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Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse
X-Men: Apocalypse

[NOTE: This review contains spoilers.]

I first got into comics in the late 90's, working at a Marvel comic book store, and I was heavily into anything to do with the X-Men. This was at the height of the main Apocalypse storyline, which serves as the inspiration for X-Men: Apocalypse, the latest addition to Fox's long-running film series. As such, I had a lot of baggage going into the movie, and the previews had me more worried than excited. In other words, my expectations were low. The good news, then, is that, if you have exceptionally low expectations, as I did, you will walk away from X-Men: Apocalypse genuinely surprised. Indeed, my initial first impression of the film was glowingly positive. Unfortunately, the bad news is that it's a little too paint-by-numbers average.

X-Men: Apocalypse gets more right than it does wrong, but let's focus on what it does wrong first. The most glaring problem in the film is one that has plagued the entire series from the beginning: too many characters. In this movie, it feels worse than usual, with several characters introduced for no apparent reason other than to mark off a checklist of popular X-Men characters that people would want to see. Even Quicksilver, who was such a great character in Days of Future Past, shows up to remind us about his previous performance and little else. He's given a perfectly appropriate potential narrative payoff that never comes, making him completely superfluous. And he's not alone; Storm, Jubilee, Wolverine, Angel, and more are completely pointless to the story.

He's great, but serves no narrative purpose

That's why, even though the main storyline is quite simple and straight-forward, the movie winds up feeling jumbled and long-winded. It's trying to juggle far too many balls at once by telling so many concurrent stories about so many different people. Half of the characters could have been taken out of the film, and it wouldn't have mattered, narratively speaking. If it had kept its focus on Professor X, Magneto, Apocalypse, Mystique, and Jean Grey, if not fewer characters, it would have been a tighter, better movie.

That said, Mystique makes no sense here. Jennifer Lawrence isn't phoning in her performance, but it feels like she still thinks she's on the set of a Hunger Games flick rather than an X-Men movie. Her character is more Katniss Everdeen than Raven Darkholme, and the movie tries desperately to turn her into a heroic main character, something that just doesn't fit the character that has been built up over five other movies. It's the fault of both Lawrence and the screenwriters, all of whom don't seem to understand what to do with Mystique.

Too much Katniss--I mean, Mystique

And then there's Wolverine, who shows up for one extended sequence of brutal bloodshed (that is pretty awesome, I'll grant) and then departs. A lot of screentime is wasted getting our characters in and out of the Weapon X facility, and this plot digression only exists to give Hugh Jackman his obligatory moment. Seriously, nothing else about that entire sequence has anything to do with the Apocalypse storyline. Nothing. When a movie is running as long as this one and has so many moving parts to keep track of, things like this need to be chopped out at the script stage.

Finally, let's talk about Apocalypse himself. While there's a lot to like about this version of Apocalypse (for example, Oscar Isaac is as awesome as ever), it's never made clear what his powers are, and those powers are only utilized when the plot demands it, not when it would be logical for the character. And then there's the physical design, which is simply atrocious, on so many levels. It is incomprehensible why the filmmakers would spend so much time trying to make ancillary characters like Jubilee and Psylocke look comic-accurate, but then go for a look on the main villain that is completely unrecognizable from his comics counterpart.

I just can't help but wonder how much greater he would be if he didn't look like Ivan Ooze

However, setting all those substantial flaws aside, X-Men: Apocalypse still manages to be an entertaining film that doesn't deserve to be lumped together with series misfires X-Men: The Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The new actors playing younger versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, and Nightcrawler are all surprisingly good, and the characters themselves are handled well. Magneto is given his best character arc in a decade, and Michael Fassbender easily out-classes almost every other actor on set. Xavier is at his most naively ideological, which makes sense, and when he is inevitably proven wrong, it feels like he has learned his lesson. It's also great to see Moira McTaggart again, though the fact that she doesn't remember any of the events of X-Men: First Class is used as a joke a few too many times.

The special effects are also above average. There are some cracks in the CG and a few unnecessarily fancy shots, but all in all, it stands up to similar big budget blockbuster spectacles. The opening sequence, which takes place in ancient Egypt, is especially notable for being good eye candy. That said, the scenes of city-wide destruction and mass devastation are a little mind-numbing and yawn-worthy at this point, which may be more a reflection on the pornographic nature of modern comic book movies than it is on this particular film.

Now I really want to see an entire movie centered around Magneto

With so many things happening at once, the choices to have a brisk pace and gloss over the details are wise ones. It's frankly miraculous that all the pieces fall into place by the end in a satisfying way. The film also knows when to cut away, not falling into the brooding style of a Christopher Nolan film or the jarring hypercutting of a Zack Snyder flick. By the climax, everything feels deserved and understood, though not wholly fleshed-out, which is the perfect middle ground for an X-Men movie.

So while it probably doesn't satisfy the guy who was reading all those X-Men comics in the late 90's and who was obsessed with Apocalypse, X-Men: Apocalypse is a worthy addition to the X-Men film franchise. It's fairly superficial entertainment--lacking the thematic depth of the one or two stronger X-Men movies, but not being the incoherent mess of its weaker brethren--and as long as you go into it expecting nothing more than that, you will enjoy yourself.


Despite being overstuffed with unnecessary characters and plot digressions, X-Men: Apocalypse still manages to work and be a welcome, entertaining addition to the X-Men film franchise.

-e. magill 6/1/2016

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