X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, a being of vast power called En Sabah Nur is betrayed in a moment of weakness by his followers and lies buried, sleeping, underneath the sands and rock.

Fast-forward to the early 80s where we find the familiar faces of the previous x-men films. Mystique quietly helps mutants who are persecuted around the globe. Xavier continues to expand his school, bringing up and guiding a generation of young mutants. Magneto is doing his best to live a quiet life with a wife and daughter in Poland. The world may not be a settled place, but things are looking up for mutants after the events of Washington D.C., where Mystique saved the president from Magneto.

Things don’t stay quiet for long, however, as Moira McTaggert stumbles across Nur, sonn to be known as Apocalypse. Unbeknownst to her, she accidentally wakes him.

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Apocalypse rises to find a new strange world in which the weak have dominated the strong. Humans rule over the mutants. Apocalypse believes he must save his “children” and so begins a campaign of recruitment and control aimed at domination of the human race, which brings him into conflict with Xavier and his students. Which side will Magneto choose? Will the X-Men overcome their greatest challenge yet?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

X-Men fans, especially those who have watched the previous entries, are the primary audience for this film. The plot and characters are drenched in backstory and inter-connectivity that makes no sense at all to anyone who hasn’t been invested up to this point. I imagine that to the uninitiated it will only come across as so much noise. This film will find the most love in the hearts of fans who have been watching since the first X-Men film back in 2000.

Cutting the familiarity factor out of the equation, the film will appeal to people who like superhero themes and world-spanning spectacle. That said, the film doesn’t have a lot of kinetic action until near the very end. Instead we have powerful beings choosing to use their powers and influence in dramatic ways. It’s about characters and philosophies and how far they are willing to go to defend or enforce them, rather than pure “pow!” bam!” antics. The film certainly has explosions, punches, and eye-beams, but that’s not the focus of this movie.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I don’t know if it was the negative reviews I have read, the trailers that have underwhelmed me, or the unflattering set photos, but I was not expecting to really like this movie. Perhaps because of those lowered expectations, I came out of X-Men: Apocalypse having thoroughly enjoyed my time spent in the theater.

The characters are the same as they have been in the last several films, and generally as well portrayed, though I think Jennifer Lawrence was a bit lacking as Mystique. The plot is interesting and the writers made some cool choices, even though there are some weird holes and leaps of logic in places. The villain is intimidating and interesting. Magneto’s story line is especially well done and acted. Everything comes together to make a thoroughly solid film that entertains consistently for the whole run time.

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It’s certainly not perfect, however. Along with the aforementioned plot holes, and the unfortunate emphasis on Mystique’s story line and role, there were other flaws that brought the film down a few pegs. While the villain is interesting and dangerous to the heroes, the viewer rarely feels the reality of the threat he poses. The film falls into familiar tropes of crumbling landmarks and cityscapes without making any of it feel like it has weight. Apocalypse seems to have the ability to just kill people with a thought, but never uses it on the heroes. There are weird tone shifts and the new characters feel like they were mostly sidelined.   

Despite it’s shortcomings, I was generally able to overlook these problems and just enjoy my time back in the X-Men universe, with characters I loved being well-acted, and seeing a classic villain from the comics portrayed well for the first time in live action. It has its flaws, certainly, but I’ll be picking up “X-Men: Apocalypse” as soon as it hits…

3-4 Rating - The Bargain Bin

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

Review Format 4 - The Long Take

The plot is solid, and flows well. I never got lost in the events, and I was engaged every step of the way. Even when the action was thin or not present at all, the characters kept me interested and no part of the film dragged.

Still, the plot is fairly standard. A great evil arises that threatens the world and our heroes have to find the strength to stand up to what seem like unconquerable odds to save everyone. This is made worse by odd plot holes that simply made no sense. For instance, some characters manage to get captured at one point only to be not-captured at the next with no explanation. Still, it doesn’t hurt the film too much, and there are some interesting and clever choices made along the way that elevate it somewhat.

What really makes the movie work are the characters. The people behind the casting for these younger X-Men sure knew what they were doing back when they made “First Class.” Michael Fassbender continues to impress as Magneto. Almost the entire emotional punch of the film comes through his character arc.

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James McAvoy took a while to grow into the role of Xavier, but by this point he has really made the role his own. You can see him slowly turning into the wise mentor portrayed by Patrick Stewart in the original trilogy, though he still has a ways to go, even by the end of this film.

The only returning character who felt like she didn’t need to be there was Rose Byrne’s Moira McTaggert. She practically disappears into the background for most of the story except when she’s needed as a plot device.

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The other familiar faces generally do well, such as Nicholas Hoult as Beast. Evan Peters as Quicksilver gets to once again steal almost every scene he is in, and his two scenes at super speed are wonderfully entertaining to watch, though I think the scene from “Days of Future Past” still takes the cake for quality. There isn’t a lot of payoff for his storyline, though it does resonate well with Magneto’s struggle. I hope we see more of this continue to play out in future installments of the franchise.

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Jennifer Lawrence, however, feels a bit bland here. I get the distinct impression that she is tired of the role. She was very good in “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” but this performance was just serviceable. That is especially disappointing when the people behind the film seem so keen on making her such a prominent role. I mean, I get it. She’s on fire (ha ha) right now because of the “Hunger Games” films, but it doesn’t help the film creatively. It’s more about the money than the story – a transparent cash grab of pandering.

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Some have criticised the film because they feel she isn’t in her blue makeup enough. The film gives a decent enough story reason for it (she’s uncomfortable being in that form as the hero people adore, so she hides from it). It honestly didn’t bother me as much as the length time we spent on her character. It surely detracted from the time we could have spent on the new characters we could and should have gotten to know better.

Scott Summers, played well by Tye Sheridan, has a really good character arc here. He goes from being bullied in school, to finding out he is a “freak” mutant who can’t control the laser beams coming out of his eyes. He builds confidence among the new students of Xaviers’ school, but then loses the older brother he looked up to. He learns his brother believed in him, to ultimately gaining enough courage to fight Apocalypse and embrace the fullness of his powers. Cyclops is a character I’ve always liked a lot (even though he’s done some lousy things in the comics at times), and so it’s good to see him treated well, even if we get his story in small doses.

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Jean Grey is similarly well played by Sophie Turner, though I was concerned going in. Really all of the new actors did their parts well, it’s just that their characters tended to be given very little screen time. Kodi Smit-McPhee has a charming turn as Nightcrawler. Olivia Munn is visually authentic to her role as psylocke, and Storm, played by Alexandra Shipp, is compelling. None of them get enough screen time to truly blossom. In many ways it’s not their story yet. We’re still dealing with Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique more than anyone. However, they do lay a good foundation for the future of these characters. I can’t wait to see a film focused almost entirely on them.

Apocalypse is something of a divisive character among reviewers – at least that I’ve seen.

Many people just didn’t feel that he was imposing enough. I partially agree in that he appeared physically short and he didn’t exude physical intimidation. They could have used CGI to make him look bigger. However, when you throw in his powers, how casually he kills humans, and how easily he deals with even the strongest of the x-men, it’s pretty clear he’s not to be messed with.

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His characterization is true to the comics, and I liked Oscar Isaac in the role. He is arrogant, with a superiority complex only made worse by the fact that he might really be superior. His motivations are clear and interesting. They may not be relatable – what normal person sees everything in purely darwinian terms? – but not everything has to be relatable to be engaging. Magneto was the emotional, relatable figure among the villains and Apocalypse was the real danger. Pairing them together played off of those characterization choices nicely.

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 People were making fun of his appearance before the film came out, comparing him to Ivan Ooze from the Power Rangers movie. That seems to have died down a bit now that the film is out, though there are still detractors out there. Having watched the film, his design was well made and doesn’t come across nearly as corny as Ivan Ooze, though the cables stuck in his head do seem weird. I think they were meant to give his head a sort of pharaoh-crown shape.

Speaking of Ancient Egypt, I felt that his whole origin sequence was pretty cool, and did a good job of laying out his story and background for the audience. There is a lot to this character, who he is, and what he has done, and this origin cuts to the chase and gives a solid understanding right out of the gate. We don’t need his origins from childhood, or his encounters with the celestials, etc. All that is cool for the comics, but the movies just don’t have time for that. X-Men stories have enough moving parts to keep track of as it is.

As good as Apocalypse is as a character, his master plan using Magneto boils down to CGI destruction like any typical disaster movie. It is impressive in scale, but hollow emotionally. The stakes didn’t feel real. It’s hard to be impressed by that sort of thing nowadays, especially after films like “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman,” which have done even more to separate the weight of such destruction from the human costs. The only solution is to make it either more personal or visually arresting, and this film does neither. It tries to make the visuals cool, but it just doesn’t quite reach the level needed to overcome destruction apathy, and there is no real feel for the human cost at all.

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When the end of the story comes, it comes in the form of a light deus ex machina. At least they hint at it from near the beginning of the movie, and it does set up future films nicely. Deus ex machina are not inherently bad. What makes them bad is when they rob the characters of any agency in the resolution of their story. Thankfully, everyone here is making character-based choices and actions through the very end that feel like decent payoff for their story threads. The deus ex machina comes from an underused character in the film, but it does come from that character’s actions and choices. Because of that, the suddenly event at the end is still satisfying.  

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We also get an Xavier’s-Bald-Head Origin Story

The humor throughout the film is very enjoyable. The theater I was in, which was fairly unresponsive most of the time, still had moments where everyone burst out laughing. The tone, however, was very inconsistent, and sometimes the humor stepped on the toes of the drama.

If I was to have a final nitpick, it would be that they could have used the era better. They did refer to the superpowers and the cold war a bit, but I think that they could have hit the whole idea of where true strength lies a little better using the themes of the power struggle between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. The cultural aspects were thinly used too. It could have been almost any era, and the story would have been the same, really.

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Conclusion and Star Rating:

“X-Men: Apocalypse” may not quite reach the heights of the two previous films or “X2,” but it is easily better than “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”  It has a solid plot, if a little typical, with good characters played by great actors against a threatening villain. There are moments of emotion, drama and humor that are well earned, even if the tone is uneven.  

This film is a fun time at the movies, and well worth buying a ticket. “X-Men: Apocalypse” is a “Good” movie.

3 & One Half Stars

Three and One-Half Stars

Review Format 5 - Spoiler Talk

The plot choice that I thought was clever and interesting was when Apocalypse disposed of all the world’s nuclear missiles. I knew that the missiles would be a part of the story from the trailer, but I honestly thought it was just a part of Jean’s visions of the horrible future – maybe a war between Apocalypse and mankind.  

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When this twist happened I was impressed for a couple reasons. It was a great way to show how powerful apocalypse was by reaching back through Xavier’s mental connection, taking a hold of Cerebro and using it to make the men launch the missiles all around the world at once. It was also clever from a strategy standpoint. He didn’t want to use them because he wanted to save the mutants and still have a world to inhabit, but he wanted them out of commision so the humans couldn’t nuke him. Solution? Throw them into space. The world’s reaction, disbelief and wonder about what it could all mean, was great too.

One thing that I didn’t like in regards the nukes-in-space scene actually deals more with the tone. They chose this incredibly dramatic moment for the Stan Lee cameo. The audience I was with laughed, but it died down quickly and awkwardly. I mean, what are they supposed to feel? Intimidated and awed at the specter of nuclear holocaust rising before their eyes, or laughing at poor terrified Stan Lee, who has only ever been played for laughs before. It was a poor choice of placement for his cameo. I think he would have worked better as one of the office workers frozen by Xavier when he goes to speak with Moira early in the film.

Something that surprised me was the inclusion of the Weapon program and Weapon X, Wolverine. I knew that Jackman would have a cameo role in the film, but I didn’t know the extent of it. I’m a little torn on it, since on the one hand it’s an interesting twist on how he escapes the facility, but on the other hand it seems like a needless diversion. It does give us more time with some of the under-served characters, so I really shouldn’t complain too much.  

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The finale and the deus ex machina I mentioned was of course the Jean Gray Phoenix moment. There’s not much more to say about it beyond what I said in the Long Take, but I do want to emphasize how much I like that it sets up future films. If they really focus on Scott and Jean’s relationship, and building a bond between these X-Men, we could be onto something great.

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It also ties well into the end credit scene, which reveals the Essex corporation, the front for Nathaniel Essex, better known as Mr. Sinister. Sinister plays a huge role in the relationship of Cyclops and Jean Grey, and leads into the birth of Nathaniel Summers, who becomes the time-traveler Cable, who will also appear in Deadpool (squee!). In other words, they seem to be playing their cards right for the next film. Fox is doing pretty well for the X-Men and Deadpool, so it’s just simply shocking how poorly they are handling the Fantastic Four.

Ah well.

That’s it for now. Until next time!

                        – Druidan

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