Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
Worshipped as a God since the dawn of civilization, the world’s first mutant En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is awakened after thousands of years, and recruits four mutants, including the disillusioned Magneto (Fassbender), to create a new world order and destroy the current one. Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and Raven (Lawrence) must lead a team of young mutants to stop this seemingly unstoppable and immortal mutant from destroying the earth.
So we have the third big superhero film in as many months, and it is yet again a superhero ensemble piece. However this this time it is the turn of the original superhero ensemble piece; the X-franchise to give us its latest instalment. While having a group of superheroes in one film is a relatively new approach for the other franchises (Fantastic Four an exception, but that is not even worth a mention), X-Men has always been about the group dynamic where its heroes (and villains) are always part of a collective that develop as a group and their own arcs intertwine as part of an overall arc that many are part of. This of course can lead to redundant characters or an overloaded plot, but when done right it can produce a more engaging and satisfying story that can encompass more serious and prevalent themes than your average popcorn blockbuster.
Solo outings aside, the direction of the franchise seems to be to keep with the McAvoy/ Fassbender combination instead of Stewart/ McKellen, which makes sense, and also makes Apocalypse in some ways the third film of a franchise. Now the setting is the early 80s and at one point several characters go to see Star Wars at the cinema and states that “the third film is always the worst”. Well, this may well be a pop at 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand which despite its great premise, was indeed an absolute mess, but it is also a comment that could sadly be applied to this film.
After The Last Stand the franchise needed a reboot, so we went back in time and got First Class and that film still remains one of the highlights of the franchise so far. Well, yet another reboot is perhaps too much, especially as it would be a shame to waste the talents of the predominantly excellent cast that they have now assembled. However the franchise certainly needs an injection of energy as though it does have some good moments and certainly entertains, X-Men: Apocalypse is just somewhat lacking throughout and often fails to utilise the strengths of the franchise and its abundance of characters. This is all the more dissapointing as once again Bryan Singer is directing.
Things start off the right way, with a very well put together opening sequence introducing us to the film’s antagonist and what happened to him, and this certainly sets the standard for all the set pieces as they are most definitely big and bold. However, despite (as the title certainly suggests) the stakes being extremely high, they never truly feel that way as the film’s antagonist behind them is underdeveloped and the outcome of the set pieces themselves often predictable with nowhere near as much real edge or urgency felt as there should be, though it has to be said that franchise Stalwart John Ottman puts together a wonderfully dramatic and epic score. The excessive use of CGI is often overwhelming, especially the final set piece, making it feel like Michael Bay is directing, and crucially there isn’t the heart at the centre of these set pieces like there should be, especially considering all the characters involved and their companionship and camaraderie. The best action sequence is very much one focussed on an individual, and just like in Days of Future Past it is involving Quicksilver. Not only is it a sequence with visual panache, it also allows the viewer to see exactly how a character’s unique abilities allow him to view the world, something superhero films should maybe try to do more often.
Likewise, despite the running time of just under two and a half hours, the overall plot is messy, with the strands linking together the big set pieces often re-hashing moments from previous films and also often relying on coincidence and convenience a little too much. This just makes it hard to care for the characters as much as we should, and the film relies a little too much on the fact that we do already care for these characters as we have spent two films with many of them.
As stated before, most of the cast that have been assembled are excellent. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have only got better in their roles as Xavier and Magneto, and both their exceptional performances and great on-screen chemistry often gives their characters more depth and engagement than the plot deserves. Firmly cementing this film as an intention to be a prelude to further films, we are introduced to younger versions of many of the iconic mutants of the X-Men universe such as Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm and Nightcrawler. They, along with Evan Peters’ returning Quicksilver certainly all get their own individual moments to shine, and the young actors all do solid jobs, meanwhile despite now being a stalwart of the franchise, Nicholas Hoult feels criminally underused as Beast. In an intention to setup next year’s Wolverine film, we also get both the clawed one and William Stryker turn up, and though it does feel like a shameless teaser for that film, it does fit into the overall plot well (if slightly conveniently).
Character-wise, the two weak points are two of the film’s main characters, the antagonist Apocalypse and also Raven, who takes on a very key, but badly developed role. Though Apocalypse’s motivations behind his actions make logical sense, his character is just very forgettable, and despite Oscar Isaac’s obvious talent as an actor, it would ultimately make no difference who plays him as he his costume and make up is so over the top. Meanwhile Jennifer Lawrence’s stock has of course continuously raised while the franchise has gone along, the cynic in me thinks that the film has Raven as a main and heroic character because it is her in the role. This time Raven is celebrated as a leader, hero and icon by all, but is extremely reluctant to be that (hmmm, sounds familiar to another character that she has played!), though that sounds like a good idea due to Lawrence’s extremely limited range, she just lacks the screen presence or conviction with her dialogue delivery to make her character one to engage with. As Raven plays such a key role in the narrative, Lawrence’s performance only serves to further undermine it.
Though it certainly has its fair share of shoddy storytelling, X-Men: Apocalypse still has enough to entertain, let’s just hope that nest time the franchise capitalises on the potential that this one sets up for future instalments and also maybe Singer hands over the reigns to someone else.
Despite its potential, the latest instalment of the X-franchise hits as much as it misses; X-Men: Apocalypse is certainly good fun and entertaining, but is ultimately all surface and spectacle without the emotional depth that there should have been.