There are few mutants stronger than En Sabah Nur, a.k.a. Apocalypse, in Marvel lore, making the presence of the so-called first mutant a fitting crescendo for 20th Century Fox’s highly successful trilogy of X-Men prequel movies. This movie’s big draw is really all in the title, which doubles as both an ominous warning of the sheer destructive scale in this third and presumably final X-Men prequel movie, and a way to signal longtime X-Men fans that a fan-favourite baddie is finally making the leap to the big screen.
Of course, on the negative side, one could already infer that X-Men: Apocalypse is also in the shaky position of being this year’s least remarkable superhero movie. After Deadpool created a whole new R-rated breed of cinematic superhero satire, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice finally brought its two titular icons together on the big screen at last, and Captain America: Civil War brought several Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes into conflict with one another, and before Suicide Squad spearheads a new sub-genre of ‘superhero movies’ about villains, and Doctor Strange brings fantastical science and surreal magic to the genre, X-Men: Apocalypse is pretty content to just be an X-Men movie, and pretty much give fans what they would want from a movie that’s all about the coming of Apocalypse.
As such, you can pretty much guess who X-Men: Apocalypse is aimed at most of all; Established X-Men fans, be it the movies, source comics or whatever else, and the movie doesn’t make much of an effort to appeal to anybody who isn’t already part of that fanbase. X-Men fans obviously aren’t in short supply these days, so one could argue that X-Men: Apocalypse doesn’t really have to aim higher to be successful, but in a year where Fox’s Deadpool and Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War have already made such a massive splash with critics and audiences, it’s unfortunately to X-Men: Apocalypse’s detriment that it doesn’t stand out more.
As is usual for an X-Men movie, there are tons of characters on display in X-Men: Apocalypse, many of which have already been established over the course of the previous two prequel movies, 2011’s X-Men: First Class and 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Familiar faces like James McAvoy’s Professor X, Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, Nicholas Hoult’s Beast, and even Rose Byrne’s Moira MacTaggert, after she sat out X-Men: Days of Future Past, all return for X-Men: Apocalypse, and all of them are as likable and well-performed as ever. Fassbender is a particular standout here once again, with his younger Magneto undertaking a tragic journey of grief and vengeance throughout most of the movie, which leads to him becoming an easy candidate for one of Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen, a squad of four mutant followers that Apocalypse always keeps in his company.
The other three Horsemen also serve as key villains in the movie, between Alexandra Shipp’s younger incarnation of Storm, Ben Hardy’s Angel, and Olivia Munn’s Psylocke, though of those three, only Storm gets a fairly decent amount of development. This is likely because Storm inevitably becomes a member of the X-Men, as the original trilogy of movies from the 2000’s established, and X-Men: Apocalypse chronicles an interesting look at Storm’s early history and eventual finding of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Angel and Psylocke are basically established as simple mutant badasses that find their way to Apocalypse’s company because they like wrecking stuff and have the requisite power to make it happen, but that’s fair enough, especially when both characters are very appealing to watch in action scenes. Their presence also confirms 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand has been completely erased from the X-Men movies’ canon now, since both Angel and Psylocke appeared in that movie in smaller roles, which have nothing to do with this far better portrayal of both characters.
Another big part of the rather large cast in X-Men: Apocalypse are new, younger incarnations of many of the veteran characters from the original trilogy of X-Men movies, and often the main X-Men that most people think of from Marvel lore. Aside from the younger Storm, who is a villain in this movie, X-Men: Apocalypse also introduces a younger Cyclops, played by Tye Sheridan, a younger Nightcrawler, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, and a younger Jean Grey, played by Sophie Turner. These characters basically serve to begin laying the foundation for tying the prequel trilogy into the canon of two of the three movies in the original X-Men trilogy, since X-Men: The Last Stand is now non-canon, and better still is that these younger character incarnations are portrayed very well. Sheridan, Shipp and Smit-McPhee all channel the best of their characters’ former actors while adding a likable and youthful new spin on the personalities, and Turner is the biggest standout of the bunch, playing a tormented and withdrawn Jean Grey that is at her highest need for Xavier’s care and guidance. I can also say that, as the recent trailers revealed, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine does make a cameo in X-Men: Apocalypse, and without giving anything away, it’s a great one!
Of course, what’s on most fans’ minds is obviously the main man himself, Apocalypse, and rest assured, he does not disappoint in this movie! It would have been very easy to make Apocalypse a one-dimensional villain, but X-Men: Apocalypse does go a bit further than that with his character. Oscar Isaac does a fantastic job as Apocalypse to start, adding a great, unnatural weariness and weightiness to the character’s actions and speech, which is more reserved and dignified in contrast to other Apocalypse portrayals in various Marvel media, but it really works in making him a scary, magnetic presence here. Helping further is that the movie creates a surprising air of sympathy and understanding behind Apocalypse’s actions, horrible as they are. It doesn’t go as far as to portray Apocalypse as anything other than a threat to the world, but the movie still makes Apocalypse feel surprisingly grounded, despite the grand, god-like nature of his character, and that’s really commendable!
Rounding things off are a few other cast returns, with Evan Peters continuing to be a particular highlight as the speedy, witty and ever-resourceful Quicksilver, but if you’ve seen even one X-Men movie, you know that these movies don’t waste too much time on development for any one character. Instead, they pick certain characters to give added development to, with this movie prioritizing Jean Grey, Magneto and Apocalypse more than anyone, and the rest of the characters are given rudimentary setup, and then largely left to show off their powers, and provide varying perspectives on whatever spiritual debate is surrounding the movie, or at least trying to. Obviously, the entire movie seems to orbit around Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse, as even the title points out, but that makes sense, since this whole movie would have failed, had Apocalypse failed. Since Isaac’s Apocalypse is so great, even the movie’s slowest stretches feel fairly entertaining, even if this movie more blatantly follows the established X-Men movie template compared to the more noteworthy X-Men prequel movies that came before.
One of the main reasons why X-Men: Apocalypse doesn’t ultimately stand out compared to the superhero movies that preceded it this year, and likely compared to the two that will follow it, is that the storyline is kind of boilerplate. As much as the characters are portrayed in an appealing way in this movie, and Apocalypse especially is a charismatic presence that audiences will love, the movie’s plot more or less follows the beats that you would expect it to, especially if you’ve seen most of the trailers already. There’s a couple of cool surprises thrown in, and definitely some highlight scenes, but there aren’t too many curveballs in the overall plot direction of X-Men: Apocalypse.
You could basically sum up the entire movie’s storyline easily by laying out that Apocalypse gets woken up after lying dormant for thousands of years, decides that the world of 1983 needs to be purged and restarted, and the X-Men have to band together and stop him and his followers before the world is wiped out. That’s it. That’s the entire story. The plot doesn’t have the same daring, unconventional style as seen in X-Men: First Class or X-Men: Days of Future Past, and that’s undeniably disappointing. Ironically, X-Men: Apocalypse kind of has the opposite weakness to those movies, since the former two prequel movies had great storylines and weak villains, while X-Men: Apocalypse has a great villain in a weaker storyline, which is arguably a worse trade-off.
It also doesn’t help that X-Men: Apocalypse doesn’t really make use of its period setting, unlike the former two prequel movies. There’s a few nods to the 1983 setting, such as pictures of Ronald Reagan, Ms. Pac-Man arcade cabinets and a funny scene with the theatrical bow of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, but that’s about it. The character of Apocalypse doesn’t really lend himself well to the period backdrop, since the entire movie is structured around him, and given Apocalypse’s immense, god-like powers, it’s really irrelevant which time period he’s in, since he’s always going to be very bad news. It’s a shame that this movie smacks a bit of design-by-committee, as if the 20th Century Fox bosses just wanted a movie about Apocalypse, and then the filmmakers phoned in everything that didn’t tie in with Apocalypse. As a result, you’ll definitely remember Apocalypse and the various action scenes that he catalyzes, but the rest of the plot in X-Men: Apocalypse feels disappointingly unmemorable.
The scene could be interpreted in two ways, as it shows a mysterious man putting a sample of Wolverine’s blood into a briefcase, likely suggesting the coming of Wolverine clone, X-23 to the X-Men movie franchise soon. When the briefcase is closed at the end of the scene, it also says, “Essex Corp.” on it, referring to Nathaniel Essex, better known as major X-Men villain, Mister Sinister. This definitely suggests that Mister Sinister will be the X-Men movie franchise’s next major villain, though whether he’ll be a villain in next year’s third (and presumably final) Wolverine movie, or the villain of another movie in the franchise such as New Mutants, is unclear.
Director, Bryan Singer has gotten helming an X-Men movie down to an art at this point, having now directed most of the movie franchise’s best installments since he first pioneered it with X-Men in 2000, beyond the Matthew Vaughn-directed X-Men: First Class. On the flip side however, Singer’s huge experience with the mutant-powered franchise has also lent itself to a bit of complacency when he’s placed at the helm of a movie that is putting all of its eggs in its villain’s basket.
That’s not to say that X-Men: Apocalypse is badly directed. Singer has as much of an awesome eye as ever for high-quality action scenes, striking visuals, and effectively emotional character moments related to characters being persecuted and distrusted for their mutant heritage. Singer still knows his way around an X-Men movie better than anyone else at this point, and X-Men: Apocalypse definitely does the franchise proud in terms of scale and mutant mayhem.
That’s just it though; X-Men: Apocalypse merely aims to take what people already love about X-Men and jack up the scale, rather than actually forging legitimate new ground for the movie franchise. X-Men fans won’t object to this, since they’re getting more of the mutant carnage that they already fell in love with, in a higher dose this time, but X-Men: Apocalypse won’t feel like it resets the bar like X-Men: First Class or X-Men: Days of Future Past did, or indeed the way that Singer’s original two X-Men movies from the 2000’s did. In terms of scale, it’s impressive, but in terms of substance, X-Men: Apocalypse is sadly Singer’s weakest X-Men movie to date, even if his direction still checks off the usual appealing points for these movies here.
Singer yet again employs John Ottman, his composer from X2: X-Men United and X-Men: Days of Future Past to provide the music suite of X-Men: Apocalypse. Again, the music is pretty standard for an X-Men movie, with the same franchise theme playing over a trippy, exciting intro sequence, and some of the grand action swells still feeling familiar and fitting. The big distinction here is that Ottman has added a sense of Old Testament-style choir and orchestra, to reflect the grand, imposing nature of Apocalypse, and overall, it’s pretty effective. It’s not an exemplary X-Men score, but it’s distinct enough to help it stand on its own, and suit the movie’s big villain nicely.
The rest of the movie’s soundtrack is also appropriately powerful and destructive, especially where Apocalypse and his Horsemen are concerned. The action scenes in X-Men: Apocalypse are mixed for maximum auditory yield, meaning that every mutant in the movie, Apocalypse especially, really does feel like they can rend the earth and split the sky, leading to all sorts of epic clashes that perfectly sound the part. The sound is still about what you would expect from an X-Men movie, but as with the villain and the visuals, its scale has been blown up and made a lot mightier, possibly bringing the movie franchise closest to replicating the world-shattering spectacle of some of the finest X-Men stories from Marvel Comics lore.
Considering that this is an X-Men movie that’s all about glorifying Apocalypse, you can imagine that there’s a whole lot of destruction in X-Men: Apocalypse! That assumption is correct as well, with this movie definitely being the biggest X-Men movie in terms of sheer scale, for better or for worse. This means that this movie franchise’s special effects are often at their most dazzling and impressive here, and the latest battle between mutants really does feel like it effectively impacts the world on a global scale, with entire cities and landmarks seemingly obliterated with god-like might. One could justifiably accuse this movie of being style-over-substance in contrast to the previous two X-Men prequel movies, but X-Men fans will still love that this movie is actually approaching the massive scale of many X-Men comics, more so than the previous movies’ clear compromises often did. Again, for better or for worse, X-Men: Apocalypse holds nothing back in terms of spectacle!
While certain international territories outside of the Americas have an IMAX 3D viewing option for X-Men: Apocalypse, domestic territories merely have the choice between regular 3D and 2D showings of the movie. My screening of X-Men: Apocalypse was in 3D, and surprisingly, the 3D wasn’t too bad. The 3D wasn’t outstanding either, but it did add a bit more atmosphere to certain scenes, and did actually give the impression of certain mutant abilities and debris appearing to pop out of the screen and vaguely surround the audience. If you could care less about watching the movie in 3D, you’ll be just fine with a 2D showing, but if you enjoy 3D movies, it’s worth the few extra dollars for a 3D ticket, which will add a bit more kick to the movie’s mutant clashes.
Either way though, X-Men: Apocalypse feels like as much a disaster movie as it is a superhero movie, which is possibly the most distinct thing about it, and even then, it’s just the same foundation as many other X-Men movies, now made larger. There’s plenty of enjoyable visual effects to gawk at, and even when the movie becomes a bit less interesting during some plodding middle stretches, it’s definitely very polished and fits in perfectly with the blockbuster stylings of the previous X-Men movies. With much of the politics that defined the series now thrown out in favour of sheer world annihilation though, the effects of X-Men: Apocalypse are left to shoulder more of the movie’s appeal, which they rise to the task of with aplomb, dwarfing pretty much every other X-Men movie in comparison, even if several of the previous movies definitely felt like they had more to say behind all of the gloss.
After Captain America: Civil War beautifully bucked the usual trend of disappointing threequels to become the best Captain America movie yet earlier this month, it’s a let-down to see X-Men: Apocalypse resorting to the same old bag of tricks as most of its predecessors, merely upping the visual polish over anything else. There’s enough appealing characters to still make this movie enjoyable for X-Men fans, and Apocalypse is definitely the franchise’s best villain since Sir Ian McKellan’s original Magneto, but a lot of the depth and nuance that defined these movies’ best offerings is sadly gone in X-Men: Apocalypse, which substitutes the wisdom of tolerance and understanding those different from us for more flat, straightforward wrath-of-God stakes.
The political subtext that made these movies great since the first one hit theatres all the way back in 2000 is a big part of why X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past felt like such fresh and engaging prequel installments, and no matter how you slice it, X-Men: Apocalypse takes far less risks than those movies did, and that sadly makes it less memorable. X-Men fans will still love it, especially in the moment when they can gaze in wonder and awe at the awesome level of badass, comic book-worthy destruction on the big screen, but many other moviegoers won’t see the appeal, and will probably justifiably feel that
X-Men: Apocalypse is a fairly run-of-the-mill Summer blockbuster that can probably be skipped.
Anyone who has even a little bit of love for X-Men will still enjoy this movie though, and absolutely should go and see it. Singer’s previous X-Men movies were better, as was X-Men: First Class, but X-Men: Apocalypse is still a lot better than X-Men: The Last Stand, and definitely better than the franchise low point of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, even if it also doesn’t manage to compare to Fox’s excellent Deadpool movie from back in February. This movie is a bit of a rudimentary trilogy wrap-up, but at least it closes out the cinematic X-Men prequel saga in style, especially when the ensemble cast of mutants has never been more mighty and impressive in battle!
- Isaac's grand, imposing Apocalypse
- Loads of destructive mutant-powered action
- Effective portrayals of younger X-Men veterans, especially Turner's Jean Grey
- Rudimentary, mostly unmemorable plotline
- Fails to replicate political intrigue of the other prequel movies
- Not much is done with the 1983 backdrop