X-MEN APOCALYPSE – review

X-Men: Apocalypse

Sixteen years after the release of the first X-Men movie, Bryan Singer and company are back with the latest installment in the long-running franchise, X-Men: Apocalypse. I know superhero movies can draw a lot of criticism from longtime fans of the comic books, so before we get into X-Men: Apocalypse, I wanted to share my thoughts on the subject. In short, I personally think of superhero movies as adaptations of the comics as opposed to recreations – while the characters and storylines may be based on various source materials, I like when the movie plots are allowed to progress as their own stories (and really, how many times have comic book storylines been adapted from themselves in the form of retcons?). This line of thinking gives stories a chance to take an unexpected turn or characters who may be longtime villains room to grow into heroes or vice versa. Others may disagree, but I find that this keeps the movies based on comics exciting and, ultimately, more enjoyable. Now, without further ado, let’s talk about X-Men: Apocalypse!

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The story begins in Ancient Egypt, as En Sabah Nur, otherwise known as Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), enters the city of Cairo flanked by his four horsemen. While the city has turned out in adoration of whom many believe to be a god, a few knowing glances between guards indicate there is more than meets the eye to the parade as it proceeds into a temple deep within a pyramid. There, the stage is set for the aging Apocalypse to transfer his consciousness into a new body that is shown to have regenerative abilities, essentially becoming immortal. Before the transfer is complete, however, the guards enact their plan to destroy both the temple and the false god. They are almost successful, but Apocalypse’s last remaining horseman transfers his armor from his old body to his new body and entombs him in a psychic cocoon, where he lies while the world goes on without him.

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Fast forward to 1982, where a high school class is learning about the day Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) saved President Nixon in 1973. The lesson is interrupted, however, when Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) begins having trouble with his eyes and shortly after blasts a class bully into a bathroom wall as his optic lasers manifest. His brother, Alex (Lucas Till), takes him to meet with Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Hank “Beast” McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) at the School for Gifted Youngsters, where he bumps into Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and is later admitted as a student.

Meanwhile, Mystique, whose natural blue form has become something of an icon to young mutants across the globe, infiltrates a mutant fight club in Berlin, saving Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from a deadly match with Angel (Ben Hardy); Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is now living under an assumed name with a wife and child in Europe and Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) is investigating a cult in Cairo that has sprung up in the wake of the world’s discovery of mutants. Her investigation leads her to an underground cavern, where a group of men are chanting to En Sabah Nur, who, unbeknownst to them, rests a few hundred feet below. Moira’s entry into the site inadvertently lets in the sunlight which charges the ancient pyramid linked to Apocalypse, waking him and causing a tremor that is felt around the planet.images-23

Back at the X-mansion, Jean is troubled by visions of the end of the world which Professor X attempts to assuage. Soon after, Magneto’s identity is revealed with tragic consequences, setting off a worldwide manhunt for the Master of Magnetism. Both Mystique and Quicksilver (Evan Peters), upon hearing that Magneto has resurfaced, seek the help of Professor X to track him down, the former with Nightcrawler in tow. At the same time, Apocalypse emerges from his tomb and is angered to see that ‘the weak’ have taken over the world; he assembles a new team of horsemen, recruiting Storm (Alexandra Shipp) from a Cairo marketplace as well as Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Angel, who he transforms into Archangel, before seeking out Magneto, who is moments away from enacting his revenge on the men who destroyed his idyllic life. From here, the stage is set for one of the most epic showdowns in the X-Men film franchise’s sixteen year history.images-22

One of the elements I most appreciated about X-Men: Apocalypse was the telling of a tight and carefully constructed story. Singer and company trust the audience enough to let them build to the story’s climax, which is refreshing. While Apocalypse may not have hit the emotional highs of X-Men: Days of Future Past, there was as much heart as there was action and the final battle with Apocalypse is nothing short of exhilarating. And on top of all of that, X-Men: Apocalypse is funny! There are several clever jokes throughout the movie and, of course, Evan Peters again steals the show as Quicksilver, although this time we see more sides of his personality than just the wise-cracking speedster. Other highlights include Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey, Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler and Alexandra Shipp’s Storm. I found Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse to be omnipotently unnerving and was glad to see Rose Byrne back in the fold as Moira MacTaggert after last being seen in X-Men: First Class. While there were some characters that I feel could have been used more (Psylocke and Angel, especially), I was pleasantly surprised that the action was not centered on just a few of the characters in the ensemble (by which I’m referring to Mystique).images-21

X-Men: Apocalypse feels like a movie that was genuinely made with the fans in mind. There are plenty of Easter eggs for longtime fans of the comics – Magneto’s magnetic bubble, the Astral plane, and Weapon X to name a few – as well as nods to the previous films in the franchise – Alkali lake, the “Doesn’t it ever wake you” exchange between Magneto and Professor X, and a prominent character being sidelined for no apparent reason (better luck next time, Jubilee [Lana Condor]!). While I’m sure the references to the earlier movies will draw some criticism, I found them to be more than just a wink to the fans, as their inclusion calls to mind Beast’s reflection on time travel in Days of Future Past: The X-Men of the future may have changed the past, but some key events in the stream of time will play out regardless. With that in mind, I think it’s safe to say that we have a good idea where the franchise is heading over the next few years and I, for one, will be along for every ride!

ANDREW NOLES

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