After “Days of Future Past” bridged together the two generations of big screen X-Men into an epic time-travel blockbuster, it didn’t leave a whole lot of ceiling for future “X- Men” movies. Nevertheless, 20th Century Fox, director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg were quick to deliver “X-Men: Apocalypse,” bringing the X-Men’s biggest villain to life.
“Apocalypse” takes place in the early ’80s in the (cleverly) revised “X-Men” timeline. All is rather quiet on the mutant-human front: Professor X (James McAvoy) has the school up and running, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) isn’t getting into too much trouble and even Erik leads a peaceful new life in Poland. But when the ancient mutant En Sabah Nur a.k.a. Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is awakened from basically a really long nap, it has a seismic impact that sends the X-Men and humanity on a crash course for annihilation.
A host of familiar characters return in the form of fresh young faces as the new “X-Men” universe inches closer to the first version. This includes Jean Gray (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) for the good guys and Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Oliva Munn) and even Storm (Alexandra Shipp) as mutants recruited by Apocalypse to serve as his “horsemen,” of which Magneto somewhat reluctantly becomes the fourth.
Although “Days of Future Past” was pretty crowded with characters too, the story kept things compartmentalized and manageable, not to mention most of them had already been introduced in previous films. “Apocalypse,” however, must balance them all within one story, and it requires lots of little scenes that jump around from character to character. Kinberg does a better job at this than he did back when he wrote “X-Men: The Last Stand,” a movie he takes a not-so-subtle jab at in one random but funny scene, but the story becomes similarly unhinged.
As an all-powerful villain bent on wiping the earth clean of non-mutants, Apocalypse has the potential to be both really intimidating and cause a number of plausibility issues. Both side of that coin come into play in “Apocalypse,” but neither side is particularly nuanced, so the intellectual component that the “X-Men” franchise has done very well at times practically no-shows here. Some emotion weaves its way into the movie to varying degrees of effectiveness, particularly in individual character side stories, but physicality, visual effects and spectacle end up at the forefront of the viewing experience.
The script does a good job showcasing the many characters and their talents and figuring out how to close as many holes in logic as possible (i.e. “if that characters does ‘X’ couldn’t that other character use their powers to do ‘Y’?”) and Singer makes those clashes compelling. He’s always had a good vision for this franchise and keeps “Apocalypse” focused and engaging enough, even when the top has been blown off and the frame becomes 99 percent CGI in the final act.
Most importantly, Singer always makes sure the characters don’t get lost in the chaos, which makes “Apocalypse” definitively better than “The Last Stand,” even if it is probably Singer’s poorest job of sticking to his mantra. In a series that’s had a lot of high points, it’s not hard for “Apocalypse” to default into one of the lesser “X-Men,” but it’s completely watchable and satisfying.
The future of “X-Men” on the silver screen is a bit hazy given contracts for its big stars, but “Apocalypse,” in all its mayhem, restores the equilibrium that offset by “Days of Future Past” and the ripple effect it had on the main characters. It was a good ripple, but future installments should be able to stand a bit more on their own from now on and that’s a good sign.
Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Simon Kinberg (screenplay), Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Sophie Turner