So it goes again; with audiences treated to the third tent-pole comic-book franchise movie with heroes fighting other heroes in less than four months, and the second FOX X-Men movie this year, the internet and critics have been quick to denounce X-Men: Apocalypse as too dour and congested (in the mold of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Non-Spurious Title), and a franchise killer.
Well, I’m happy to tell you that reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.
The real headline is this: veteran X-Men and The Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer again wears the director’s helm, and unsurprisingly, turns in an excellent X-Men film. The truth rarely makes for good clickbait content….
This was a blast to watch, really. It begins, as all good X-Men movies do, with Professor Charles Xavier’s monologue and nascent social warning; and launches headlong into a very fast-paced action/sci-fi/drama that, for all the new elements and characters, felt very balanced and clear and – above all else – familiar.
Whilst not exactly light and breezy, Fox’s latest X-Men installment is neither burdened by the unrelentingly grim tone nor the volumes of forced expository hackwork of Batman V. Superman: Daw uh Buhssice. It’s not as wild a ride as Captain America: Civil War; but at the same time it’s way more epic in scope, and with some incredible fan-service moments that leave Spidey and Giant-Man for dead.
Most of the usual suspects from the last few X-movies are present and accounted for (even Hugh Jackman, giving the best Wolverine cameo yet – or should I say… Weapon X). James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult return and are all charm and banter, whilst Rose Byrne’s Moira Mactaggert is a welcome return. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is a weary and battle-hardened mercenary when we first catch up with her; funneling mutant kids out of slavery in Europe. Havoc (Lucas Till) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) each have their moments (even having an expectation because of the last film, the Quicksilver sequence is still a surprise and a highlight).
The story also makes great use of new cast members Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Sophie Turner as the three freakiest new students at the School for Gifted Youngsters: Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Jean Grey – the creepy girl who dreams of fire and makes the building shake. Alexandra Shipp gets more screentime as a younger Storm than her new Horseman compatriots, but they fill their roles respectively well, adding to the canon of killer cadres and bad mutant lieutenant trios that have featured since the very first Singer X-Men film.
Michael Fassbender displays his wrought and powerful Magneto persona once again, but this time playing Darth to Oscar Isaac’s Emperor in Apocalypse; hands down the most portentous and menacing comics bad-guy to grace the screens since…. I dunno actually, he’s really pretty great.
Marvel and WB take note: this is how you do an A-Level villain like Thanos or Darkseid. This is maybe what Eccleston was aiming for with Malekith; what Weaving’s Red Skull sailed past in his exuberance; what Hiddleston’s Loki was too childish and charming for…. And this highly improbable and earth-shattering attack all comes together very quickly, but without BvS‘s crammed feeling of “Oh, and then suddenly… DOOMSDAY! FOR SOME REASON!”. Singer even indulges in some uncharacteristic and almost Snyder-like mega-destruction, but – like his enormous set-piece in Days of Future Past that only served to make the scene more closed and intimate – by clever use of one the most important elements of the comics yet to make it to the screen, he keeps the scale in check with the drama. (SPOILER ALERT: Xavier doing battle on the Psychic fucking Plane! I know, right?)
It’s not the breath of fresh air Deadpool, Ant-Man, or GotG were, but it was a worthy addition to a series that’s only really had two bad movies, and they were, like, five X-movies ago now.
Anyone afraid that the X-Men party was over, fear not. Let the neighbors complain all they want.
4/5 Canonical Scriptures
20th Century FOX’s X-Men: Apocalypse in theaters everywhere Friday, May 27.