The year of superhero pile ups concludes with the third X-Men ‘reboot’ film, Apocalypse.
The time-travel events of Days of Future Past have now become history to the new generation of mutants as we enter the 80’s. Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) has re-established his school, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) continues her mutant freedom fighting missions, and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has gone into hiding. However, ten years have passed, which means that it’s time again for all of these characters to save the world once more, as the mythical god-like figure Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has risen from his centuries-long sleep.
While not perfect by any means, this film continues to prove X-Men as an incredibly underrated franchise. This is no more obvious than in the remarkably stellar handling of its characters, whom all get moments to shine. It’s easy to forget that all the characters within the X-Men never get their own films to explore their backstory (bar one over-used character), and are always confined to their small portions of time that all have to lead toward completing a main narrative.
Yet, again the series continues to manage giving its recurring cast even more compelling moments, that don’t feel like rehashing of arguments already made. While all these moments typically fall under the similar theme of how mutants should belong in the world each time it’s viewed from a slightly different perspective, which keeps the topic fresh and continually interesting.
At the same time they establish new characters that, while no doubt flimsier than the central group, are given enough details in order to let them be expanded over time, and give them just reason for their actions over the course of the film. For example, Storm (Alexandra Shipp), one of Apocalypse’s team of deadly “horsemen”, whom barely gets any time on screen at all, has her motivation explained within a single shot which leads to a greater pay off in the final fight. In such a jam-packed film it could be easy to give slap-dash explanations to background characters, but instead time is taken to give at least every new character something to cling onto and empathise with.
Similarly, the time gap between films thankfully doesn’t feel forced or convenient, but apt. It’s used as a great tool to allow the events of the previous film to truly resonate with its characters, have clear outcomes, as well as influence the newer generation.
The series is also one of the few to actually make use of interesting filmmaking techniques, making use of visual style and editing in order to push dramatic moments to their fullest, and their comedic moments laugh out loud. In regards to what most people will be wanting to know, yes the series continues to make the best use of its one allocated ‘fuck’, and yes there is another Quicksilver sequence which is the highlight of the entire film.
The central flaw of the film is its visual effects, which seem to continually bite off more than they can chew. This reaches its peak in the climactic battle, where essentially every scene seems to be obviously shot in a green screen studio. It drops the dramatic tension that’d been brilliantly handled up until that point, and gives the final sequence an uncanny look that can occasionally take you out of the moment. This isn’t helped by another recurring flaw of the series, that it’s final fights are generally lacking due to the nature of the powers on screen. Other superhero series cleverly know when to drop the out-of-this-world powers when needed, typically ending their films with up close and intense physical combat. It’s much easier for an audience to react to a punch to the face than a hit with a laser bolt, and when it comes to beings of negligible invincibility it’s even harder to care. The final fight does make attempts to change this, but its not enough to salvage the ending from being rather deflating to its brilliant lead up.
This is also due to Apocalypse’s rather vague evil plan. The gist is easy to get, and his motivations are clear, but in the end it comes down to little more than another villain wanting to destroy the world. The film is called Apocalypse so that may be a stupid point to make, but in a film where so much rests on the characters relationships to each other, and their conflicting political stand points, it seems a shame that this becomes overshadowed by such a simplistic villain.
It’s still a great addition to an already great franchise, with more time with the characters you love continuing to find cool ways to use their powers. There are flaws, and it is certainly weaker than its predecessor, but it’s still a fun time and well worth seeing on the big screen.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), directed by Bryan Singer, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox. Certificate 12A.