Directed by: Bryan Singer || Produced by: Bryan Singer, Lauren Shuler Donner, Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker
Screenplay by: Simon Kinberg || Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Til, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Josh Helman, Ben Hardy
Music by: John Ottman || Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel || Edited by: John Ottman, Michael Louis Hill || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 144 minutes
Anyone who remains on the “Fox should give all their stuff to Marvel!”-train should have their head examined. While yes, a studio like Sony has clearly lost their way in most big-budget endeavors (e.g. The Amazing Spider-Man films [2012, 2014], probably the upcoming Ghostbusters  reboot as well), and no one seems to want another Fantastic Four (2015), 20th Century Fox has clearly got a hold on their X-Men film franchise. With original franchise director Bryan Singer back in the fold, X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) debuted with the highest ratings and box office of any film in the franchise yet, and many fans, of which I am one, consider it among the best of the X-Men series and one of the best comic book-movies ever made.
While studios like Marvel seem content to churn out one formulaic origin-story after another (e.g. The Incredible Hulk , Thor , Ant-Man ) and forgettable villains-of-the-week (minus Loki in The Avengers ), both Fox and Warner Bros. are at least willing to take risks in their storytelling formula and invest in memorable antagonists (e.g. The Dark Knight trilogy [2005–2012], X-Men , X2: X-Men United ). Sure, some times risks burn them in the butt (e.g. the lukewarm reception to Man of Steel  and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ), but at least they try different things from time to time, not that comic-fans tend to care about variety. Remember that Deadpool (2016) movie? They should just give it Marvel! They’d do the character justice…
In any case, let us discuss my personal favorite superhero-movie this year — minus the aforementioned Deadpool, of course — in this super-stuffed year of superhero films: Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse. I was worried when trailers for the film showcased action that reminded me of a Power Rangers episode, and the film received decidedly mixed reviews. However, in my opinion, those worries were unfounded and X-Men fans should enjoy the hell out of this movie. It’s somehow the most epic X-Men movie yet, the largest in scale by far, and yet it maintains a groundedness and relatability that films like Age of Ultron (2015) and Man of Steel (2013) forsake in favor of endless over-the-top digital FX.
That’s not to say that Apocalypse isn’t FX-heavy — we’re dealing with the most powerful mutants in the X-Men cannon, here — but Singer smartly holds back until the would-be apocalyptic finale, and keeps most of the characters on the ground at all times. Aside from the intimidating titular villain courtesy of Oscar Isaac, Apocalypse plays very similarly to Days of Future Past. James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto are the film’s most captivating and interesting characters, and their relationships with each other, the supporting cast, and even the villainous Apocalypse himself are the beating heart of this story.
Then again, like DoFP, Apocalypse is very much an ensemble feature, plus or minus a few different characters: The handsome Nicholas Hoult returns as Hank McCoy/Beast and Xavier’s second-in-command, Evan Peters returns in a larger role as Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver and bastard child of Magneto, Lucas Till returns as Alex Summers/Havok (aka Cyclops’ older brother), Rose Byrne returns as Moira MacTaggert (from X-Men: First Class ), Josh Helman returns as Colonel William Stryker, and a somewhat cynical, disinterested Jennifer Lawrence returns as Raven Darkholme/Mystique. Newcomers include Game of Thrones‘ (2011-present) Sophie Turner as a young Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers/Cyclops, Kodi Smit-McPhee as the eccentric Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (he’s back!), and Alexandra Shipp as a most definitely not-Halle Berry-version of Storm.
Much of the fun of this film comes from this large cast and their excellent chemistry. They reminded me of the youthful, spunky, humorous crew from J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboots (2009, 2013). I might have had more fun watching them joke amongst each other in Xavier’s school and bicker while figuring out how to escape Colonel Stryker’s Weapon X-facility, than I did with any of the action sequences themselves (which are fantastic, by the way). I liked all the uses of their powers, their banter, their personalities, and their development. For my part, I find the X-Men series’ sense of humor less forced and personality more genuine than that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even the better ones like Avengers, The Winter Soldier (2014), or Civil War (2016).
As for the FX-heavy action, it ranges from mutant “tough-man” cagefights a la the original X-Men to another zippy Quicksilver slow-motion showcase to the aforementioned CGI-finale in Egypt to a Matrix (1999)-style “mind-battle” between Xavier and Apocalypse. This film has one of the most diverse collections of action scenes I’ve seen in a blockbuster in quite a while, and it executes all of them well. From the excellent lighting in McAvoy’s telepathic fistfight to the grand, almost operatic introduction of Apocalypse in the prologue, to the excruciating sound editing when Isaac smashes Quicksilver’s knee backwards, this latest X-Men feature boasts top-notch production values. Even the Wolverine-cameo features plenty of carnage and gratuitous stabbing that stands apart from the rest of the set-pieces, and yet still feels appropriate in the context of and its place in the story.
I, quite frankly, don’t understand the mixed to negative hype around this movie. At least with Batman v Superman, going in I expected Zack Snyder to deliver another controversial, divisive film, and I knew most general audiences wouldn’t take to such a dour endeavor if it wasn’t helmed by Christopher Nolan. As much as I liked that film, its at times vitriolic divide was predictable; but this? I don’t know, man. I think I’m done using Rottentomatoes for my superhero-movie research. I still find them useful with certain kinds of action movies and indie-genre movies, but now I’ve come to the realization that they are as untrustworthy and arbitrary with superhero films as they are with Oscar-bait.
Here’s the breakdown as the critics see it, not what the movies actually tend to be:
- Marvel Cinematic Universe/Avengers films = “Fresh” or “Certified Fresh” no matter what!
- DC films = “Rotten” (unless made by Sir Christopher Nolan)
- 20th Century Fox/X-Men films = Throw darts at the wall.
- 20th Century Fox/Fantastic Four films = You already know they’re bad.
In any case, I recommend you check out X-Men: Apocalypse, particularly if you’re a fan of previous entries in the series by Bryan Singer. This felt the most like the X-Men Animated Series (1992-1997) out of all the feature films thus far, which is a huge compliment coming from me. I’m well aware that certain anal comic-fans bitch about various characters’ powers being altered, or certain characters being emphasized over others, but those complaints are irrelevant as far as this franchise’s filmmaking is concerned. So, yes, while this film may not satisfy devout Marvel Studios followers, and some percentage of general audiences may not appreciate all references to other installments in the series, it should satisfy most everybody looking for a fun, character-driven summer blockbuster.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: X-Men: Apocalypse is Bryan Singer’s biggest X-Men film to date, and while it’s not his best, it boasts great characters, a wonderful cast, and terrific action sequences. The film retreads plenty of thematic ground from previous installments, but manages to make its narrative feel fresh with a solid script and a threatening villain, courtesy of Oscar Isaac.
— However… though she’s not in the film as much as the movie’s marketing would have you believe, Jennifer Lawrence looks tired of her role, and Evan Peters’ relationship with Michael Fassbender remains cryptic for no real reason. The ending (not the Danger Room-epilogue) feels a little too convenient. Olivia Munn (Psylocke) sucks.
—> Like I said, Apocalypse comes RECOMMENDED.
? So, who’s gonna play Mr. Sinister? And are we gonna get another, non-Brett Ratner Dark Phoenix Saga?