Rating 12A, 144 minutes
X-Men: Apocalypse is like one of those birds within a bird within a bird that you can get reasonably cheap from Iceland (and most other decent supermarkets of your choice). It’s overstuffed to the hilt, crammed together with little regard for form or presentation that it is hard really get a grip on all the new stuff while simultaneously trying to enjoy the old stuff. Bryan Singer has a habit of throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, into his films and Apocalypse is no different.
We open with some Mummy-esque Egyptian tomfoolery as poor old Oscar Isaac is plucked from the masses to be the new vessel for the ‘world’s first mutant’ Apocalypse. For reasons I will not spoil because it is actually a pretty nifty opening sequence, he ends up buried for a 1000 years or so under a heap of rubble deep beneath the city of Cairo. Cut to 1983 and the X-Men aren’t really the X-Men. Charles and Hank are still helping the weird and wonderful mutant children of the world in that ridiculous house, Mystique is hopping around Europe helping random mutants where she sees them (and we get a nice sequence in East Berlin where we are introduced to Nightcrawler (whom i love) and Angel (whom i can live without)), and Magneto is living incognito in Poland with a family. We also get a decent introduction to dear old Scott Summers who, thank god, is infinitely less annoying than his previous guise (sorry James Marsden), and Jean Grey is re-introduced as a sassy loner who the rest of the school is mildly terrified of.
In Cairo, some nosy CIA agent (hi Moira!) lets the old immortal cat out of the bag and our dear Oscar emerges from his cocoon looking like a cross between Ivan Ooze and Imhotep, and he is not a happy bunny. He spouts some hokum about false gods, the world needing to be cleansed, systems needing to be torn down and all that usual megalomaniacal stuff after putting his hand on a television. He then starts in earnest to locate his four horsemen (Storm, Angel, Psylocke, and Magneto), with each getting their own scene of transformation and change. Magneto’s thread in particular has decent emotional heft which is also aided by the fact Fassbender is an absolutely cracking actor, but some of that heft is dulled by a strangely bizarre scene in a certain famous concentration camp that left me feeling more uncomfortable than anything.
From here X-Men: Apocalypse heads down that now familiar superhero film route of wanton destruction, bloodless deaths of millions and oodles and oodles of CGI. The whole charm of the first two X-Men films and, to an extent, First Class was the sparing use of full bloodied action sequences. They were there but they weren’t bombastic honking blares of noises and things loudly crumbling and disintegrating. They were neatly positioned and neatly executed, but in the post-Avengers/Marvel throng, it now seems that every superhero film must have these increasingly lengthy and pointless blitzes and the more I see them, the more wistful I become for the good old days.
Apocalypse himself suffers from having a very vague and underdeveloped motivation for wanting to cleanse the world. He’s basically just a power hungry, greedy bastard clown man. Isaac does well with what he gets, some of his lines are undoubtedly cheesy but he delivers them with enough gravitas to get away with it. Fassbender is the stand out of the rest of the cast, though it does help that Magneto has the most emotionally intense character arc of the lot. He and McAvoy, as always, bounce off each other with great aplomb, although there is only so many times in so many different locations i can watch Charles tell Erik that there is good in him. McAvoy himself doesn’t get that much to work with on the whole, but he delivers some nice comic touches in his scenes with Hank and Moira which makes a nice change from the intense Charles that we are so used to seeing. Jennifer Lawrence is a little bit flat here, and there is a distinct whiff of ‘contractual obligation’ in her delivery. Evan Peters as Quicksilver steals every scene he is in. His holler of ‘WE DON’T KNOW BRO!’ got one of the biggest laughs in the screening. The newbies, on the whole, hold their own. Kodi Smit-Mcphee (whose name annoys me for no discernable reason) adds a wonderful amount of levity to proceedings as Nightcrawler. As mentioned before, Cyclops is far less slappable and credit must go to Tye Sheridan for that, and Sophie Turner is pretty decent as Jean Grey even if she does spend a lot of her time gawping (judging by the ending of the film and what the producers/writers/directors have said in various interviews she is going by playing a far bigger part in the future).
In the grand scheme of things, X-Men Apocalypse is not a bad film but it’s certainly not a great one. Tonally, it’s a mess. Pacing wise it works. Through its reasonably lengthy 144 minute run-time i never found myself bored or disinterested, and in this day and age that’s quite an achievement. The CGI is rather cartoonish when placed in comparison to Marvel’s output, however, even if it wasn’t a deliberate move by Singer et al, I found some of it rather charming. To see a superhero film actually embrace the non-realism instead of going all Nolan and gritty (hello BvS) was a refreshing change.
There is a little too much scraping over old ground in terms of character exchanges (Charles and Erik in particular have the same argument that they had in First Class and Days of Future Past – they should just get married and have it over with) and some dialogue is eye-roll inducing but on the whole Apocalypse is a pretty solid, entertaining entry into X-Men film history if a little devoid of originality.