2016 is a big year for superheroes, so far we’ve had Deadpool, Batman V Superman, Captain America: Civil War and now X-Men: Apocalypse, keep in mind we’ve still got Suicide Squad, Doctor Strange and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 on schedule. Okay so X-Men, was it terrible? Nah. Was it amazing? Nah. Was it decent? Yeah. It’s no secret that I don’t like the vast majority of the X-Men movies, I liked First Class, I liked Deadpool, The Wolverine was okay, and that’s all. Most of the X-Movies are pretty awful, the original trilogy sucked except for Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, Wolverine: Origins was an unspeakable sin and Days of Future Past basically pissed all over the excellence of First Class by killing off nearly every interesting character they introduced, off screen (Seriously, off screen?!), so yeah going into this one I wasn’t expecting it to be good.
Surprisingly though, this is definitely in the category of better X-Men movies. For the first time Bryan Singer actually treated some of the characters as more than special effects sequences, Scott Summers actually has a personality for once! Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy continue the trend of their predecessors (McKellen and Stewart) by being the most dynamic characters on screen and, despite my misgivings, Sophie Turner actually did a better job than I’d predicted with Jean Grey (I still didn’t like it, but it could’ve been X-Men 3 levels of bad and it wasn’t). In terms of pacing and editing the film was pretty on point, I should make a point that while I dislike Bryan Singer, I do think he’s a competent filmmaker just not a good fit for X-Men.
Alright so let’s list off the good things; James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are both excellent here, there hasn’t been much development of their characters this time around but they’re still doing an excellent job. Fassbender in particular has really made the Magneto character his own, while McAvoy’s Xavier often seems like a spiritual successor to Stewart, Fassbender’s Magneto is very different to the one played by McKellen. Tye Sheridan did a really great job as Scott Summers/Cyclops; Cyclops is one of those genuinely tough characters to pull off, James Marsden did his absolute best in the first wave of X-Men films, but despite the relatively simple archetype actors have struggled to pull off the character hence the near-total absence of Cyclops since 2006 save for a very brief scene in 2009’s Origins (let’s try to forget that). Evan Peters’ performance as Quicksilver is another highlight, while I personally preferred the Marvel version of Quicksilver played by Aaron Taylor Johnson in Age of Ultron, Peters’ Americanised Quicksilver is well executed, in particular the slowed down “bullet time” sequences are excellent tension breakers. Also special highlight: while only a brief feature, the inclusion of Caliban was rather well done, a fairly minor character being portrayed in fairly accurate light was a decent nod to the source material.
Oscar Isaac does a pretty decent job as Apocalypse too; Isaac’s performance comes fairly close to capturing the character first introduced by Louise Simonson in the pages of X-Factor. It was a shame that Apocalypse’s powers were somewhat limited in terms of visuals and that despite being a seemingly all powerful mutant he doesn’t really get a chance to showcase it beyond the final battle sequence. Credit where it’s due Singer finally managed to get Storm right; this time actually demonstrating her genuine power and abilities alongside her fairly good nature, Ororo Munroe deserved better than the Halle Berry treatment and this time she got it with Alexandra Shipp doing a far better job as the lightning goddess the comics always displayed.
There are still some pretty nasty flaws in this film; Jennifer Lawrence has been the wrong choice for Mystique since the beginning. For a character almost exclusively portrayed as conniving villain who’ll use anyone to get her way, the decision to make her this sympathetic, tragic hero figure has never sat well with me. In addition to that, Lawrence’s star power meaning she’s rarely seen in her blue form still infuriates me; I get that she’s joined the ranks of Emma’s Stone and Watson as this generations Hollywood “It Girls”, but if you’re playing a character who has blue skin and bright red hair put the fucking costume on! Same goes for Nicholas Hoult, I remember his big debut in About a Boy and I remember his reinvention in Skins, but that still doesn’t excuse his adamant refusal to be Beast until the final act of the film.
With those major gripes out of the way there are still a few other issues at hand; Olivia Munn was grossly underutilised in this film; The Newsroom star was cast in the role of Betsy Braddock/Psylocke, a mutant telepath who also has the ability to generate swords and knives with psycho-kinetic energy. If that character sounds like something you’d love to see, I’d suggest you go pick up Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force because Psylocke in this film has about three lines of dialogue, no mention of her telepathic abilities and a few action sequences where she brandishes a kinetic energy sword. It’s a real shame, not just because Psylocke’s a personal favourite character, but such a talented actress could’ve pulled off a major villain role and feels worthless in this instance. The same goes for the character of Angel/Archangel, very little dialogue, almost no motivation for his siding with Apocalypse and a lack of accuracy with the source material; Angel was one of the original X-Men and became Archangel after the mutant Harpoon destroyed his wings while trying to massacre mutant children. This version has big flappy wings and that’s basically it.
Personal nitpick: Singer needs to get over Hugh Jackman, there’s a solid ten minute sequence bridging the second and third act that serves no purpose other than saying “hey kids, Hugh Jackman is still a thing, can’t have an X-Men movie without Hugh Jackman!”, it’s annoying, does nothing to advance the plot and continues this weird obsession where Singer really wants William Stryker to be a much bigger deal than he ever was in the comics (Just in case you’re wondering; William Stryker was in a single X-Men comic in the 80’s, he wasn’t the guy who gave Wolverine adamantium bones and he wasn’t in the army. He was just a religious nutter who hated mutants and gays). Thankfully this is the only genuinely unnecessary scene in the film, it’s a shame to because it brings down a decent second act.
This film could’ve been a lot worse than it turned out to be, it wasn’t a great film and certainly comes nowhere the levels of awful featured in other parts of the series (Seriously, Origins will never be forgiven). Does it compare well against Captain America: Civil War? God no, not even on the same level. Batman V Superman? You’re getting closer though tonally the films aren’t very similar. X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t a bad film, it isn’t a masterpiece either. Does it stack up badly to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Yeah it does, but if we’re being entirely fair the MCU is such an incredibly well done concept that it really does seem to exist in a magic vacuum. Personally, I’d like to see the X-Men franchise move back to Marvel Studios so they can incorporate mutants into the Avengers, however, if Fox decides that the financial pull from Apocalypse is still strong we could very well see the proposed sequel in which case I’d advise future directors/writers to focus on developing Jean Grey, Storm, Cyclops, Nightcrawler and Psylocke, new X-Men films need to shake off the shadow of the early 2000’s series and focus on new ideas and new characters otherwise we’ll just get another rehash.
Final Score: 6.82/10
PS: Regardless of whether future X-Films are being made by Marvel or Fox here is my solution for Hugh Jackman no longer being Wolverine after next year’s Wolverine finale film; the new Wolverine should be X-23/Laura Howlett. Seriously, Marvel has had incredible success letting Wolverine’s sort of daughter/clone take over as the new Wolverine and it’d be a seriously cool move to see a female Wolverine with her own story and unique character traits. Not to mention you can dip back into the Game of Thrones talent pool and cast Emilia Clarke in the role. It’d be awesome!