Superheroes once again battle to save the world from the end of days in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” sure to be one of the summer’s biggest films.
Ripped straight out of one of Marvel Comics’ most celebrated storylines, the ninth film in the X-Men franchise follows a team of mutants as they battle Apocalypse, the world’s first mutant returned to Earth after centuries underground seeking to bring us all back to the Stone Age.
Director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg attempt to infuse the seemingly straight-forward action adventure with layers of internal emotional conflict, though the degree to which they work often varies wildly.
Michael Fassbender, perhaps the most talented performer in the film, unsurprisingly does the best job of handling the film’s emotional content. As the metal-manipulating renegade Magneto, Fassbender convincingly portrays the man under the helmet struggling to deal with the murder of family members during the Holocaust and in rural Poland in the 1980s.
Comic book characters portrayed on screen rarely get the concept of grief and loss right, and nobody in the history of superhero movies has done it better than Fassbender, who brings genuine authenticity to an incredibly inauthentic world.
It’s difficult to blame 20th Century Fox for insisting on a bulked up role in the X-Men franchise for Mystique, a shape-shifting villainess from the comics who just happens to be played by one of the world’s biggest stars in Jennifer Lawrence.
Lawrence does her best to act as a guide for a bevy of younger co-stars re-introducing their characters into the X-Men film universe from psychic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and laser-eyed Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) to teleporting wunderkind Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Lawrence’s presence in the group makes the new ensemble cast easier to accept as a whole, though structurally it would have behooved filmmakers to turn that role over to James McAvoy’s Professor Xavier.
McAvoy shows great empathy and pain in a role he’s much too good of an actor for, but his steady on-screen presences ends up making “Apocalypse” much better than it probably should be.
After wowing in independent films like “Ex Machina” and taking a lead role as Poe Dameron in last year’s “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” Oscar Isaac is largely wasted hiding behind a massive amount of makeup as the villainous title character.
Isaac has always been fantastic in being able to emote through his facial expressions and the design of Apocalypse completely renders that ability impossible. His costume and makeup leave Apocalypse with a flat, unchanging gray face, making Isaac unrecognizable.
Hugh Jackman’s brief cameo appearance gives viewers a lot of hope for next year’s “Wolverine 3,” which will be rated R and should stay truer to the more violent, gruesome aspects of the character’s comic book origins. While not overly graphic, his extended cameo is surely the most intense and savage action sequence in the X-Men film franchise.
Singer returns to the franchise with another solid effort, though the balance between storylines, emotional character arcs and fight scenes isn’t exactly on point throughout the entire film.
Where Singer succeeds is in the moments everyone will be talking about following a screening of “Apocalypse,” Quicksilver’s action sequences.
Expanding the role of the character beyond an extended cameo in “Days of Future Past,” the film best takes advantage of Quicksilver’s enhanced speed by slowing down the action for the viewer, so that audiences see fight scenes as the hero does. These cinematically stunning moments are some of the best visual work Hollywood has produced this year and alone makes “Apocalypse” worth watching on the big screen.
While “Apocalypse” is intended to be the third in a rebooted X-Men movie franchise following 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” and 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” it relies pretty heavily on knowledge of previous films and lore from the original comic books. It’s not impossible for first-time viewers to enjoy “Apocalypse” without any previous exposure to the X-Men, but it certainly helps.
Even long-time comic book nerds will likely find themselves pulling out their smartphones after a screening and heading to Wikipedia to research the film’s more obscure references, especially the mysterious teaser for “Wolverine 3” at the end of the credits.
Like all large-team superhero movies, “X-Men: Apocalypse” can rightfully be accused of spreading itself thin by going in too many different directions in order to please both fans of the different characters and the actors themselves. “Apocalypse” could definitely benefit from tightening up the ensemble cast and devoting more time to the emotional journeys of its leads.
However, moviegoers looking for a little excitement this summer could do much worse than “X-Men: Apocalypse,” which rides the backs of Fassbender, Lawrence and McAvoy to carry the bulk of a fun, turn-your-brain-off adventure ride worth seeing in theaters.