Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

Latest installment in the X-Men franchise returns to the 1980s

X-Men: Apocalypse
Directed by Bryan Singer
With James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn

With a title like X-Men: Apocalypse, one can expect that the stakes are high, and they are. But less might have been more as we have all by now seen end-to-end CGI carnage before, and the film brings little new to the evil villain destroying the world genre.

The ninth entry in the Marvel Comics series takes us back to 1983, following 10 years later on the events of 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past.

But the beginning takes us even further back, to Ancient Egypt and contradicts much of what we know from the previous films. Mutants aren't a recent new step in evolution, but have been around for thousands of years. En Sabah Nur, also called Apocalypse (played by Oscar Isaac), is trapped under the rubble of a collapsed pyramid in an opening scene that seems overly inspired by the elaborate booby traps and solar alignments of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

He gets revived in the 1980s, setting the plot in motion. Apocalypse is well-intentioned, hoping to save humanity by destroying everything that is wrong with the world, which is basically everything. He sets off looking for rogue mutants to be his four horsemen.
From then on, it is pretty much a battle of good mutants versus bad mutants, with lots of computer-assisted destruction of buildings infrastructure on a large scale.

There are too many mutants in the series to keep track of, and the filmmakers try to fit in as many as possible.

Jennifer Lawrence is back as Raven Darkhölme / Mystique, although she is her true-blue self only a few times. Mostly she looks like Jennifer Lawrence. Charles Xavier / Professor X is played by James McAvoy for the third time, but Patrick Stewart as the older professor will reportedly be back for the next sequel. Michael Fassbender also does a triple play as as Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto as well. Evan Peters is back for the second time as Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver.

Newly taking over parts of existing characters are Sophie Turner as Jean Grey / Pheonix, Alexandra Shipp as Ororo Munroe / Storm and Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers / Cyclops.

A few new characters pop up. The best of them is Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler, who adds a bit of humor as an introverted reptilian mutant with a German accent.

Olivia Munn appears as Elizabeth Braddock / Psylocke. Her role is mostly standing around in a rather skimpy leather outfit, though at times she does fight with some sort of energy sword. While a few female roles in the X-Men films offer some depth, this is not one of them.

Comic book films have been getting more sophisticated. Marvel Comics' successful Avengers series has raised the bar on plots and characters, particularly with Captain America: Civil War, which also has superheroes having to take sides.

X-Men: Apocalypse seems fairly old-school in comparison. The script doesn't give much depth to the characters, with the possible exception of Magneto. The rest are mostly defined by their mutant powers.

While there are a lot of special effects in the plot to save the world, we have seen them all before. And an evil character bent on destroying the world for his own glory has been done too many times. Some more specific motivation would have pushed this beyond the generic superhero film. Simply saving the world is not enough anymore. There needs to be a bit more nuance and originality to it — some heartfelt emotion behind the explosions, and X-Men: Apocalypse fails in that area.

The Ancient Egypt scenes especially seemed recycled from several recent films. Parts taking place in East Germany and Poland (the film is set in the Cold War era) were a little bit fresher.

The film does deliver enough for X-Men fans, though. The pacing is fast, and there is not much time wasted between when one mutant has to save the situation with a superpower and when the next situation arises, but it could have benefited a bit from a few slower scenes and one or two fewer subplots, and more time spent developing what was already introduced.

It helps if viewers have seen most of the previous films, as the animosities between some characters are not explained for latecomers.
As with the Avengers films, stay all the way through the credits for a scene with hints at the next sequel.

The film does a lot of globe hopping, and there is some dialogue in Arabic, Polish, German and Ancient Egyptian, with Czech subtitles only, if you see it in a Czech theater. The scenes are brief and most of the main points are explained later in English.

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