When reviews hit for X-Men: Apocalypse, it wasn’t looking great for Fox’s mutant franchise. Critics were giving it lower marks than even 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, which nearly brought the series to a screeching halt until 2011’s First Class, which kicked off this latest trilogy of period-piece X-Men films. I loved First Class and its follow-up, Days of Future Past, so I had high hopes for Apocalypse despite the reviews. While I liked the first X-Men film, the original trilogy didn’t do much for me – these latest two, however, introduced a cast of stellar actors whose performances did justice to the comics, made me care about them from the very start of the film, and created engaging, character-driven narratives that made great use of the time periods in which they were set.
So last night, I saw X-Men: Apocalypse. The question is… should you see it? Here’s my take on what worked and what didn’t work to help you decide.
The absolute best aspect of X-Men: Apocalypse is the broadening of the cast. McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and Rose Byrne return for their roles as the core characters of course, but it was amazing seeing them interact with a fresh new class of mutants, now that Xavier’s school is running smoothly. Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Storm (Alexandra Shipp) are all absolute standouts, much like that original cast was in First Class. I hope that the next movie gives Lana Condor as Jubilee some more screen time.
Oh no! I don’t really know what happened here, because Simon Kinberg also wrote the stellar Days of Future Past, which didn’t suffer from this problem, but this script felt like it was in a mad rush to check off every cliché line of superhero dialogue that it could. Some of the actors made it work – Evan Peters as Quicksilver, for example, chews through his dialogue with clever, bizarre inflections that turn clunky lines into hits. This was by far the weakest aspect of the film, which sucks because it could’ve so easily been punched up to smooth over the most egregious lines.
KINDA WORKED, KINDA DIDN’T
Apocalypse has engaging backstory, and his history makes him a truly scary threat for a good part of the film. However, there is a good amount of time that he spends just hanging around, standing on rocks with his Four Horsemen as if they’re a band posing for their new album. Apocalypse is effective in that he’s hard to defeat and poses a genuine and effective threat to the world, but as a character, once you strip away the intrigue of his history and get to the core of who he is and what his plan is, he’s less interesting than each one of his Horsemen. He is way scarier in his mind-fight with Xavier, where he becomes a giant, than he is on the actual battlefield, but I didn’t necessarily mind that. At best, he acts as a catalyst for big, defining character moments for our heroes and villains alike, which works well enough for me.
His design has been savaged by comic book fans and, while it’s not great, I don’t necessarily have a problem with it. It’s cool to see some things that work as is from the comics, like Jubilee’s outfit, but I don’t think Apocalypse’s look is much of a downgrade from his frog-faced, blue-lipped comic incarnation. Yeah, he may be a bit Ivan Oozey, but how many of these god-like, cosmic comic villains aren’t?
WORKED, BUT COULD’VE WORKED SO MUCH BETTER
Magneto’s arc starts so, so, so well. His characterization in First Class and Days of Future Past is probably the single best aspect of those movies. When he’s on the side of good, he’s a tortured and volatile hero teetering on the edge of redemption and oblivion, and when he’s on Team Evil, he might just be the most captivating depiction of a supervillain we’ve gotten on the big screen. The first quarter of Apocalypse takes Magneto through the ringer, and then proceeds to sort of waffle around with him for the rest of the movie until the climax. He is still the center of some great character drama, but it feels very much like he was the focus of the film at first before he stepped down to the role of a supporting player.
Jennifer Lawrence is perfect as Mystique, of course, and Apocalypse feels very much like they tried to get as much out of her as possible here, as it may well be her final X-Men outing. No complaints here, though I do certainly hope she comes back for more.
Despite the iffy dialogue, Apocalypse is thoroughly character-driven. The fight between the X-Men and the Four Horsemen is a long sequence with twists, betrayals, and epiphanies, all paying off moments set up between the cast earlier in the film. The climax, the long-fought final moments in the battle between the younger X-Men, a few surprise helpers, and Apocalypse is gripping in the way it resolves and builds on each character’s arc.
This worked almost too well. A lot of people would say that Deadpool is the best thing to come out of Fox’s X-Men series, and I think the film and the character are up there, but come on. X-Men’s Quicksilver is the absolute best. Not only is he a shining example of one thing that Fox has somehow done better than Marvel, his sequence here – which seems designed to one-up his speedy scene in Days of Future Past – is so good that it almost seems incongruous with the rest of the movie. Don’t get me wrong – Apocalypse is a good X-Men movie… but Quicksilver’s scene is a dazzling, inventive, and actually pretty perfect display of how fun it can be to have superpowers. If there hasn’t been a conversation at Fox about how to get Evan Peters to star in his own Quicksilver movie, they’re out of their minds.
WORKED, I GUESS?
There’s the obligatory Wolverine scene that the trailers revealed a while back, and it’s… well, it’s Wolverine, so it’s a pretty cool sequence, but it feels very, very tacked on. The stinger at the end of the movie makes it work, but it was a bizarrely left-field moment in an otherwise straight-forward X-Men movie.
But would I rather it end up on the cutting room floor? Nah.
I went in to X-Men: Apocalypse hoping that it wasn’t as bad as critics were saying, and it wasn’t. Not nearly so. It didn’t quite capture the fire of First Class or Days of Future Past, but it was a fun and mostly engaging movie with some blunders here and there and a few stellar moments as well. There’s no telling if the core cast of this trilogy will return, but this film brought in a whole new set of characters that, I believe, could support their own X-Men series if that ends up being the case. The post-credits scene alludes to what the next film might be and, much like I was with Apocalypse, I’m a little excited, a little skeptical, and certainly interested to see where they take it next.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Van Helsing, Vampire Emmy, Disney Princess), novels (Iron Man, Charmed), and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). You can find him at Heroes Con this June, where he will debut his latest creator-owned comic, Vampire Emmy and the Garbage Girl. If you come by his booth to get a copy, be prepared to be bombarded with the lastest cell phone pictures of his cats.