Let's jump right in. The very first thing in this movie that struck me was in fact the first thing in the movie. At the start, James McAvoy does a narration as the camera pans over a desert landscape. What hit me immediately is how absolutely bang-on the mannerisms, enunciation, and cadence of his words were to how Sir Patrick Stewart speaks. It was a really great way to keep that the continuity of the characters progressing through their films and eventually becoming their older counterparts from the original X-Men trilogy (for all that the timeline has now been altered because of Days of Future Past). It was a little thing, but something I really liked.
With that to start us off, let's look at the cast. And why not start with Professor X himself? Carrying over from the previous films, this is the one where you really start to feel this time around that we're really getting to that Charles Xavier that we all know and love. Especially by the end of the movie, where it really feels that the character as we know him from other incarnations has truly arrived. In a lovely bit of callback, he and Magneto even have the same conversation at the end of the film that they do at the end of the first film, where Erik asks him if it ever keeps him up at night that someone may come after his school. It was a nice bit of fan service and almost a stamp placed upon the movie declaring that after all he has gone through in the previous two films, Charles Xavier has truly become Professor X.
But for every hero (or team of heroes), there needs to be a villain. This time around, we are introduced to En Sabah Nur, born in ancient Egypt. He is never actually called 'Apocalypse' in the film, and never refers to himself as such. Now, going in my knowledge of the character was based mostly on the X-Men Animated Series; an oversized grey mutant in blue and purple armor given to grandiose proclamations of how superior he is to the rest of the world.
When the complaints started with the first released picture of Apocalypse for the film, I waited to see what would come of it. I figured there would be a lot of tweaking that would happen before we saw the finished product. And all we really had to go on as far as his personality was his declaration that he was going to build a better world from the ashes of the old one. The fact that he was being played by Oscar Isaac was enough to interest me. I'd been eager to see more of him after Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Ex Machina is still on my list to to-watch, but I will get to it!) and I was curious to see how he would play the character. And I really like that he was a little more toned down from the cartoon version. This was a destructive force playing himself as a benevolent god, who believed the world had gone to rot in his absence and needed to be cleansed for the strongest of his mutant 'children'. This was a character that didn't need to be bombastic and over-the-top all of the time. That would have gotten cheesy. Instead, this Apocalypse could speak softly and still feel menacing, and Oscar Isaac's performance really brought the character to life in a way that was different from what I was accustomed to, but I liked the change. Also, in-film, he looked much better for anyone who was worried about that.
|A lot less purple.|
There's a lot of characters in this film, so I'll try and condense this as much as possible in talking about the rest of the cast:
Mystique- Jennifer Lawrence pulls a bit of a Katniss this time around. While Raven is still an intriguing character, she really felt Katniss-y. She wasn't pulling me into her story this time as much as the burnt-out, don't want to be a hero but doing it anyway type.
Hank McCoy/Beast- Nicholas Hoult continues to also grow into his character and you can see he's on the path towards what we saw in the original films, much like Xavier.
Quicksilver- He's back, for everyone who loved him the first time around, this time with a bigger sequence. You actually get more from the character this time around, with his conflict as to whether he tells Magneto he's his son or not. He definitely provided some levity.
Jean Grey & Cyclops- Yeah, I'm putting them together. You get to see them meet, and the budding relationship between the two. Cyclops always seems a bit meh, but he made out better this time around than in the original three films, where he was just a foil/cockblock for Wolverine. In this film, Jean teases us with a taste of a future when she unleashes the Phoenix Force on En Sabah Nur at the end, and it was pretty freaking cool. I want to see Sophie Turner have a chance to grow into her character the way some of the other cast has, I think she could do some really cool things in the future.
|As far as Cyclops goes, this was my favorite part|
Nightcrawler- One of my favorite X-Men, I was eager to see Nightcrawler back on the big screen. I like that he actually had quite a lot to do. Again, I want to see more, because what I saw I really liked and I really felt that they got his character really well.
Storm, Angel, Jubilee, and Psylocke- Four characters that really didn't get enough screen time. Storm and Angel had great introductions, but didn't do as much as I'd hoped. And they even did mohawk!Storm, which made me very happy. Psylocke was awesome in the time that she had, and her fight at the end was badass, but again, not enough time. Jubilee had very little time in the movie, and we didn't even get to see her powers, which was a shame.
Wolverine- Yup, there's a Wolverine cameo. As soon as they started flying over those mountains, even before you see that dam, you know exactly where you're going. At this point in the timeline, Logan is still in the facility as Weapon X, and Jean, Scott, and Kurt break him out of the crate he's in. After they do so, he goes on a killing spree, even wearing the iconic Weapon X electronic helmet/belt combo. It was pretty damn cool to watch.
|He did get some pants in the movie, Pg-13 and all.|
Now I know what you're thinking 'hey Scholar, didn't you miss a rather important character here in your character discussion?'. And you would be correct, because we're going to talk about him right now. I'm talking of course, about Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto. Because let's face it, other than the events that actually wake up Apocalypse, Magneto is the pivotal character in this movie. A lot of what happens revolves around what happens to him. Michael Fassbender is just mesmerizing in this role. From the happy family man who's trying to put the past behind him, which killed me knowing that it couldn't possibly end well. And that scene in the forest, it was absolutely wrenching to watch him screaming at the sky, demanding why, demanding why this was all he could be, clinging to his murdered family. And then to move into the factory, to listen to him so calmly tell those men he's about to kill them; so calmly but with such brutal grief and rage under the surface. I almost expected him to be angrier at Apocalypse for doing them in for him, not to mention taking him back to Auschwitz to 'unlock his full power'. Watching that place be destroyed by him was oddly satisfying, and yet tragic as it showed the character plunging back into darkness. He spent so much of the movie utterly broken, that I got excited again when the two steel beams slammed down (in an x-shape of course) in front of Apocalypse and you see Magneto wake up again. That simple "No, I betrayed them" spoke volumes. I thought he was easily the highlight of the movie, and much of the emotional punch came from Erik's arc from love, to loss, and redemption. Amazing.
|In this pic: feels|
So what about the story? Well, the story is very much a comic book story. Taking a break from shadowy organizations, real-world consequences, and grounded themes, we're going balls to the wall comic book here. Apocalypse wants to raze the world to the ground and build anew, washing away the weakness of mankind and leaving the strong. Simple enough, and a nice change of pace. Alongside that is the mutants trying to live in a post-Days of Future Past world, and what that means for their kind. Anyone who knows anything about the X-Men knows that there has always been an underlying, and often quite overt message about tolerance and prejudice. I think the fact that this message is so entrenched gives them a freedom to do the more over the top stuff without worrying about losing the real, gritty feel so many comic movies have been doing lately (there is certainly nothing wrong with that, but I do like variety). They don't have to formulate a plot around a message, it's already built in.
And action! You have to have action in these kinds of movies! Well, you'll be happy to know there's no shortage of action and spectacle. Mutant powers are on display aplenty through the film, from moments of discovery to moments of destruction. And in no way are they used sparingly. The fight scenes are well done, the end fight is a lot of fun. There's a lot of CG in this movie, which may turn off some, but kind of feels par for the course here. The level of destruction also somewhat demands it. I didn't find the movie dragged at all and had enough levity to balance the harsh feels to make it fun. To be honest, there is nothing wrong with the action, it was pretty much what you would and have come to expect in a movie like this. I find myself having a hard time talking about it because I was so much more invested in the characters than I was the in the action.
So in the end, I really liked this movie. A lot. I don't really understand why this movie is receiving as much dislike as it is. It felt to me very much like an X-Men film, which is to say it is very much it's own thing. I thought it was keeping with the original trilogy more than it's own immediate predecessors, but I don't see anything wrong with that. First Class and Days of Future Past were both excellent, and while I perhaps don't feel this one is quite as good (which the film itself seems to acknowledge in a moment of self-awareness that would make Deadpool proud), I think it's still a very solid movie. And yes, it's very different to the other comic book franchises we have. But I didn't want it to be like Civil War, as fantastic of a movie that was, and I sure as hell didn't want it to be like Batman vs. Superman. This was its own thing, and I hate that we have to compare all movies in the genre to one another. X-Men Apocalypse was a very good entry into the series, and I'm still down to see more. There was a lot introduced in this one, and I'd like to see them build on that and expand the world, especially those characters that didn't get as much time to shine. But a bad movie? Hardly. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and will gladly recommend this one. So yeah, if you haven't (and if you haven't, why on earth are you reading this review?), go see this film!