By Thomas Simpson
The X-Men franchise has been going strong for 16 years now. What sets it apart from other superhero rivals is the universe that has been created is constant, compared to Spider-Man that has seen three interpretations of the story within ten years. The X-Men cast aren’t immune to aging and with X-Men: First Class, Matthew Vaughan gave us a prequel complete with younger actors. Returning to the franchise for the first time in over a decade, Bryan Singer bridged the timelines in Days of Future Past and reset the continuity, much like J.J. Abram did with Star Trek, to reboot the series while still preserving the integrity of the previous films. As Deadpool said, these timelines are confusing.
X-Men: Apocalypse is best viewed with knowledge of the series as a whole yet it tries its best to be its own film. Old favorites Cyclops, Storm and Jean Grey are portrayed by fresh actors in what serves as an origin story for much of its runtime. Despite the familiar names, a new villain is introduced in the form of Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), an ancient mutant who looks to cleanse the world and rule it like a god. He enlists the assistance of his Four Horsemen, including a grief stricken Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who has just lost his wife and daughter in a tragic incident. The X-Men have yet to form and Xavier (James McAvoy) knows that Apocalypse must be stopped or the world will crumble.
Clocking in at 144 minutes, X-Men: Apocalypse is the longest entry and it feels like it. Although it’s the third of the new trilogy and ninth installment in the franchise, it plays out like an origin story as many characters are reintroduced with new or untold backstories. Isaac is menacing and fearsome as Apocalypse, delivering his lines with an unnerving softness that highlights the manipulative aspects of this cult leader. His sadistic charm is backed up by his immense power which makes him the most formidable foe our heroes have had to encounter.
The stakes are raised but unfortunately the action comes with its wanton destruction bordering on disaster porn. The epic devastation that ravages through the cities detaches us at times from the human element that the films are known for. Xavier’s compassion is an anchor to humanity but it’s hard to discount the thousands, if not millions, of deaths that are brushed over. It may be a bit grim at times but it doesn’t lack in humor including a show-stealing performance by Evan Peters’ Quicksilver and his highly amusing rescue sequence.
There are some tired elements such as Magneto’s good guy/bad guy dilemma. Even though we’ve seen this time and again, Fassbender is a joy to watch and expertly depicts the nuances of his character that separates Magneto from the megalomaniacal villains consumed by evil. We get it though and maybe it’s time his fate is set.
The final set piece takes it’s time in building but it doesn’t disappoint as the X-Men do battle with Apocalypse and his horsemen resulting in some impressive and exciting action. Writer Simon Kinberg hints at what’s to come with a reveal that will have fans salivating at the potential plans for a sequel.
Ultimately X-Men: Apocalypse finds itself the weakest of the new trilogy. An in-joke references that the third is usually the worst, but whether that’s a jab at X-Men: the Last Stand or unfortunate foreshadowing is unclear. It lacks thrills that are often replaced with superhero clichés and tropes but it remains a worthy chapter to the series.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.