REVIEW: 'X-Men: Apocalypse' is a well-structured but formulaic sequel

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Generally speaking, I’m a believer that you should always give the people what they want, but there are a lot of times where I don’t think the people actually know what they want. Take, for example, X-Men: Apocalypse, the latest chapter of the newest X-Men trilogy with Bryan Singer returning to direct for the fourth time. As with all of Singer’s X-Men films so far,the end product is quite good, honestly. There’s a well-structured story in Apocalypse, but as with any sequel that demands itself to be bigger and bigger with each entry, it gets buried beneath its uneven pace and the number of characters it has to carry.

Taking place 10 years after the events of the enormously successful Days of Future Past, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his mutant superhero team must confront a new villain, a millennia-old Egyptian mutant named En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), who has the ability to absorb and augment mutant powers. Disgusted by the world’s “false idols” upon awakening from his tomb, he vows to establish a new world order and recruits Four Horsemen to help him do so, and one of them winds up being Magneto (Michael Fassbender), a former X-Man.

Michael Fassbender as the perpetually conflicted mutant Magneto.
Michael Fassbender as the perpetually conflicted mutant Magneto.

The various subplots and innocuous character reunions push the runtime to 147 minutes, which feels even longer with its uneven pace, but the real irony is that there must’ve been lots of plot and character development (sorry, Jubilee) that was left on the editing room floor. It’s not nearly as grim or devastating as Batman v Superman, and its characters are just as interesting as the ones in Civil War, if only a little less funny because McAvoy and Fassbender don’t deliver quips quite like Robert Downey, Jr. or Paul Rudd.

But McAvoy may have delivered his best Professor X yet, while Fassbender continues to squeeze as much emotional anguish out of his tortured Magneto as he can. Isaac, unfortunately caked in makeup, is a clichéd villain, but still oozes enough charisma to stay compelling when most villains in a similar capacity serve as disposable punching bags. Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters and Kodi Smit-McPhee seem to possess the ability to carry the franchise forward as the new X-Men, even if their on-screen characters come off a little smug, and performances from the rest of the cast range from average to very good. The action sequences aren’t complicated but look quite spectacular, which is a nice change from having a million different objects do a million different things on the screen without any coherence.

Oscar Isaac (buried under makeup) as Apocalypse, and Alexandra Shipp as Storm.
Oscar Isaac (buried under makeup) as Apocalypse, and Alexandra Shipp as Storm.

The problem with Apocalypse is that it doesn’t present anything original or particularly memorable. How many times can we see Magneto flip-flop between good and evil? How many times must we see Wolverine naked? At least First Class had the sparkle of a new director and a new cast of promising stars, and Days of Future Past had the promise of moving the franchise in a new direction. Just as how the death scene of Thomas and Martha Wayne was superfluous in Batman v Superman, a lot of the characters in the X-Men franchise do not need have their previously-explored origin stories explored again. Combined with an all-powerful villain who threatens to kill a lot of people, Apocalypse, to put it bluntly, suffers from being too formulaic.

But this is a comic book adaptation, after all, and Apocalypse from the comics is just as two-dimensional as the medium, and with a name like that an elaborate bank heist is probably not in his plans. It’s hard to come up with a good villain when the good guys are too good; to date, neither the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) nor the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) have presented any memorable villains. In fact, it’s pretty telling that the most compelling stories so far involve good guys fighting each other, which is why Batman v Superman was such a brilliant marketing ploy - despite the initial resistance by the public - and infinitely more eye-catching than Man of Steel 2.

Having said that, with the MCU and DCEU weaving multiple characters through intricate, multi-layered plots, Apocalypse is simple and easy to understand, and nearly all the important characters get some sort of development, so managing to accomplish those two things should already help itstand out from the rest of its similar competition. In trying to accomplish the goals it had set out for itself – concluding a trilogy while simultaneously introducing a new one – it is a well-executed film. Jean Grey (Turner) makes a meta joke about how the third film is always the worst, but as far as third films go, Apocalypse is a pretty solid effort and that joke should only be directed towards The Last Stand.

...and Spider-Man 3.

X-Men: Apocalypse gets:

3 stars out of 4, 3.5 stars out of 5, 7.5 out of 10

Three Stars

What did you think of the newest X-Men film? Does it set a promising course for new movies with its new cast? Or is it just another addition to the loud and formulaic superhero genre? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!