Whilst it will please X-Men fans, Apocalypse is a little too familiar and, although you will know the characters and long for them to succeed, you will feel a little as if you know what’s coming before it does. Singer falls into the trap of repeating a few small plot devices here and then although, overall, the movie as a whole is very well made and delivers a thrilling few hours of comic book escapism.
With the X-men movie series now safely back under the directorship of Bryan Singer- a man who helmed the first two movies, and the successful return in Days of Future Past- it’s fair to say that Marvel’s most popular franchise is being taken down an interesting and creative cinematic route. With the Days of Future Past, Singer experimented with the time travel aspect of the X-men universe, something that was existent in the comics through to infamous characters such as Cable, ‘killing’ off X-Men such as Storm- to name but one- and allowing an alternate timeline to be born that, in the end, has resulted in a brand new Storm for his movie, which largely has nothing to do with Halle Berry’s version. This is, after all, a whole new timeline, but it works refreshingly here.
Here, some of the lesser characters of the new era of the X-Men get their chance to shine, with Scott Summers AKA Cyclops getting decent screen time, alongside Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner, who portrays a new, younger version of Jean Grey, who fans of the comics will recognise as by far the most powerful of any of the heroes. She gets her moment to show that power here. And Kodi Smit-McPhee, the star of The Road and a promising young actor, is Kurt Wagner, Nightcrawler, and the character is handled a lot more respectfully than he was in the ‘original’ timeline movies. There’s also the return of Rose Byrne as Moira, the CIA agent we’ve seen before, but she doesn’t have much to do other than to explain a few plot points here and there and ultimately be present in a final battle without actually doing anything to help the heroes at any point. She’s real pretty, though.
The plot revolves around the titular Apocalypse- a villain in the comics who, much like in the movie, was born tens of thousands of years ago during the Egyptian period, where his mutant powers meant that he was worshipped with a God. A rather action-packed opening segment explains how the aforementioned villain gets buried underground, only to awaken when the sun (apparently) gives him enough energy. That part didn’t really make much sense, and it seemed to me to be an excuse to simply demonstrate the unquestionable power that the villain possesses. After his rebirth, Apocalypse sets about recruiting some of the more down-on-their-luck mutants to his side, including Psylocke, Storm, Angel and- later- Magneto. The main issue here is that Apocalypse is so powerful, you almost wonder how anybody can defeat him, and the eventual downfall of the villain feels a little cheap- he is so mightily overpowered that you almost feel that its unfair on our heroes, even though you’re routing for them. With that said, it is clear the Bryan Singer is a competent director who knows his subject matter. The tone throughout is full of fun moments, but it has a real heart to it, and the struggles of some of the characters are very human even despite their unbelievable power.
The cast are a right mix, with some of the performances brilliant, others lacking, and some that sit somewhere in the middle. James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender all give good performances, although they have also all given better ones, and the movie once again belongs to Evan Peters- playing Quicksilver A.K.A Peter Maximof. In Days of Future Past, he got given the best scene of the movie, and here he gets to save the entire populace of Xavier’s School in a segment that demonstrates both his character’s power and also the sheer capacity of technology that special effects can give to movies these days. Throughout the movie, his constant wisecracks help to relieve some of the more tense moments. Sophie Turner has soul as Jean Grey, but for me the stand-out performance is from local boy Ben Hardy, who plays Angel, one of the four horsemen of the titular Apocalypse. Oscar Isaac, who is slowly but surely making a name for himself in Hollywood after his role in the newest of Star Wars movies, gives a terrific performance as the villain. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before- a gruff voice, a villain who believes he is cleansing and bettering the world. But Isaacs is such a good actor that it almost doesn’t seem to matter- we genuinely feel the terror that Apocalypse creates and we almost empathise with his view, even if the movie makes it a little cloudy as to what his endgame plan is. As for Hardy: I went to school with him, I keep in touch with him on social media, and I regularly pay attention to his acting career. For me it was a real joy to see him give a decent performance and to prove that he can hold his own alongside some of the brightest talents in Hollywood. Wolverine, too, gets his moment, although the movie doesn’t rely on his presence. In the end, even the very good Days of Future Past ended up using Wolverine- by far the most marketable of the X-Men franchise- to move the plot forward, but here, the character is used sparingly and only as a small part of the plot. Hugh Jackman gets maybe five minutes of screen time, and I won’t ruin it any further by giving away any spoilers a to what role he plays. That’s the reason the movie works so well- some of the lesser characters are given their moments to shine, and some of the more reliable members are given smaller, but integral moments. Singer clearly understands the importance of giving every character enough focus that the audience roots for them.
A criticism I would make is that, yet again, Magneto transforms from a good man into a villain, and then back again. Redemption is indeed a key theme of the character, but this isn’t the first time in the movie series that he has gone down that plot route, and it seemed a little obvious- as if Bryan Singer was playing it safe and re-treading plot devices he knew were popular with audiences. There are a few other moments where this happens, too, although thankfully the movie still offers enough moments of originality that they don’t detract from the movie’s overall enjoyment factor. As always, there isn’t an overload of action sequences- there are two or three moments that are, for the most part, well thought out, and the rest of the movies is moved along comfortably by its characters, plot and the overall familiarity with this world. As an ensemble piece, too, the movie works well, although it doesn’t quite reach the same heights that Captain America’s third outing did earlier in the month.
This movie does all the right things: it keeps an ageing franchise fresh by introducing new ideas and characters, but it also manages to give a sense of nostalgia for characters- that is helped immensely by little nods here and there, such as McAvoy’s eventual baldness, the self-referential comment that ‘the third movie is always the worst’, and the presence of a younger, less sinister Colonel Stryker (who, actually, is very cowardly). It will please X-Men fans, and it will dominate the box office for the new few weeks- deservedly so- but it simply won’t come near what Marvel are doing with their own cinematic universe at the moment.