"X-Men: Apocalypse" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime: 143 minutes
Directed by Bryan Singer / Written by Simon Kinberg
Review by: JJ Mortimer
The third in the First Class reboot of the X-Men series of films, X-Men: Apocalypse follows a familiar formula without breaking new ground or taking any serious risks in the comic book movie series, but does so in a fun and consistently-entertaining manner with a frightening performance by Oscar Isaac as the titular villain, and the best rendition of a popular character in the X-Men universe to date.
I must be seeing different movies than most people, because after hearing the negative reception of this film on its opening weekend, I once again went into the film with largely negative preconceptions and expectations. What I saw from scene one was a violent, hard-punching origin scene of one of Marvel's most powerful mutants that had me excited and attentive. Director Bryan Singer establishes a scenario with which our heroes will have to overcome a literal destruction of the world by fighting a villain that can grant other mutants their greatest wish, or tear them apart at the snap of a finger. There are no stakes higher than that, and X-Men: Apocalypse sets that tone up rather nicely. I was impressed in the early goings of the film.
X-Men: Apocalypse was yet another example of me watching a film, waiting for all the "bad stuff" that people had been complaining about to happen. I waited a week to see this film, and this may be a new trend for me. Some films deserve opening weekend viewings (the Avengers films, for example, benefit from audience excitement), while others seem to be disappointing people with expectations that supersede their willingness to sit back and be entertained for a couple hours. Having said that, this film met my requirements for a positive review - if for a two-hour-plus run time, I don't once stray my thoughts into something other than the movie and find myself watching the screen without distraction, than the film has succeeded on a base level.
Most of the characters in the rebooted franchise are given good moments to shine and express their strengths and powers. Cyclops is introduced as a young man and finally given a soul that earlier renditions just couldn't muster, and Beast finally comes across as a budding leader figure. My favorite character moment was the pinnacle scene of the film, Quicksilver's slow-motion scene that outdoes his introduction from Days of Future Past by allowing him to be a cocky, smart-ass, multiple life-saving hero, all while having fun in an 80s vibe. Bryan Singer's touch and film making vibe is all over this film, and his insistence upon balancing multiple characters and roles really elevates Apocalypse above what I feel many may not give it credit for.
I'm not a huge fan of Mystique's role (played by Jennifer Lawrence) being elevated to such a high standard, given that her characters was so minor in the comics, and I feel that this may be a case of a superstar actress delegating a more meaningful purpose to what should be a secondary role. But, the film has rewritten the X-Men comic book history so much in the past few films that it isn't ALL completely out of nowhere.
The real heart and soul of this X-Men film once again lies in the performances and chemistry between James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (respectively). Both men have been fantastic in their roles over the past three films, and Fassbender especially is given the better dramatic parts that make his Magneto one of the most powerful and tragic characters in the franchise. His turns and motivations make him easily the most relatable of all the mutant characters.
Oscar Isaac is completely unrecognizable as Apocalypse, a truly frightening villain in his demeanor and purpose, one whose real powers have become so strong over the millennia that had me really thinking in the early parts of the film that this may be the supervillain that actually changes the world with his destructive powers. I may or may not be right. Either way, Isaac's Apocalypse is cold, powerful, and persuasive, but isn't really a deep character with emotions on the level of Fassbender's Magneto. For the story, and the ability to drive our already-established characters forward, he is an effective ruse.
My final thought on this underrated film brings me to the cameo by a particular character, whose introduction was enough to make a grown man jump enthusiastically in his seat like a teenager again. Without saying a single line of dialogue, this character finally shows the bloody, rage-filled nature with which comic fans have been starving for, and FINALLY is given the proper treatment and setup to a final solo film. For the five minutes in which this characters is shown, X-Men: Apocalypse transcends itself and allows fans a moment to ingest the fulfilling carnage that has taken 16 years to witness, in as close a way as a PG-13 film will allow.
In summary, my opinion is that X-Men: Apocalypse was given too bad of a rap on its opening weekend by fans perhaps expecting something more along the lines of what they were expecting, rather than sitting back and enjoying what they were given. The film is very well made, with mostly-great and dramatic performances. The humor is there in large doses, as are the great visual effects and explosively-loud action set pieces. At times I had forgotten some of the moments from the previous two films, but this film does a fine job of reminding us of some of those character interactions we may have forgotten. Go into this film expecting to be entertained for a couple hours in a theater that is hopefully equipped with great sound, and you will be more impressed than many earlier critics have led you on to believe.
Of the rebooted X-Men films, I would put Apocalypse behind First Class and Days of Future Past, but in the list of X-Men films, I would put it somewhere in the middle (based on my grade of the films from when I first viewed them):
1) X2: X-Men United
2) X-Men: First Class
3) X-Men: Days of Future Past
5) X-Men: Apocalypse
6) The Wolverine
7) X-Men: The Last Stand
8) X-Men Origins: Wolverine