Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender & Jennifer Lawrence
Synopsis: With the mergence of the worlds first mutant, Apocalypse, the X-Men unite to defeat his extinction level plan.
Rating: 12A Duration: 144 minutes Release date: 20 May (UK)
Sixteen years ago Bryan Singer first brought the X-Men to our attention. Along with Blade and Spider-Man, it was one of the first modern superhero films that paved the way for the never ending swarm of comic book films we see today. The original X-Men was a relatively small ensemble piece, with only four in the main team battling Magneto and his henchmen. Now, we have a much larger number to compensate for and a film that seems rather overstuffed with characters in a seemingly never ending battle against multiple foes.
Back in 2000, superhero films were a lot more simple. There are multiple reasons for this and largely the main one is that most studios had no idea how to successfully approach them. X-Men was one of the films that really felt like it got things right. There was a considerable balance between action and drama while the stakes built considerably with each film. After a while things started to get messy and a reboot was needed, so in 2011 we were given X-Men: First Class. A new director and a new cast re-invigorated the series and installed some much need fun into events.
Two sequels down the road and the X-Men series feels like it is reverting to type. Familiar characters are being re-introduced, villains are seeking world domination and there is an overbearing use of CGI in its climatic ending. It’s not that X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t good or fun, it’s just that there is a familiar sense building that it is too intent on righting the wrongs done to it in the past, rather than truly really moving forward into fresh, new territory. This seems, in all honesty to be down to director Bryan Singer.
Singer has now directed four of the nine X-Men films and it is debatable whether he doing more harm than good to the franchise. Singer, like many others, has his issues with the series and in particular X-Men: The Last Stand; with a pointed joke made when three of the young cast leave a Return of the Jedi screening. But his insistence to realign events seems to be stalling the series.
X-Men: Apocalypse takes its time in getting going. Mostly because it has to introduce new and old characters. Characters like Professor Xavier, Magneto and Mystique are scattered. Xavier has set up his school for the gifted, Mystique has gone rogue and is attempting to rescue various mutants who are being mistreated while Magneto has gone the other way and now has a wife and child and is working at a steel factory in Poland. New versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler are getting used to their powers again and the big bad Apocalypse is gathering his horsemen as he plots world domination.
However, it is fun seeing familiar characters being reintroduced to us. When we first saw our heroes sixteen years ago, they were fully competent with their abilities, whereas now the likes of Cyclops, Storm and Jean are only just coming to terms with that they can really do. Much like in First Class it can be great fun watching these special youngsters learning and adapting to their new abilities. Some on the other hand seem wasted or confusing. Psylocke and Angel have little to do and are either wasted, Psylocke, or miscast, Angel. While Apocalypse’s powers seem to vary as the film goes on and we are rather more informed he is all powerful instead of ever really seeing it.
As with each instalment in the series the youthful versions of Magneto and Xavier are the best part of the film. Their relationship is a brotherhood corrupted by power and idealism and the strain between the two is very well handled. Largely it feels real and their once keen friendship becomes more laboured as events unfold. Between the two it is Magneto who has the more powerful scenes, having to come to terms with his new life and, as events unfold, deciding where to turn next. However, Xavier’s decisions seem unclear; deciding on operating a school instead of forming the X-Men and having faith in people who seem beyond the pale now. Then again, is this empathy what makes him so endearing?
For a film that runs to 144 minutes, there is a lot to fit in. It’s unfortunate then, that the film seems overstuffed. With all its new characters, a muddling plot and various characters developments not everything is given its due. Characters aren’t given enough time to develop and some story beats skip along too quickly while others take too long to play out. The result can be somewhat hard going at times and a less is more approach may have been beneficial.
It’s finished off by a long final sequence that seems to be drenched in CGI, that takes away from the humanity of the whole thing. Singer has thrown the proverbial kitchen sink at the last battle and it looks resonant of the ending from X-Men: The Last Stand. It’s not all negative though. Quicksilver is as enjoyable here as he was in Days of Future Past and it’s fun to see him mixing with the other X-Men and becoming a fully fledged member of the team. Storm make a glorious impact, but suffers from being underused and the films humour hits the mark more often than not.
X-Men: Apocalypse is not a bad film at all, far from it in fact. It just feels underwhelming. Maybe we expected more after the skilful First Class and DOFP or maybe Singer needs to give up the directors chair and let someone breathe new life into the series? Either way, this latest entry is good but never great and may leave you wanting more from a series that we all know is capable of great things.