X-Men: Apocalypse had a tough job ahead of it, coming in the wake of both Batman Vs Superman and Captain America: Civil War; two huge franchises that have almost saturated cinema screens with Super-heroic action and amazing visuals. X-Men is also missing the star pulling power of the “Vs” films, meaning that it needed to be based around good solid storytelling and less about “see franchise-supporting Titan A vs franchise-supporting Titan B in a rock-em sock-em action!”. Its a good thing then that X-Men Apocalypse has cranked the visual effects, cameos and epic-scale action up to 11. Though perhaps it should have cranked the plot and character development up as well.
Set ten years on from the events of Days of Future Past, in a version of 1983 where Mutants are widely known about, but still feared and distrusted, this film re-introduces us to CIA agent Moira Mactaggart (Rose Byrne). She unwittingly helps release an ancient, powerful, god-like mutant (the titular Apocalypse as played by Oscar Isaac) from his millennia long entombment, He then goes on to gather 4 followers to act as his “four horsemen”: Psylocke (Olivia Munn) Angel (Ben Hardy), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and an emotionally bereft Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Together, these harbingers of doom aim to bring the world under Apocalypse’s control and all that stands in their way is a group of untrained, untested, confused mutant teenagers. These young mutants Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) are lead by the more experienced Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) into a battle that is to be fought on a worldwide stage.
Brian Singer returned to the directors chair for the last X-Men film, the hugely successful “Days of Future Past” and he is in comfortable territory here. He touches on plot points, themes and even dialogue from previous films in a loving way that tells you that “this is his baby”. Its a different baby from X-Men 1-3 however and now with all the jiggery pokery in the timeline, it is a completely different universe from those original films. He can re-introduce characters, he can give us different versions of existing characters, or he can ignore plot lines and characters entirely if he so wishes. It must be a wonderfully freeing thing having an entire universe to play with and then you layer on the 1980’s setting and i’m guessing Singer was in comic-book heaven!
James McAvoy returns to the wheelchair as Charles Xavier, complete with awesome 80’ hair and the occasional 80’s shades. He brings a lot of comedy to the film which is a welcome addition to a series that has, at times, been pretty heavy going. It’s Michael Fassbender’s Magneto that continues to be the core of these films though, with his story essentially being the emotional through-line for this film. He is as magnetic a screen presence as ever and has a few scenes that made the entire crowd gasp in shock and pity. Oscar Isaac has probably the toughest job in the film though, in bringing some kind of humanity to the villainous Apocalypse, he contends with some pretty crazy make up and some over-the-top melodramatic writing, but manages to still make a pretty intimidating bad guy. Its the younger cast that bring the energy to the proceedings, with Quicksilver getting even more to do this time around and still being a comedic high point of the film.
This X-Men film feels more like the comics X-Men than almost any of the films thus far, there is a brighter colour palette and a more heightened melodramatic style to proceedings than we have seen before. But thats what happens when you need to keep topping yourself film after film after film! Days of Future Past was an epic story that managed to tie two timelines together, and had a huge cast of amazing established actors to draw on. Apocalypse is breaking into new territory and at the same time introducing us to familiar characters with new faces. It is a wild and at times bumpy ride, but by the time you hit the climax you are in absolutely the heart of X Men Comics territory. In fact the last shots feel like the launching pad for the X-Men films we comic book fans have always wanted and that is a really exciting possible future indeed! Bring on the 90’s X-Men we say!