X-Men: Apocalypse

Posted by Joel Copling on May 26, 2016

"X-Men: Apocalypse" amounts to a subplot in the context of what the "X-Men" film series is really aiming to be (an allegory about sexual or racial discrimination being answered through action) and to do (to examine how a group of outcasts flourish with their newfound identity). Superficially, though, it's the same thing as it has been five times before now: a franchise of big-budget blockbusters about a group of superheroes with equally odd and awesome powers fighting as a collective against some foe. That's where the film, as written by Simon Kinberg, differs from its predecessors. This particular foe has no real place in the political allegory that has very much existed before now, which means that our superheroes are simply superheroes. The villain might be a godlike figure positioned as their greatest yet, but it's akin to a detour in a video game on the way to defeat the Big Bad.

That means it is rather easy--indeed, welcome--to consider the film a separate entity, both from its immediate predecessors, with both of whom it shares characters and actors, and from the trilogy that preceded the rebooted story line. It might reference its predecessor and deal with the aftermath of events that took place within it (which happened ten years before this new film takes place), but it unloads a lot of the political allegory to examine the ideological differences between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), the telepathic headmaster of a school for mutants, and Erik Lenshurr (Michael Fassbender), the Holocaust survivor known as Magneto for his ability to control any metal, just in time for them to face off against En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), a man/deity hybrid whose mutation was fused with godlike powers and an apocalyptic desire to control the world.

This is a film that simplifies everything in its path, and that is part of its charm. En Sabah Nur is not precisely human, either in appearance (lots of blue makeup and garb that gives him the stature of a "Power Rangers" villain) or in motivation (Being a god amongst men, of course he wants to rule them), so there are no human complexities to dig into. He is intimidating to a certain degree, in large part due to Isaac's clever way of giving him still-otherworldly intuition. This is a being that can enhance the power of any given mutant, considering he is the first of their kind, awoken unintentionally by Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne). He employs four horsemen (also of apocalyptic variety, of course, although as Moira puts it, the Bible probably got that from him)--Magneto, the weather-controlling Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), the winged Angel (Ben Hardy), and the energy-sword-wielding Psylocke (Olivia Munn)--to fight alongside him in the climactic battle.

The film is occasionally given the tone and pacing of an extended trailer, as we are also re-introduced to old names with new faces (a terrific Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers/Cyclops, Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler) and caught up with the goings-on of characters we know and love: Magneto has lost his family yet again, Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) must contend with shape-shifting powers that became particularly heroic for everyone except herself, Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) deals with his own trauma by building a war plane, Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters) must come to grips with the fact that Magneto is his father (and once again receives a standout sequence that showcases his lightning-fast abilities when he must save a school full of children from fiery death), and a familiar face receives a wordless, fitting cameo that brings us back to the beginning of his character's origins.

The plot sets up an easy sort of conflict, as En Sabah Nur destroys all earthly weaponry by way of someone else's power and plans to rebuild a new world from its ashes. It all leads to a final confrontation that plays like a game of Whose Ability Is Best, but it balances the stakes (which become personal for several of the players involved) and the fun (Director Bryan Singer certainly accentuates the heroes' abilities by giving each of them multiple heroic entrances) of the situation. It's the case of a movie that is both well-made (It builds well to the climax, and the performances, especially those by Isaac and Fassbender, are solid) and an example of how to handle nostalgic elements with panache (There is little needless fan service). "X-Men: Apocalypse" may avoid the depth central to the series, but it finds its own voice in the process.

Film Information

James McAvoy (Professor Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lenshurr/Magneto), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique), Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy/Beast), Oscar Isaac (En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse), Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggert), Evan Peters (Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver), Sophie Turner (Jean Grey), Tye Sheridan (Scott Summers/Cyclops), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler), Lucas Till (Alex Summers/Havok), Ben Hardy (Angel), Alexandra Shipp (Ororo Munroe/Storm), Lana Condor (Jubilee), Olivia Munn (Psylocke), Josh Helman (Col. William Stryker).

Directed by Bryan Singer and written by Simon Kinberg.

Rated PG-13 (violence/action/destruction, brief language, suggestive images).

144 minutes.

Released on May 27, 2016.