A film review by Craig J. Koban June 4, 2016


2016, PG-13, 144 mins.


James McAvoy as Charles Xavier  /  Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr / Magneto  /  Jennifer Lawrence as Raven / Mystique  /  Oscar Isaac as En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse  /  Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy / Beast  /  Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert  /  Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers / Cyclops  /  Sophie Turner as Jean Grey  /  Olivia Munn as Betsy Braddock / Psylocke  /  Lucas Till as Alex Summers / Havok  /  Evan Peters as Peter / Quicksilver  /  Alexandra Shipp as Ororo Munroe / Storm  /  Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler

Directed by Bryan Singer  /  Written by Simon Kinberg


For as much pleasure as I’ve derived from watching the X-MEN films over the last 16 years, even I have to concede at this point that their narrative continuity has become about as simple and straightforward as quantum mechanics.  Director Bryan Singer has revealed that the newest installment APOCALYPSE (the ninth in the series, if you consider all of the films set within the 20th Century Fox mutant universe, including the recent DEADPOOL) is “kind of a conclusion of the six X-MEN films, yet a potential rebirth of younger, newer characters” and the “true birth of the X-MEN.” 


Sarcasm aside, the last two X-MEN films, the truly novel FIRST CLASS and the wickedly ingenious DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, had the very thorny task of paying respectful homage to the cinematic mythology established by the first three X-MEN films while, at the same time, subtly – and not so subtly – retrofitting and retooling the whole series in a fresh and reinvigorating manner.  The last film dabbled in time travel and involved Professor X’s iconic super hero team in multiple time periods, played by multiple actors young and old, and somehow Singer managed to make everything coalesce smoothly together to form a unifying whole.  APOCALYPSE is the most straightforward sequel of this newfangled X-MEN cinematic trilogy in the sense that it carries on directly from the events of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST.   There’s simply no doubt that Singer can helm the requisite elements of this comic book franchise with maximum competency and confidence (this is his forth film in the series as director), but APOCALYPSE oddly feels like a disposable entry in an already strong franchise, and one that forgets its strong thematic undercurrents and contains a villain that’s ill defined and not really all that compelling on screen.

APOCALYPSE takes place ten years after the events in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, which was set in 1973.  X-MEN: FIRST CLASS was set in 1962, a film that established staple characters like Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik “Magneto” Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) as being in their early thirties.  Based on my simple math, that would make both of them in their early 50’s in the 1983 set APOCALYPSE…yet neither McAvoy or Fassbender (nor anyone else in the cast) has apparently aged a day and still look like their youthful, 1960’s era selves.  Apparently, the mutants in APOCALYPSE have a highly unique, but frustratingly unexplained “gift” for never getting…old…and that may or may not have something to do with Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg never once offering up a reasonable rationale for such logical age loopholes, which proves to be a distracting irritant throughout the film. 



Anyhoo’, APOCALYPSE does have a fairly sensational opening set in ancient Egypt, during which time the world’s very first mutant En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac, disappointingly caked under pounds of rubber and what I’m assuming is CGI makeup), aka Apocalypse (a dangerously powerful and unstable being), wishes to – as most megalomaniacal villains go – rule the world.  He finds himself buried under tons of rock and debris during a violent altercation with other mutants, where her remains entombed for thousands of years…alive.  Flashfoward many centuries to 1983 and we meet back up with Professor X, who has moved on from his kind being exposed to the world back in Washington, D.C. over a decade ago and has fully established his school for “gifted children.”  Some of his newest students include Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), the former who had the rather unfortunate experience of having his powers revealed in one of his high school's bathroom stalls during an awkward confrontation with a bully.  Life seems positively ideal for all at Xavier’s academy.

Problems soon arise when CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) inadvertently awakens Apocalypse during a mission in Egypt, not fully realizing the power she’s unearthed.  Apocalypse decides to make it his mission to recruit “Four Horseman” in order to enact his fiendish plan to eradicate humanity.  Joining him are Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Archangel (Ben Hardy), and eventually Xavier’s greatest frenemy, Magneto, whose character arc in this film – and all of the X-MEN films, for that matter – is its most endlessly compelling element.  Despite the fact that he became the very public face of mutant evil in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (nearly destroying the American capital and killing President Nixon), Magneto was able to go into hiding in Poland to live out the rest of his life with a new wife and daughter, earning a living in a steel mill.  Fassbender proves yet again with his thanklessly committed performance why Magneto is arguably the most tragic figure in the entire X-MEN universe.  All he wants to do is move away from his tortured past as a child of Nazi occupied concentration camps, but when humanity once again reminds him that they can’t be entirely trusted when it comes to their treatment of mutants, that sets him on another tailspin of angry revenge, making it easy for him to join up with Apocalypse’s cause.  Magneto is not so much a villain in these films as he is a compellingly layered victim that's relatablely driven by endless personal trauma. 

I only wished that this X-MEN film made its titular villain as fascinatingly rendered as Fassbender’s deeply conflicted metal-controlling antagonist.  Apocalypse is a disappoint here, mostly seeing as Singer has taken an actor of such stalwart charisma and passion like Isaac and adorns him with stiff costuming, so many latex appliances, and peculiar voice synthesizing to the point that the actor underneath it all barely registers or comes through.  Apocalypse’s motivations are also of the cookie cutter, Comic Book Villain 101 Playbook variety in wanting to the destroy the world for…what ultimate ends?  His character is not aided by the fact that his disciples have next to zero personality in the film.  Archangel is a posturing baddie without much of a soul, and Munn seemingly speaks less that half a dozen lines as Psylocke, leaving her character regrettably feeling like stern faced window dressing.  And what of Apocalypse’s powers?  Here’s a limitlessly immortal godlike being that can apparently live for thousands of years, destroy cities with his thoughts, send mankind’s nuclear arsenal into space on a whim, take over Xavier’s Cerebro from halfway across the planet, and demolecularize people into dust with the wave of a hand.  How he isn’t just able to effortlessly and instantly kill any given X-man/woman that opposes him at the drop of a hat is beyond me.

Of course, if that were the case, we wouldn’t have much of a super hero film, let alone an obligatory action-packed climax pitting all of the pertinent parties against one another.  The diabolical plans of Magneto in FIRST CLASS (wanting to turn missiles launched at him and his kind by humans during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis), for example, felt deeply personal.  Sadly, Apocalypse’s end game culminates in yet another third act in a comic book series entry that depicts massive amounts of world/city decimating chaos that never once deals with any of its obvious fallout.  Destruction porn is really, really becoming an overused visual cliché of the super hero genre, and its sole existence is essentially used to demonstrate how much bigger a film can outdo itself on a level of visual effects from its predecessor.  Considering the more thoughtful and gripping approaches Singer and company have taken in previous X-MEN entries, it’s kind of a shame that APOCALYPSE wallows in overused troupes.

Much like STAR TREK, the X-MEN films have always been at their most interesting when they explore topical ideas that tap into our collective everyday consciousness, but APOCALYPSE mostly fails to comment on the nature of human beings with duplicitous, prejudicial leanings and their problematic relationships with mutants that want societal acceptance.  That’s too bad.  Most of this review thus far has sounded overwhelmingly negative, but there are indeed pleasures to be had in APOCALYPSE.  Singer comes off just as passionately about the material as ever, even if the end results are middling.  McAvoy and Fassbender continue to make for a highly effective one-two punch performance dynamic (even though co-star Jennifer Lawrence’s turn as Mystique this go around clearly displays her lack of interest in continuing to play the role).  New additions like Sheridan, Turner and Kodi Smit-McPhee (as Nightcrawler) are agreeably welcome presences, not to mention that there’s an absolutely show-stopping action sequence once again involving Evan Peters' Quicksilver using his super speed to save nearly all of his mutant friends at Xavier’s school...and with the Eurythmics' “Sweet Dreams” blaring on the soundtrack.  Moments like this show real boundless invention.

Alas, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE somehow loses its way throughout and forgets to be the type of X-MEN film that we’ve all come to expect.  Too much of it seems haphazardly constructed for its own good and left me asking far too many questions that frankly took me out of the film more often than not.  It’s funny, but there’s a sly scene in the film involving some of the young mutants taking a trip to the mall to see RETURN OF THE JEDI.  Afterwards, they engage in a quick debate as to which film in the original series is the best.  Jean Grey points out that third films in a trilogy are usually the worst.  Many viewers have taken this as an obvious shot at the critically drubbed X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, the third film in the first X-MEN trilogy. 

Ironically, it also unintentional references APOCALYPSE as well.

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