Film Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse is the latest (last?) of the First Class reboot of the X-Men franchise and while it has its moments it never really excels above being average superhero fare.

Starting a few thousand years in the past, in ancient Egypt, we get our origin of the film’s titular villain who was the first mutant and always had four mutant “horsemen” at his side. Apocalypse is trapped when his human slaves revolt, but he re-ascends in the early 1980’s and begins recruiting mutants so that he can wipe humanity from the planet. In the meanwhile, since Days of Future Past, Xavier has recruited a new class of mutants (Cyclops and Jean Grey), Raven is liberating mutants that are still being persecuted after their reveal to the world and Magneto has started a family and lives in the incognito obscurity of small town Poland. Apocalypse recruits his horseman, Xavier assembles his X-Men and the world ending brings everyone together again.

The plot is that incredibly simple, but the film is full of a number of great moments. First and foremost, Michael Fassbender is great, again, as Erik/Magneto. He gets a tragic scene with his family that is one of, if not the most powerful scenes I’ve ever seen in a comic book film. Fassbender might be incapable of being bad, even when his part here is the slightest yet for this series. Still, the film wastes him in the back half, which is a crying shame. Oscar Isaac plays Apocalypse under a lot of prosthetics and make-up and I enjoyed watching him ham it up as the big bad villain. James McAvoy is also having a blast, isn’t he always, as Xavier and I hope he stays with series if they continue on with the new younger rebooted mutants. Other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot to write home about with the cast. No one is really terrible, but none of the characters really have a whole lot going on in this film. Nobody even really has an arc. There are just so many characters and Singer doesn’t know how to balance them and give them their dramatic due. They all get some good action beats, a chance to show their powers, but nobody really changes by the time things are said and done. That said, I am excited about the young cast stepping up to the plate, they are a strong cast of actors, they just need an opportunity to spread their wings when there aren’t a million other characters to serve.

Singer’s film is never dull, he keeps the ball rolling, but there just aren’t any stakes to anything, and the end of the world is supposedly at stake. The action is solid, everyone gets to show off their powers, but I found myself rarely thrilled. It doesn’t help that this came out a few weeks after Civil War, which does big team superhero battles so well, and I wonder what I might have thought about X-Men: Apocalypse in a post Marvel Studios world. The Quicksilver stuff is still great, Singer certainly knows how to do that, but I wish there was this level of thought and invention put into all of his action set pieces. A side note, Singer’s film might be one of the most violent and brutal PG-13 movies that I have ever seen.

X-Men: Apocalypse is solid superhero filmmaking, but it feels average compared to the best X-Men and Marvel Studios efforts. I love seeing Fassbender and McAvoy in these parts, but there are too many other characters to service, which means, ultimately, no one is. Singer still has some solid action in his back pocket, and he gives the big team battle stuff a go, but he ultimately can’t elevate the material to the heights the series has hit in the past. Still, X-Men fans will enjoy the ride, even if it might not be the best ride the genre has to offer.

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