The latest instalment in the critically acclaimed ‘X-men’ series has at last landed in cinemas and it’s been met with decidedly mixed reviews. There doesn’t truly seem to be critical consensus on the action blockbuster but the general feeling does seem to skew towards the negative. Are people right to be quite so negative towards this film? No, and here’s why.
So the story set out in X-Men Apocalypse sees the heroes that audiences have grown to love, along with a few fresh faces, square off against the ancient En Sabah Nur, brilliantly played by Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron, ‘The Force Awakens’). En Sabah Nur, otherwise known as Apocalypse, is commonly believed to be the first mutant and is one of the most powerful, boasting a fascinating range of powers that are only lightly explored for the majority of this flick. Apocalypse, as his name suggests, is trying to bring about the end of civilisation as it stands today and the X-Men are trying to stop him. So far, so superhero movie. So what is the redeeming quality?
Well, looking exclusively at the story there isn’t much of one. In this respect many of the critics are right, this is a cut and paste superhero film that does little to deviate from the norm that everyone has come to expect. The thing is that there’s nothing wrong with that. X-Men never needed to create some visionary direction for itself and change the tone of films such as these going forwards, it simply needed to provide fans with what they’ve come to expect from the franchise and that’s exactly what it did. The pacing is tight and the story is very well told as each thread is picked up and dropped in a logical, easy to follow manner, with one scene flowing expertly into another without having any jarring effect on the audience. The action is suitably epic with fight scenes, particularly the obligatory end one, featuring shifting momentum and moments of extreme highs and crushing lows for both the heroes and the fans watching in the cinema.
More than all of that though is the humour that seeps out of every pore of this movie. Now, you shouldn’t go in expecting to laugh as much as you did in Deadpool as this is an entirely different creature. You’re not going to get anyone with the same wit or hilariously sociopathic stylings of Wade Wilson, what you will get though is a cast of characters who all offer something that makes you smile at the very least. Be it through a reference for the true comic book fans in the crowd, a pun that breaks some of the tension, or a bit of light slapstick from Nightcrawler, there is something here to amuse everyone in the theatre. What makes this even more pleasing is the way that it is juxtaposed by the high emotion that runs deep within the rest of the film. One such moment comes from a crushing loss suffered by Magneto, once again played by Michael Fassbender, where you can truly feel the enormity of his pain due to superior acting and some poignant script writing.
There is a long running theme in all X-Men media to address civil issues and that is absolutely present here as the public backlash towards mutants, which is mentioned throughout, serves as an allegory for racism and hatred of LGBTQ people around the world. It is not presented in the most powerful manner in this rendition, which does make one wonder why it was mentioned, but it is still nice to see such issues being tackled even if in a tangential manner.
The true reason for this film being as enjoyable as it was has to be attributed to one thing above all others though and that is the superb acting on display. At the top of that pile stands Oscar Isaac who takes a potentially cartoony looking villain and makes him every bit the terrifying threat that he proves to be in the comics. Isaac is unrecognisable in the role and not just because of the outlandish costume, it is because of the grit and gravity that he brings to the character in a successful effort to make Apocalypse seem as sinister as he is supposed to be. It’s a little hard to believe that this is the same man who starred in The Force Awakens and ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ due to the incredible transformation that he undertakes in order to bring this part to life.
Surrounding Isaac is an equally able cast that features such shining debuting stars as Olivia Munn (Herself, ‘Zoolander 2’) who plays Psylocke, Alexandra Shipp (Kimberley Woodruff, ‘Straight Outta Compton’) who plays Storm, and Ben Hardy (Peter Beale, ‘Eastenders’) who plays Angel. Angel and Psylocke receive precious little in the way of development which is a crying shame considering the talent portraying them but Storm is a central figure throughout proceedings and it must be said that Shipp does a fantastic job. She nails her role as a tough street kid, struggling with her fledgling mutant powers and looking for any way out of her squalid situation. Shipp has a natural charisma to her that makes it hard not to be drawn to Storm as a character. Even if you didn’t already know that she eventually turns to the good side as it were you will still likely find yourself routing for her simply due to Shipp.
Standing at the head of the younger newcomers is a name that most will recognise and that is Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark, ‘Game of Thrones’) who portrays Jean Grey. Sophie said that the dark side to Sansa helped with this role and whilst that is likely true, it is a little difficult to draw parallels between the two. Sansa was always a little annoying in her naiveté and struggled in the role of an assertive figure whereas Jean is a much more confident individual despite being something of an outcast due to her untapped abilities. Essentially Jean is more akin to Arya than she is Sansa. Still, the ability to play the troubled youth so convincingly and endearingly earns Sophie a lot of praise, Jean is believable throughout her journey and the set up for her to take off as a major star of future instalments is a satisfying one.
Additionally, you also have the returning cast of more familiar actors; Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence etc. They all put in expectedly perfect performances and are given more of a chance to shine due to the self-contained nature of this film. There is no switching between the past and present, aside from the odd flashbacks, so they are relied upon more heavily to deliver in their roles than they perhaps have been in the past.
Another returning face who steals the show at one point is the always enjoyable Evan Peters (Tate Langdon, ‘American Horror Story’) who reprises his role as Quicksilver. It takes very little time for him to reestablish himself as the most reliable source of comedy in the franchise and a high point of the film comes from yet another slowed down scene where he zips through the mansion, entertaining you as he goes. It would not be surprising if the powers that be should look to Peters to become more of a central figure going forwards as it is hard as an audience not to latch onto him.
The negatives were, honestly, not that noteworthy as most of the perceived problems other reviews have spoken of are not inherently bad things. The unwillingness to break the status quo in terms of all of the character directions is a little galling as everyone knows who ends up doing what in the future so it wouldn’t hurt to steer towards those destinies with a little more commitment. There is also a wider problem in these films where you don’t feel a distinct enough level of suspense due to that fact that things almost always work out for the best and, in prequels such as these especially, the heroes are not going to die. That lack of risk makes it easier to switch off at times but that is why there are side characters without preset destinies as such, to keep you asking if one of those lesser mutants will meet their demise.
So, if you were hoping for something entirely different to what’s come before then no, this is not the film for you. If, however, you were looking for a fun superhero film with just enough heart and a wicked sense of humour then you’re going to be in for a treat. X-Men Apocalypse is just a good time that is begging to be enjoyed and there’s nothing wrong with that.
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