Sixteen years after the very first mutant movie, Fox’s unstoppable X machine continues its ongoing march onto silver screens. Will is win the world over in the sixth entry of the X-Men series; the third since its First Class soft reboot back in 2011, X-Men: Apocalypse.
What a change we have seen in the landscape over those sixteen years; in the yesteryear of 2000, superheroes were something of an embarrassment at the box office – Blade had been a respectable hit a couple of years prior, but as its Marvel-based origins were buried deep down amongst fangs, swords and leather, the X-Men’s spandex-based original image was also re-imagined, taking the form of a sci-fi fable fuelled by metaphors.
After Sony’s Spidey followed this lead but embraced its print origins, fast forward to today where Marvel Studios has become one of the biggest players in Tinseltown (wherein their shared cinematic universe approach is one copied by many), the Children of the Atom are back in arguably their most bombastic adventure to date.
Following the flavours of the last two X-factored fables, we once again have a retro tale, this time the era of the eighties is the setting, wherein the old adversaries, Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) seem to have found a level of contentment with their lots.
Xavier’s school is now full with gifted youngsters and Magneto has found a level of off-the-grid happiness with a wife and young daughter.
But unbeknownst to both, evil is in the offing in the form of a recently returned uber-mutant named En Sabah Nur (aka the eponymous Apocalypse), one who’s off the charts power-wise and was revered as a god in Ancient Egypt (the opening scenes of the film charts his incarceration before his return 10 minutes or so in). Seeing himself as the planet’s rightful ruler, he’s soon assembling his four horsemen in his quest for global domination, one of whom is Magneto, who now (alas) has a few new scores to settle with humanity.
Opposing him, of course, are the merry mutants led this time by the returning Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and a few new faces to the school who we’ve seen before, but are now meeting for the first time due to the timeline being slightly reset in the last outing (Days of Future Past).
Thus we’re introduced to a new Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), a new Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and a new Storm (Alexandra Shipp) amongst others, who must learn to be heroes against the relentless rascal and his evil (but somewhat silent) allies.
It’s in this plot that the interesting aspect lies; while the earlier entries into the franchise seemed to hide their caped-crusader elements within the aforementioned sci-fi flavour, this one seems to embrace these aspects with open arms and what we have here is the most unashamedly superhero-esque outing to date.
Apocalypse’s motivations aren’t entirely explained, apart from the odd exposition dump and the fact he’s powerful. Why does he want global domination? There’s something in there about survival of the fittest, but it’s skated over quickly in favour of the next big set piece. (Also, it’s nigh-on impossible to recognise The Force Awakens’ Oscar Isaac under all that blue make-up with a non-verbal scripted style – he’s wasted here).
It almost feels like returning director Bryan Singer has seen the staggering success the likes of the Avengers has enjoyed and decided to make his own version, substituting Cap, Thor and Iron Man get all for the brooding outsiders who nowadays occupy their own obscure corner of the Marvel Comics’ Universe.
Largely gone are those allegorical aspects we had previously, such as Xavier and Magneto’s MLK / Malcolm X dynamic and the outsider elements being commentaries on many aspects of being born different; although we get the occasional nod to the new young characters coming to grips with their powers, the last thirty minutes are essentially a super-fuelled slug-fest which doesn’t really stand out from the crowd.
Even the character development from the recent entries into the franchise seem to have been disregarded; the status quo setting of First Class is now replaced by old tropes of banding together the battle the bigger bad and all (spoiler alert) are best buds by the end.
It does feel a little like Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender’s star wattage is now higher than the need for consistent characterisation, thus they’re now anti-heroes (at best) and taking prominent roles in the film’s marketing campaign. That’s not to say it’s bad – far from it; there are many great moments throughout and Fox’s confidence in the franchise is highly evident on the screen; this film has obviously been blessed with a big budget and this is often apparent on screen as Apocalypse’s reign of terror begins. And again, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver gets a great moment to shine in one of the movie’s stand-out scenes (although critics saying it’s somewhat similar to his scene stealing turn in DOFP would have a bit of a point).
Thus, what we have here is a film that is undeniably entertaining in parts, and worth a cautious watch. But it’s hard not to be a little disappointed with the path chosen by Singer and crew with the more interesting earlier aspects discarded for a Michael Bay flavour, one that seems at odds with the majority of its former themes.