Over 3000 years ago, a most powerful mutant, the first mutant, saw it as his duty to burn down civilisations that had shunted in their progress. Eventually ruling as a god-king he found himself the victim of a plot to have him buried away forever. Finally discovered in 1983 and taking on some of the most ruthless mutants as his ‘horsemen’, Apocalypse will accept nothing less than the fall of our weak civilisation with only the most powerful surviving to create a stronger world, the only thing that stands in his way is a new team of X-Men.
Due to a complacency that I think we all feel towards the X-Men movie franchise owing to its sixteen year presence in our lives, and the flack this particular film was getting after the release of some unflattering set pictures, X-Men: Apocalypse was at the top of no ones list of 2016 blockbusters to get excited about.
Duplicitously expectations have been high, mainly due to the fact that the most iconic X-Men villain since Magneto is finally being put to use, but, certainly from this reviewer’s perspective, those expectations are unfounded and hang loosely on a singular/recognisable character design and an ‘elevator pitch’ modus operandi, after all, there are precious few memorable Apocalypse storylines in the comics, and the one that always first springs to mind, Age of Apocalypse, features the titular villain very little and is more remembered for its excellent re-imagining of the Marvel Universe before it became a nearly monthly occurrence.
My point is, before you even walk in to the cinema maybe adjust those expectations somewhat, Apocalypse is a one dimensional character with a repetitive, ill thought-out scheme, anything more than that is a bonus; go in with that spirit and you might just have a good time because while X-Men: Apocalypse most assuredly has its problems, to the point where it can be (and critically already is being) pulled to pieces, it has instances of brilliance and is pretty much a big pile of fun.
The main problems boil down to these: too many of the cool looking characters are woefully under-utilised, some of the acting and dialogue is a little, shall we say, hammy, the pace is off in the first half and some of the CG FX more resemble the cut scenes from a well made game than a polished blockbuster.
Most noticeably on that last point is the scene in which they try to outdo Days of Future Past for awesome Quicksilver use, but what actually transpires is an overlong, overblown and not great looking sequence that seems at odds, pace wise, with the rest of the film.
There is a scene that equals that iconic Quicksilver scene in this film though, but *SPOILER – BYPASS THIS PARAGRAPH TO AVOID COOL STORY POINT* it is cool on the darker end of the spectrum. That scene hinted at in the trailer, with a certain clawed hand, well that leads to an action sequence all the other X and Wolverine films have promised, on the berserker front, but never actually delivered on. It’s bloody brilliant.
I expect more intellectual reviews will also fixate on the Saturday morning cartoon levels of character and plot simplicity, but frankly, screw that. I found it refreshing to have a villain who hadn’t been humanised in any way, he wants to kill loads of folk and rule the world, he’s without a doubt a Bad Guy and the good guys have got to sack-up and stop him. It’s as fantastical and as close to those adored X-Men comics of the 90s as any of the X-Film before it.
It’s loud and colourful and brash and a little bit shallow, so it also perfectly represents the decade it’s based in and is as much of a romp as the blockbusters from that decade, in fact, if a comic from the 90s was adapted in the 80s with access to today’s visual FX I’m pretty sure the final product would be close to this.
The translations of the newly introduced characters are actually pretty good, taking less artistic liberties than most of the films in the franchise. Apocalypse himself exercises slightly different power-sets than his comic counterpart but is just as intimidating. Cyclops and phoenix (despite some of that hammy acting) are about spot on, powerful yet a bit boring (you know what I’m talking about), while Nightcrawler has been injected with some much needed pep, separating him from the gloomy bastard we were presented with in X2
The best lesson director Brian Singers seems to have picked up from Days of Future Past is ‘leave them on a high note’, and boy does he. Not as happily franchise affirming as the final scene in that previous film but infinitely more badass, this final scene is almost too tantalising for words, and while lifting your opinion of what you’ve just watched it’ll also fully gear you up for the next instalment.
Dropping the straight face the X-Men franchise was built on once and for all, X-Men: Apocalypse, by the second half, puts its foot on the accelerator and just goes for it until it’s little more than that wonderful, stupid X-Men cartoon we all loved in the 90s, writ massive, and with all the good and bad that that entails, and as such it’ll either bother you immensely or entertain you no end, convincing you it’s better than the sum of its parts.