Movie Review - X-Men: Apocalypse
By Matthew Huntley
June 6, 2016

Apocalypse glamour shots.

As of X-Men: Apocalypse, I'm both predicting and accepting that this particular superhero franchise will no longer follow a linear structure and that future installments might not even be consistent in terms of their events and characters. Each X-Men adventure going forward will likely be semi-connected to the others, but we shouldn't hold it against them if they're not. In fact, it's typical for any comic book series or long-standing pop-culture literary saga such as Star Wars and Star Trek to have a variety of writers and artists contribute to their ever-growing mythology, and so long as they adhere to the underlying reality of the original universe, fans should be okay with this.

This isn't to say that Apocalypse isn't consistent with other X-Men movies, but I could sense it venturing toward the notion that we should consider forthcoming sequels as standalone entries. All I ask that each one tell us something new and interesting about the heroes and their world, which would be enough to sustain the series, at least for now.

Fortunately, Apocalypse does tell us something new about the motley crew of X-Men characters, and there are enough genuine and emotional moments within it to give the movie an overall pass, but as far as plot is concerned, most of it feels like recycled boilerplate material that doesn't really add up to much.

If you recall the closing credits from X-Men: Days of Future Past, we caught a glimpse of Apocalypse's villain: En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), a.k.a. Apocalypse, the world's first mutant, who acquires power by absorbing those of other mutants. In 3600 B.C. in ancient Egypt, Sabah Nur is about to undergo another consumption of ability, but his so-called followers believe he's becoming too powerful and cut the “procedure” short.

Flash forward to 1983, a few years after the events of Days of Future Past, which ended with humans finally accepting, or at least tolerating, mutants on a social level after a nearly-disastrous stand-off at the White House. Both races now face a common threat when Apocalypse awakens in Cairo, and like all bad guys of his type, including Ultron from the Avengers universe, he believes the world is tarnished because of human beings and is determined to cleanse the Earth of them, leaving only his faithful mutant devotees. Thus, he begins recruiting jaded mutants who still feel threatened by humans and exploits their vulnerabilities to build up his own personal army, including Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Angel (Ben Hardy). Apocalypse convinces them to become his disciples by upgrading their powers. He also seeks out Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), a.k.a. Magneto, after a tragic incident in Poland, which brings the metal-manipulating juggernaut out of hiding.

The usual team of “good guy” mutants aren't as compliant. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), a.k.a. Mystique , whom many now view as a savior, is on her own, independent quest to help other mutants, including the blue-skinned, teleporting Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), whom she takes to Professor Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngers in New York because she knows he'll be accepted there. Nightcrawler joins another new recruit and familiar X-Man, Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), a.k.a. Cyclops, who's just now learning about the laser beams he emits from his eyes. Scott immediately strikes up a friendship with Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), whom the other students fear due to her mind-reading abilities, which could rival those of Professor Xavier (James McAvoy).

Watching Apocalypse, I had to remind myself it takes place before the original X-Men trilogy that began in 2000 and that Xavier and company are the younger versions of these characters. We first met the fresh-faced individuals in First Class and they crossed over with their older counterparts in Days of Future Past. I'm not sure how many more installments we'll get from this current era, but it's just one of the ways director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg keep things moving and add depth to the heroes' backstories.

On the whole, Apocalypse is mostly standard as far as superhero movies go, but there are few memorable scenes that allow it to stand out. One of these is the aforementioned tragedy involving Erik's wife and daughter in Poland. This scene proves once again that Fassbender is one of our most effective dramatic actors. Another is shared between Jean Grey and the most popular member of the X-Men, although I won't reveal any details. It's performed without dialogue and the filmmakers allow it to play out naturally so that it builds toward something surprisingly special and touching.

The movie isn't all serious and somber, though. There's a funny sequence involving Quicksilver (Evan Peters) as he uses his super speed ability to rescue various mutants from an explosion. This scene in particular has a lot of energy and pays off handsomely with some big laughs.

Where Apocalypse left me feeling empty and disappointed was with the titular figure himself. Apocalypse is a relatively dull villain whose motivations for world domination are all too routine for the superhero genre. He's mostly one note and the screenplay doesn't provide him a terribly original narrative that might explain why he wants to purge the Earth of humans in the first place, other than he's power-hungry. And the climactic battle between the two factions of heroes, which we essentially just saw in Captain America: Civil War, only better, is by-the-numbers in the sense that a lot of buildings, bridges, landmarks, etc. simple topple over as the world's leaders stand around awaiting orders and watch the events unfold live on their television monitors. We've seen this all before and it's getting old.

Still, as a mindless summer blockbuster, Apocalypse has more assets than liabilities. Like many of its brethren, it suffers from an excessive runtime, particularly with the ending, and it will likely fade from our memories faster rather than slower. But the newest character developments and more original moments are enough to fulfill us until the next adventure, which will hopefully develop a new formula altogether. This series, and the genre as a whole, could use one.