Film Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

Katniss and Sansa's big adventure?

I'm probably an interesting viewer for X-Men: Apocalypse. While I followed the X-Men and related titles throughout the 1980s, by the 1990s doing so became rather difficult, with a few gazillion interconnected X-books. I'd pretty much stopped trying to follow the X-books by the time Apocalypse became a major character. I'd witnessed him in the early issues of X-Factor but that was about it.

With that background, my wife and I saw X-Men: Apocalypse this evening. Though I could certainly nitpick, in broad strokes we both enjoyed it. It takes place in 1963, twenty years after the events of X-Men: First Class and ten years after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past. I must say the protagonists are aging extremely gracefully.

The world has generally been aware of mutants for about a decade. Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is in full operation, a school teaching mutants how to control their powers - but there is no X-Men team. Charles Xavier runs the school, helped by Hank McCoy. Jean Grey, played by Game of Thrones' Sophie Williams (half of my lame Katniss and Sansa joke). She is very powerful but has difficulty controlling her powers. Scott Summers, whose optic blast powers have just manifested, is taken to the school by his older brother Alex (Havok from the previous two films). Presumably much older brother.

Mystique has spent the past decade liberating mutants. In her first appearance she rescues Nightcrawler, a mutant teleporter, from an arena in East Berlin. We learn she's a hero of sorts to mutants across the world - though she does not consider herself one. With Jennifer Lawrence's star power growing with each movie, she does not spend a ton of time in blue form in this film. Nightcrawler, like Quicksilver discussed discussed below, is quite the scene stealer. He's adorably geeky, excited to meet other mutants in America, and is quickly drafted to a mall trip with Jean, Scott, and Jubilee (another young mutant at the school) where they see Return of Jedi, which features the characters arguing which Star Wars movie is the best. Jean does state its a given the third movie is always the worst - a clear joke at this film, being the third film in the X-Men prequels (though the original X-Men trilogy seems to have been essentially wiped from the continuity in a timey-wimey ball of stuff...)

Magneto has been quietly living a life in Poland, with a wife and young daughter. Man, you can sense the upcoming tragedy just from my writing that, can't you?

Quicksilver, the speedster from the previous movie, also makes a return appearance. This is probably one case where the X-Men universe nails a character better than the Marvel Cinematic Universe - though this is also one of the few areas of overlap between the universes. The special effects around his powers are a blast to watch and the character gets some great one-liners, such as commenting he's been living in his mom's basement the past decade...

The whole film is driven by Apocalypse, an ancient mutant from thousands of years ago. My wife was disappointed that Oscar Isaac was so covered by makeup, feeling it unfair I was able to admire Jennifer Lawrence without blue makeup. (Though she did seem to have a thing for Professor Xavier and Magneto...)  Apocalypse has the ability to absorb other mutants powers by transferring his lifeforce into them (and killing them in the process) via a funky Egyptian temple magic gadget. And he apparently keeps his old powers. Good deal. After thousands of years he awakens and gathers his horsemen, intent on purging the Earth of weakness.

I'll avoid additional plot details - I think I've stayed clear of any major spoilers. Overall, this was a bit of a crowded movie, with a ton of characters. Taking place in the 1980s, it is a world which has had a decade of getting used to mutants. Nightcrawler is able to go to a mall without a mob, for example. Though at the same time he needed to be rescued from a mutant arena, so all is not perfect. The world suffers from some pretty major catastrophes in this film, showing it further diverging from our world. The acting was well-done, especially on the part of Michael Fassbender's Magneto, who delivers an utterly convincing portrayal of a man trying to put his past behind him and live a normal life.

Though the timeline of the X-Men films is getting a bit convoluted (especially when you try to reconcile them with the original trilogy), I like seeing superhero films set prior to the modern day. It seems a pity that the mutant Marvel titles seem to be slowly downgraded in importance, though not surprising given the Marvel Cinematic Universe is made by Marvel itself whereas 20th Century Fox makes the X-Men films. Nevertheless it was a fun time and for me was well worth the trip.

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