X-Men: Apocalypse is a decent follow-up to Days of Future Past - albeit one that will service longtime series fans more than casual filmgoers.
One decade after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, humanity remains divided on whether mutants are a threat - though, some progress has been made. Fortunate mutants flourish in safe-havens (such as Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters) but some people and parts of the world are less accepting - selling mutants into slavery, exiling adolescent mutants who struggle to control their abilities, and even (forcefully) experimenting on mutants who are, for one reason or another, useful in furthering scientific research as well as military operations. After the public takedown of Magneto in 1973, Charles Xavier and Mystique both continue their quest, separately, to make the world a safer place for mutants - but whereas Charles achieves his dream of building a school for mutants, it is Mystique that becomes a mythic hero for powered people around the globe - as she frees oppressed mutants and dismantles anti-mutant movements from the shadows.
However, when an ancient power reemerges after several millennia, enlisting the help of powerful mutants for the purpose of freeing mutantkind from the shackles of humanity, Mystique and Charles must join forces one last time - as well as rely on a new generation of young heroes to save the world.
On the heels of the most successful, and critically acclaimed, X-Men movie in franchise history, Bryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse is a decent follow-up to Days of Future Past - albeit one that will service longtime series fans more than casual filmgoers. Where Days of Future Past featured a time-bending franchise mash-up (packed with nostalgia, cameos, and fan-favorite Wolverine at the center), Apocalypse is a less inclusive project - one that is often convoluted by franchise building. Niche references will excite X-Men comic book and animated series fans but confuse (as well as potentially alienate) moviegoers who may have expected a more straightforward superhero adventure follow-up to Days of Future Past. This is to say: viewers who have enjoyed the X-Men film series thus far will find plenty of great mutant action and drama in Singer's latest chapter; yet, moviegoers hoping for easy to digest superhero escapism might be underwhelmed (or potentially overwhelmed) by what Singer delivers in Apocalypse.
The story picks-up long-running series threads (prejudice and segregation) as well as finds some intriguing juxtapositions (especially the competing ideologies of Charles, Mystique, Magneto, and Apocalypse), making it a strong chapter in Singer's X-Men filmography, a worthy bookend to the core First Class prequel saga, as well as a strong jumping off point for the next film to build-off - complete with new, younger, actors in iconic X-Men roles. Out of every live-action X-Men film to date, Apocalypse prepares the way for a "classic" live-action adaptation of the mutant hero team (after Days of Future Past swept the slate clean); though, honoring the legacy of Fox's original trilogy, juggling the First Class soft-reboot and timeline altering story in Days of Future Past, while also preparing to carry the franchise into future installments proves to be a tough balancing in Apocalypse - especially when trying to also present a satisfying standalone entry (starring one of the X-Men's most powerful and most iconic villains).
Unfortunately, in a series that has featured several nuanced antagonists, with grey moralities and motivations rather than simply power-hungry monsters, the eponymous villain of Apocalypse may be one of the series' least compelling and flat-out bland baddies. Where Charles hopes for harmony between powered and non-powered people alike, Mystique fights for a world where mutants are no longer victims of cruel oppression, and Magneto chooses to hide his abilities in order to live a "normal" life, Apocalypse simply wants to wipe out humanity - so that the most powerful beings (his mutant kin) can inherit the earth.
As a result, the mutant forefather functions more as a counter-point to the various beliefs of main X-Men heroes, rather than a particularly layered character himself - which is all the more disappointing given that award-winner Oscar Isaac is buried under purple makeup (preventing the talented actor from conveying anything but flat "evil" in Apocalypse as a character). A dull plan and narrow emotional range might be forgivable if Apocalypse set the stage for groundbreaking superhero battles but, in spite of an origin story that would allow the baddie to utilize a variety of cool mutant abilities, Apocalypse is merely a hard-to-kill but slow-moving bullet-sponge.
Instead, the villain lets his horsemen do the fighting but, with the exception of Magneto (and to an extent Storm), the sentries of Apocalypse get very little screen time - or memorable action set pieces. Anyone who watched the film's trailers will have seen the best shots of the horsemen (especially Olivia Munn's Psylocke and Ben Hardy's Angel) - and, frankly, there isn't a lot more to see.
Magneto gets the most development and Apocalypse serves as a solid bookend, or at the very least pivot point, for the story of Erik Lehnsherr that was started in First Class. To that end, the new film gives Fassbender a chance to re-humanize Lehnsherr, after his comparatively singularly focused motivations in Days of Future Past - even if Apocalypse's grand scheme overshadows the Master of Magnet's personal drama. The same can be said for Alexandra Shipp's take on Ororo Munroe (aka Storm) - planting some intriguing seeds for future installments (even if her role in Apocalypse is relatively thin).
Fortunately, Singer services the X-Men side of the film with more care and complexity - as newcomers Scott Summers aka Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), along with returning heroes Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Charles (James McAvoy), and Quicksilver (Evan Peters), are each given some form (some larger than others) of an arc to explore. In particular the dynamic between Cyclops, Jean, and Nightcrawler, as a trio of outsiders who are feared (even by fellow mutants) is rewarding and sets the stage for a much more "authentic" adaptation of classic X-Men comic (and 90s cartoon) stories than Singer was able to tell in X-Men or X2.
The film revisits established dynamics between Raven and Charles - in which the two continue their twenty-year debate over what it should mean to be "mutant and proud." For some fans, these moments will be among the film's most rewarding - as the old friends try, one more time, to find common ground. Nevertheless, in a movie that is packed with new characters, new mythology, and new questions, many viewers may find that, this time, moments of allegory and social commentary don't cover enough fresh ground and stray too far from the story at hand - meaning they represent comparisons that Singer wants to make, rather than inherent pieces of the Apocalypse narrative.
Where Quicksilver was a fun gimmick in Days of Future Past, used primarily for a memorable slow-motion set piece, the hero (who is now a decade older than he was last round) is provided with a more substantial part and emotional complexity - making it easier to recognize the latent greatness in Peter Maximoff. That said, Quicksilver also serves as an example of how Singer at times indulges a little too often in Apocalypse - as the speedster's slow-motion set piece is (unsurprisingly) fun but tone-deaf when viewed within the context of what is actually occurring in the larger story. Quicksilver's zany hijinks worked when he was an eccentric kid but, now as a young adult, the hero's actions (and Singer's implementation of his powers) are strangely inconsistent and raise more questions than they do deliver memorable moments.
The Quicksilver scene is indicative of the biggest problem with X-Men: Apocalypse and it is a problem that will, without question, divide viewers. Apocalypse is a rewarding piece of fan-service for moviegoers who have experience with the franchise (across various mediums) but, as a result, will also alienate viewers who just want to see a fun superhero movie. Countless hints at what is to come in future installments, in addition to cameos ripped right off of the comic book page, will excite fans but, conversely, will be almost entirely lost on most casual filmgoers (while at the same time convoluting the core Apocalypse storyline). Similarly, action in Apocalypse may actually be a step backward - after the incredibly choreographed fights in Days of Future Past. Apocalypse opens strong with a slick mutant battle but never quite recaptures the same momentum - ultimately serving enjoyable (but not particularly original or exciting) mutant action.
X-Men: Apocalypse is also playing in 3D and some premium formats (IMAX and RPX). Where Days of Future Past was recommendable as a 3D experience (thanks, especially, to Blink's slick use of portals in the future timeline), the choice of a premium Apocalypse ticket will depend on personal preference. Viewers who expect a lot from 3D and IMAX upcharges probably will not find enough reason to splurge this round and may be better off with a standard ticket. Still, those who default to premium formats will get minor benefits from optional upgrades: bigger screens, clearer sound, and 3D immersion.
At its core, there's actually a very tidy story of mutant power, evolution, and responsibility in X-Men: Apocalypse but Singer also indulges in his love for the characters and franchise by packing in sequel setup, references, and action set-pieces that will confuse rather than stimulate certain viewers. After First Class and Days of Future Past brought new fans to the X-Men film series, it's understandable that Singer would want to follow-up with an even bigger sequel - but in doing so, X-Men: Apocalypse is often hollow where it should be the most impactful and muffled where it should be the most exciting. Nevertheless, fans will relish in this new X-Men film - as well as salivate over the table that Singer is setting for future sequels.
X-Men: Apocalypse runs 144 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images. Now playing in regular, 3D, and 3D IMAX theaters.
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For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our X-Men: Apocalypse episode of the Total Geekall podcast.