Quicksilver that manages to one up his sequence from Days of Future Past, there is plenty to gawk at. Even the aforementioned unnecessary scene is still wildly entertaining. And as with any X-Men film, there are plenty of metaphors for real human issues to give the story purpose and context.
The titular villain is also a big plus. Despite being a generic God-like figure bent on world domination, Apocalypse is portrayed by Oscar Isaac with a charismatic wit and deeply imposing astuteness that makes him far more captivating than anything the Marvel Cinematic Universe has tried to pass off as an antagonist not named Loki. And he isn’t alone in his standout performance. All of the young mutants are solid and Michael Fassbender once again manages to conjure all of the deepest emotions with a few notable scenes. If there’s a performance that lacks, it’s actually Jennifer Lawrence, who seems as if she is being thrown into the forefront of these movies more and more, simply because she’s Jennifer Lawrence and not because the story or the character has a need for it.
Bryan Singer’s latest X-Men film is certainly not as grand as his last, or my all time favorite X2: X-Men United (2003). But X-Men Apocalypse is filled with a fine dose of eye popping action, charismatic humor, and a threatening villain that moves the story and makes the stakes worthy of a 144 minute film. Masterpieces are hard to come by in this era of constant superhero flicks (just ask DC Comics), but X-Men Apocalypse is at the very least an exciting entry that shouldn’t be a letdown to casual fans or diehards.
FINAL GRADE: B+