Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse
I have to be honest I had my doubt with this movie. Having watched it last night I am very proud to see that most if not all them have been put to rest. Maybe I’m a sucker for the 80s, (1984 baby here) but the time period, the clothes, the references, resonated very strongly with me. Xavier’s school in the era of skinny jeans, the cold war and President Reagan is a very fun place to be. The themes and struggles of that era pair themselves well to the unfurling X-Men Mythos one that continues to tread Xenophobia, difference, the red scare and the spectre of mutually assured destruction. Apocalypse seizes on these zeitgeists in a way that punctuates his threat. I shared the concerns of how Apocalypse would be presented but these were quickly alleviated. Oscar Isaac‘s really sold Apocalypse as primal and ontological threat.
One of my gripes was the lost opportunity for philosophical engagement. Ideologically Apocalypse is the diametric foil to Xavier, most of their conflict in the movie is confined to physical and psychic combat however. To me this was a bit of a lost opportunity (but still very cool visually). Apocalypse’s Darwinian proclivities could have benefited the film with a more thorough exploration. This is also the case at least 2 of his horsemen, (Psylocke and Storm) who’s motivation for aligning with the God-Mutant aren’t entirely clear. In the comics, mutants chosen to become Horsemen undergo profound brainwashing that endures for years after the fact, in the movie it wasn’t too apparent whether this was taking place. Additionally The notion of first mutation was introduced and also could have benefited from more explanation, with 7 installments into the franchise I think the time is ripe to explore the ontology of mutation, especially considering a jaw dropping event that takes place near the end of the film. Spoiler: with a telepathic assist from Jean on the Astral plane Xavier instructs her to unleash her potential giving us a more faithful adaptation of the phoenix force on the big screen. This moment was huge and I doubt that its ramifications have been all settled.
Bryan Singer is to be commended for the way he interwove the plotting and pacing, the interaction between the mentor X-Men and younger team was masterfully done in a way that was organic and believable. I was worried how they would throw the neophyte X-Men into the ring training and all, but their involvement and the nature of the threat they are presented with makes it work. The progression of the film did feel a bit fast but there was good economy of screen time per character vs set up on the hero side of the equation. As I mentioned earlier however Apocalypse and his horsemen suffered a bit in this regard. Quicksilver returns once more doing what he does best …stealing scenes. This time his powers are shown off to an 80’s hit track that had everyone in my theatre laughing. Made me wonder and anticipate what he’ll speed out to if they get a 90’s sequel off the ground.
Magneto had some very good scenes, and the story did a good job raising some pathos for his character. A new plot element takes its cue straight from the comics, and really cements Magneto as a tortured soul, justifiably incensed with humanity. As I mentioned earlier however die hard fans will be left unclear as to how much of Magneto’s rage is his own, versus how much is of Apocalypses influence.
As the installment closing out the second X-Trilogy I would say X-Men: Apocalypse did its job admirably. The call backs and homages to past movie elements really show how much Singer and Simon Kinberg love and respect the franchise while providing winks to the audience. Above all this however, X-Men: Apocalypse injects fresh blood and opportunity into a run that could have easily gone stale 16 years and 7 films in. To see the broad range of philosophies presented thus (egalitarian, Darwinian, bioethcial etc) aside multiple/alternate timelines, is quite a feat. It is fair to say that the x-movies have juggled and adapted its source material wonderfully, while using time travel to cleverly edit out or otherwise erase its less than stellar flops (Sorry Brett Ratner). As the X-students say after walking out of a Star Trek movie “The third movie is always the worst”
There is a post credit stinger you will want to stick around for, providing another hint that we are not finished with the X-Universe just yet. This stinger also hints at another iconic villain I am excited to see. Apocalypse is one of the most iconic villains in the X-Men rogues gallery, was he perfectly adapted? That is debatable. Will this movie have you excited for what’s to come? Without a question….yes it will and for me that’s where this movie’s strength lies. Clearing away the stagnancy of what came before and being the fire that ignites new life, to paraphrase Apocalypse’s words, I think that was the underlying ethos for this movie as well…that’s kind of meta.
Although the political themes weren’t showcased as strongly as I had hoped, the opening title sequences explored them quit a bit symbolically. They are really starting become a hallmark of the franchise, reaching James Bond Levels of Iconic.
Overall Score 8.5