X-MEN: APOCALYPSE Keeps Franchise Rolling

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE is surprisingly another really good installment in an X-Men series that could’ve easily died out a decade ago. Even after seeing the incredible X2: X-MEN UNITED and knowing the high quality film the series could attain, I would have never expected the series to still have this sort of momentum to it. That was 2003, and this series seems to be a juggernaut, even with the lackluster reviews most critics give X-Men 3 and First Class.

With Hugh Jackman having bridged the original trilogy timeline with the First Class timeline, not to mention his own standalone Origins series, things got a bit confusing. The previous installment into the series DAYS OF FUTURE PAST did quite a bit to resolve those complexities, giving us a way forward. They took some great source material, changed it up a bit, introduced Sentinels, and gave the old cast a nice send off. It was a great flick, despite some very bland secondary characters who hardly got a name, let alone any depth, and relied too heavily on a special effects gimmick that was cool but perhaps over-used.

I reference the previous movie to help show where X-MEN: APOCALYPSE shined, as well as faltered a bit.

No one with any sort of prominent role felt jammed into the cast. The way the film split the team in the second half of the film, giving each a separate thread, kept things from feeling too crowded, even when they came back together. Each had a distinct role they were tasked with, which is the beauty of the X-Men as a team. Everyone has their distinct ability, so teamwork is the name of the game. I would’ve liked more character development from Psyloche (Olivia Munn) and Storm, but I would guess there’s plenty of time for that in the next film.

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Yeah, that’s not a spoiler. If you expected either of those two characters to die, you had unrealistic expectations. Storm is a major player on the team who is just now entering the younger cast, and they cast Olivia Munn as Psyloche, so you know she’s sticking around for multiple films.

Speaking of new characters entering the younger cast, Sophie Turner did a great job as Jean Grey. When I first heard that Sansa Stark was going to join the fray, I wasn’t sure I liked the casting for any reason other than her hair color. Turner didn’t set things ablaze to the tune of an award nomination, but she nailed the character, in so much as the character is still coming into her own as a young woman.

Michael Fassbender reprises his role as Magneto, and this time around the role brings more heart to the character than had been previously there, with relationships that drive how his character responds throughout the remainder of the film. Some critics thus far have been critical of a scene involving Auschwitz, but anyone familiar with the character’s history (which they reference during the film, if you’re a first-timer with the X-Men series) should see that they’re not simply making use of a solemn, historic landmark, but they’re calling back to something in the character’s actual history.

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Jennifer Lawrence reprises her role as Mystique, and while she continues to be more than adequate at portraying the character, her popularity as an actress (and likely high salary demand that goes with it) has her taking a very prominent role on the team, and it feels a bit forced. They draw upon events which occurred in the previous film, so it all makes sense, but the character shouldn’t be a focal point. At this point, any significant depth of character Mystique has is going by the wayside as they raise her importance in the overall series. I have to think that if it was anyone other than Jennifer Lawrence in the role, the character would be less prevalent, but improved. It would allow for more growth, internal struggle and smaller-yet-pivotal character arcs. Maybe my own personal bias shows up here, having seen Mystique in the animated series and comic books (and quite frankly, the earlier X-Men films as well), and maybe I got too accustomed to the way the character was utilized there. The bias certainly has nothing to do with Jennifer Lawrence, whose films I prioritize viewing.

James McAvoy comes into his own as Professor Charles Xavier as the group’s leader. It’s fitting that his best performance as the cornerstone of the group comes in the film where he finally loses his hair for the classic Professor X look. The filmmakers do him considerable favors by giving him a love interest, as his interactions with Rose Byrne help add considerably to the character. Byrne executes nicely as Moira McTaggart, who is far more than just a love interest, but a talented CIA agent who helps the group despite not having mutant abilities.

Understandably so, due to the cast size, but Nicholas Hoult is under-utilized as Beast. I love other versions of the character, so there’s plenty of substance to draw upon, but he probably works best in situations where action isn’t paramount. Perhaps in the next film, if and when a more diplomatic aspect of the storyline might come into play, he can have some signature moments including some dialogue befitting the character. It just wasn’t present here.

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It’s safe to say that most people love how the X-Men films portray Quicksilver, the speedster whose antics while others act in slow-motion are some of the most enjoyable from the previous film. There’s a bit more of the same here, and although his heroic entry into the plot has some entertaining aspects to it, the special effects department feels almost as though they didn’t finish work on the 2D version of the film. I don’t know how it looks in 3D, and perhaps it works great there, but in the 2D version certain spots felt completely green-screen’ed. To the point where it took me out of the moment.

From the moment I saw the design for titular villain Apocalypse, I was disappointed. The casting was great, as was using arguably the second biggest villain in X-Men lore, but the way they made the character look just felt wrong. Granted, it wasn’t as bad as how the latest Fantastic Four made Doctor Doom look, but I wasn’t happy with what I was seeing. Thankfully, the film did a decent job of putting him in situations where most of the suit was hidden, or the angles they used made a bad suit look decent. The way the character was portrayed on screen, costume design aside, was pretty awesome. Oscar Isaac did an amazing job making him feel ancient, evil and nearly all powerful.

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While I would be surprised if APOCALYPSE makes as much money as CIVIL WAR, it should probably make somewhere in the neighborhood of what DAWN OF JUSTICE made. It’s nowhere near a “bad” film by any standards, and has fewer questionable parts for critics to pick at than either of the two. It takes the foundation laid in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST and builds upon it nicely. The after-credits scene makes it clear that they intend to continue the series, and I hope they do. A bit more depth on them would serve nicely, but APOCALYPSE didn’t suffer much because of it.

My Rating: 87 out of 100

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