Movie Review: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

by T. Mack

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The latest film in the X-Men franchise has been met with reviews that can be called “mixed” at best and “scathing” at worst. I refrained from reading said reviews and went to the film on opening  night to form my own opinion. While the movie definitely isn’t perfect, I found it to be a good time. 

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‘X-Men’ (2000)

The original X-men film that was released 16 years ago set a new standard for superhero movies at the time. While that standard has now been surpassed by the modern MCU, X-Men is still considered a great film. It set the stage for some truly great and no-so-great movies to follow. Depending on your perspective, X-Men: Apocalypse could be considered either… or both.

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Cast of ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ (2014)

The last film in this franchise, X-Men: Days of Future Past, was widely considered a terrific movie and erased many mistakes of the past where the X-Men movie franchise is concerned. It also opened the door for new chains of events and changes to timelines that we’ve seen played out before. Because that last film was able to accomplish those things, we looked forward to seeing the direction this film would take. With some characters now firmly established with their “new” actors and other characters bringing fresh talent to the characters for the first time in 16 years, fans were ready to see what would come of the endless possibilities we’d been given.

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Newbies in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ (2016)

I mostly enjoyed the fresh faces that graced the screen. Ty Sheridan and Ben Hardy did passable, if bland, jobs as Cyclops and Angel, respectively. I thought Sophie Turner was great as Jean Grey and look forward to seeing more of her in the next film. I especially enjoyed Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler; he was funny and adorable. Olivia Munn was not at all unpleasant as Psylocke. But most exciting for me was Alexandra Shipp as Storm. While the character did not get the powerful-African-princess treatment I’ve been waiting my whole life to see, I was not disappointed with what I got. I think I was just so relieved to have someone who is not Halle Berry play the role that I would have accepted almost anything. (I won’t get on my soapbox about it here, but you can ask me if you want to know about my grating dislike and complete displeasure with Ms. Berry.)

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Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’

Many critics have said that Oscar Isaac is too good an actor to be hidden behind blue makeup and made to suffer the “indignity” of a role like Apocalypse, where he stood around doing very little most of the time. I don’t share this collective hard-on for Isaac. The role was to stand around being menacing but doing very little physically. The character doesn’t look human so part of the job was to be hidden behind makeup. Isaac knew that when he took the role. He took it anyway. He did a good job at it. And I’m pretty certain his paycheck was anything but undignified. So in my opinion, this role was just fine for him and he was just fine for it.

The action in X-Men: Apocalypse is a fun time. Most people will especially enjoy Quicksilver’s speeding scene, just like they did in the last movie. And the gratuitous cameo scene brought great delight to fan boys and girls who love to see movie characters return to their comic book roots. It was also nice to watch the young mutants come into their powers a bit. This is especially true for one particular character, who is allowed in this film to embrace a power that was never controlled in previous films.

Some reviews have sighted the slowness of the first half of this movie. I disagree. I think they are not taking into account the fact that this film is actually an origin story for some of the characters who are being re-introduced. As such, it takes time to intro those characters and set up their character arcs so they can develop and grow by the end of the film. Besides, when things do pick up, they really pick up. So I’m okay with it. I personally prefer  balanced action films as opposed to movies that just blow stuff up for two hours and leave me exhausted by the end (Looking at you, everything by Michael Bay).

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Alexandra Shipp as Storm and Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ (2016)

Now with all that said, I must address some of the things that the rotten reviews have actually gotten right.

First, this film is set 10 years after X-Men: Days of Future Past, which was set 10 years after X:Men: New Class. And yet, it isn’t addressed at all that so many of these people have barely aged a damn day. Seriously, Havoc should be in his forties, but looks like he’s 25 (which is the exact age of the actor who plays him). Other than approximately 5 grey hairs, Professor X (James McAvoy, 37) shows absolutely no indication that he should be in his late 40’s at best, but likely his 50’s, when this film is happening.

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James McAvoy as Charles Xavier in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ (2016)

Also in his 50’s is Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender, who doesn’t even look like his own age of 39. I could keep going. The point is that the film doesn’t even make an attempt to address any of this. We’re supposed to just disregard everything our eyes tell us and roll with the fact that it has been 10 years for all these people. And I’d be inclined to forgive it if that decade served a purpose to the film, but it totally doesn’t. This movie could have been set 2 years or even 6 months after the previous one and little would have changed. Xavier’s school would not have been as established, but mostly, other things would have made just as much sense, if not more. But I tell you what, I’m going to give this one a pass. Let’s call it a freebie.

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Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr, a.k.a. Magneto, in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ (2016)

There are two particular items that are harder to forgive, however. The first is the fact that Bryan Singer, who directed both this film and the previous one, ignored his own new continuity. While he opened up some things for us in the last film, he also set up other things. One of those things was the fact that the William Stryker who captured Wolverine at the end of the last movie was actually Mystique, who presumably was in place to help him escape. However, events in this film completely ignore and contradict that bit of fact from the last movie. Apparently, Stryker is still around and he did capture Wolverine? Or are we supposed to assume that Mystique did her disappearing act without freeing Logan? Or did she help free him but the real Stryker came back and re-captured him later? Is this like the end Inception? It’s all open to our interpretation and we have to finish making up the rest of the story for ourselves and that’s our reality; but each reality is real? Is this a superhero move or Philosophy 101 homework? Respect your own rules, please! That’s all I’m asking.

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Jennifer Lawrence as Raven Darkholm, a.k.a. Mystique, in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ (2016)

And speaking of Mystique, I’ll take this opportunity to say that she was mostly not needed in this movie. She did stuff and gave speeches, but mostly she was just a grumpy and brooding shell of the out and proud character we saw in the last film. I think it’s probably time for J. Law to step down from this role. It’s pretty clear that her heart isn’t in it and I get the feeling that she now has enough star power to dictate how much time she has to spend in blue makeup. I get that it’s a pain, but you agreed to this part knowing the character is completely blue and usually nude. Suck it up, buttercup! But instead of making her do that, they made a character who’s previous arc has been all about self-acceptance suddenly reluctant to ever show her blue self. This means that we only get glimpses of the real Mystique and she becomes J. Law again as soon as possible. Boo, I say. I say again: BOO!!! And yes, I know her real face is a bankable one, but we didn’t come to this movie to see that face. We came to the X-Men film to see Mystique. And this version of her was not what we’ve come to expect. And I mean that in a negative way. Fox, please fix it or ditch it. If J. Law doesn’t want to be Mystique, let her go. There are others who will be happy to be painted blue and traipse naked in front of James McAvoy. I’m pretty sure I was sitting next to one of them while watching this movie.

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Now, let’s talk about the murderous, raging elephant in the room. And by that, I mean the the utter destruction of at least one entire nation and everyone who resides in it. At the end of this movie,***SPOILER ALERT*** everything is tied up with a neat little bow. Xavier’s School for the Gifted is tidily rebuilt with help from Magneto and the newly official X-Men are assembling (much like the newly minted Avengers did at the end of Age of Ultron. It’s actually almost exactly the same!) ***END SPOILER ALERT*** And their newly bald leader watches from his chair, finally reflecting the image that has become iconic in our culture and synonymous with the character of Professor Charles Xavier.

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James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier

It’s easy to feel hunky-dory about this ending only if you conveniently forget the level of destruction during the big boss battle just a little while previously. And understand, we’re not talking about the level of destruction caused in Metropolis in Superman: Man of Steel. Remember that? A significant chunk of the city was destroyed and fanboys plus Batfleck lost it!

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Destruction of Metropolis in ‘Man of Steel’ (2013)

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Illustration that basically reflects ‘Man of Steel’ (2013)

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Pissed off Batfleck in ‘Batman vs Superman’ (2016) flashing back to events in ‘Man of Steel’ (2013)

We’re also not talking the level of damage that New York City took during the first Avengers or Sakovia during Age of Ultron. Do you recall those instances, which caused the government to start arresting and imprisoning any superhero who didn’t bow to their authority?

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Destruction of New York City in ‘The Avengers’ (2012)

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Destruction of Sokovia in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ (2015)

The level of destruction in X-Men: Apocalypse is greater than any of those. At least pieces of those places were left standing. Buildings still existed at the end of those battles, though they were greatly damaged. And though many people did die, many people from those places also survived. But the destruction and decimation wrought during this latest X-men film outpaces all the others. The devastation stretched across the globe, causing damage and death at least as far as the pyramids in Egypt are from the San Francisco bridge. Want to talk about the oceans in between those two places? How many tidal waves must have hit the shores of numerous countries? Is any of Iceland even left? But we don’t get to see that. So let’s put that down and talk about what we do see. The Brooklyn bridge is ripped apart. The San Francisco bridge is decimated. And I’m pretty sure all of Egypt and every single, living person in it is destroyed. And I’m not necessarily arguing against that destruction. My problem is not with the decimation. We had an incredibly powerful villain who’s goal was to destroy most of the world. Okay. I get that. My problem comes when in the end, the characters head back home and keep it trucking like none of that mess has happened. And the person who actually did most of that damage ***SPOILER ALERT*** just walks away smiling to carry on with his life. He’s good now. We don’t need to address the worldwide destruction because he helped the X-Men rebuild their castle/house/school/headquarters/private arsenal/mind control central. Ummm… the first time they thought he killed a U.S. president, he was put in an underground facility at the Pentagon. The next time he tried to kill 5 people, he had to go off the grid for a decade. But this time, we’re cool? ***END SPOILER ALERT***

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Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy the X-Men. But you gotta admit that was a bit of a stretch. However, I also will point out that the consequences of destruction for the other superhero franchises came after the film that actually had the destruction. So maybe the next X-Men film will address this issue in a similar manner. Let’s hope it does because it really needs to. In my opinion, failing to do so will undercut the entire franchise.

Other complaints included the fact that the movie was “only for comic fans.” I don’t think that’s true. I went to see the movie with a group of 10 people literally ranging in age from 6 to 60. Of those 10, three of us had comic book backgrounds and as far as I know, we were the only three who saw anything that needed improvement. Everyone else enjoyed the film even more than we did.

Critics also mentioned that Stan Lee had a weak cameo in this movie. I disagree. It wasn’t weak, it just wasn’t funny. Usually his appearances are humorous (earlier this year he was a strip club DeeJay in Deadpool). This time was different. And I think that’s okay. Also, this is the one time Stan got to make the cameo with his real-life wife, which is super cool. I have no issue here.

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Stan and Joan B. Lee

There were a lot of other things that critics picked apart about this movie. Some of them I agree with. Others I don’t. But the bottom line is this: I had fun with this film. I enjoyed watching it and going out to dinner with friends afterward and talking about it. I’m looking forward to the next X-Men film. I am happy at the prospect of watching the newest iterations of the characters continue to develop and become true X-Men. And I would recommend X-Men fans and fans of superhero movies go see this.

Rating: 4 SHIELDS

4 SG Shields

Have you seen X-Men: Apocalypse? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below.

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