Apocalypse is the third entry into the revived X-Men franchise and ninth overall, following on from the acclaimed Days of Future Past (2014) and First Class (2011). It is also the fourth entry into the superhero pool this year (which has received opposing levels of success, from Deadpool, the spectacular Civil War and the bitterly disappointing Dawn of Justice) - but how does it stand up against its superhero competitors, especially considering the mix of positive-negative reviews it has seen from critics so far? James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult are just some of those returning for their respective third outing, along with an abundance of new additions including Oscar Issac, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
Ten years after Days of Future Past, the X-Men are attempting to put the past events behind them: Eric (Fassbender) is living low with his wife and daughter; Charles (McAvoy) continues running Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, helped by Hank (Hoult); and Raven (Lawrence) is rescuing oppressed and enslaved mutants across the world. When the ancient cyber-mutant Apocalypse (Issac) awakens and plans to take over the world, he recruits the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to help his mission, forcing the X-Men to rally together to defend the world from total destruction.
Our A-List oldies bring their all for the third instalment, taking their characters into new depths that we have never seen them in before, despite the tropes and formulaic structure of the narrative. Fassbender gives arguably his best performance in the franchise, with a genuinely powerful and moving performance that demonstrates Magneto's fragile state beyond his steely demeanour. McAvoy is allowed to explore new avenues as Professor X and the reintroduction of Rose Bryne's Moira MacTagger. Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence (the reason behind my investment in the franchise) continues to be engaging as Mystique, rallying the troops and becoming the unconventional lead of the new mutants, following her previous world-saving turn in Future Past; she's an absolute joy again, even if she does feature more as Raven than Mystique. The three leads have genuine chemistry and make the events they face even more credible, even if they are vastly underused - particularly Lawrence and McAvoy. Evan Peters is an absolute scene-stealer as Quicksilver once again, bringing the humour the film needs in the sense-shattering destruction, while newbies Sheridan, Turn and Smit-McPhee are promising as the new generation of mutants. Isaac is commendable as the titular villain, particularly when considering the restrictions of all the armour and prosthetics, if not totally satisfying. More on the Horsemen later...
Maybe its the era these films are set in (Apocalypse is set in 1983), but X-Men is often labelled with the term 'outdated'. One thing that certainly is not outdated, however, is the astounding special effects. More than most others, this entry is very much fuelled by the destruction created, supported by some incredible effects, including Quicksilver's slow motion sequence, the final climax no-holds-bar act or the opening title sequence (which is particularly terrific and absorbing in 3D). Continually of a high standard, it is worth every penny of the ticket price and it is very clear where the budget has been spent (between the visuals and the mostly stellar cast). A personal highlight is the beauty of very opening scene, with such attention to detail in the ancient Egypt setting and excellent cinematography to highlight the beauty of the backdrop. The striking 80s setting allows the film to differentiate itself from other superhero films, which is a strength of the franchise; it really feels unique and lively.
It's a great and enjoyable film but certainly not without its faults. One issue is that the Four Horsemen are total undeveloped, minus some intriguing work on Magneto's character. Excellent talent is wasted on one dimensional characters that feel very superficial and unnecessary to the story. For example, I don't think the talented Ben Hardy (Archangel) says a number of lines even approaching double digits - his motivations are unclear with no backstory whatsoever, making the whole villain team-up seem redundant. And that's not saying that I wanted them to add in the story, because the film was already 30 minutes over-bloated. The final climatic fight scene, while impressive, borders on utterly exhausting, never relenting and sometimes missing important character beats in the final act that would show some consistency. The overall problem is that the X-Men franchise is good at a lot of thing, just not necessarily at the right time and when it matters. It has two strong acts with really flashes of excellence but really missteps the final act where it should all count.
Maybe it was the high-standard set by Days of Future Past, but Apocalypse was strikingly underwhelming. That's not to say it wasn't enjoyable in some aspects - it strikes a middle ground, in terms of the quality of the two big superhero films of the year (Civil War and Dawn of Justice) but is a victim of its own previous success. The main cast are as impressive as ever with new mutants making the idea of future instalments somewhat exciting (that is, if Lawrence, Fassbender, McAvoy and Hoult step down as I suspect them to) which is matched and intensified with impressive visuals. It offers very little new to the genre and I do wish it took more risks, but one should avoid penalising the film for its previous victories (although, I do admit that I made that mistake, as I have previously discussed). It still is, after all, one of the most unique and individual superhero franchises in the genre, unmistakably X-Men with its coups and accomplishments.
Summary: X-Men: Apocalypse may not be as good as the franchise highpoint, but it is still an entertaining superhero film with an excellent main cast and impressive special effects, managing to feel different and unique in the often overstuffed superhero genre.
Highlight: Lawrence and Fassbender are noticeably impressive as Mystique and Magneto, as is Evan Peters (I'm almost hoping for a Quicksilver spin-off).
Original rating - 7.5/10
Original rating - 7.5/10