I’m not as pro as many writers here in doing movie reviews, but I finally saw a matinee of X-Men: Apocalypse Sunday morning (I saw Captain America: Civil War a second time still nearly a packed theater when X:A came out) and I have some thoughts.
As a long time X-Men fan I wanted to get some conversations going here.
I think this was the best X-Men movie in quite a while. I know the First Class “jumpstart” and Days of Future Past (DoFP) have a lot of fans. I’m not really one of them but I won’t focus on those movies.
XA was first of all overlong. It spent a great deal of time collecting Apocalypse’s followers and the new generation of X-Men and in my opinion it took too long doing it. There are highlights and moments throughout but just because its ensemble doesn’t mean you don’t make better economical decisions. There is always the Blu Ray Director’s Cut for that.
Why did they cast Oscar Isaac in the role of En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse? The makeup completely covers his features and the results suck, even for a character who does not look human in the comics. Oscar Isaac is on the short side height wise while Apocalypse is supposed to be a Thanos sized character. I thought they’d hobbit him up to 7 feet perhaps. And his voice was always “enhanced”. They should have casted someone like Ron Perlman. It was a waste in my opinion to have someone of Oscar Isaac’s ability in this role.
As a cascade of origin stories squeezed into 2 hours of preamble, we witness adaptive moments like Magneto’s great pain and loss. After the events of DoFP Magneto has retired and has applied himself to honest labor, married and had a daughter. Erik’s wife Magda and their daughter Nina are murdered in the attempt to apprehend the fearsome Magneto by Polish police armed with nonmetallic weapons after Erik ironically saves a fellow worker from being scalded to death with molten metal. Young and adorable Nina is revealed as having a Franciscan gift to influence and control animals and her subconscious reflex to help her father results in a single arrow accidentally killing mother and daughter in one unfortunate loss of muscle tension. This was not a terrible terrible adaptation of the comics backstory. Magda is supposed to be Quicksilver’s Mom too but not in this universe. It’s really understandable that Magneto would let that pain of loss allow him to be influenced by Apocalypse. It’s his reinforcement that God is against him as he was in Auschwitz which later also suffers his wrath. We also learn that Michael Fassbender has a very nice singing voice when earlier he sang a lullabye to Nina.
Making Alex the older Summers brother was kind of unavoidable since they pulled him out for First Class to avoid conflicts with Cyclops in the 90s, but their parents are alive and well which is a big change from the comics. No Christopher ‘Corsair’ Summers, Captain and leader of the Star Jammers in the future. Singer this was a tragic oversight. Havok is (apparently?) sacrificed. Is this supposed to replace Scott’s loss of his parents as a motive? Tye Sheridan does a fine job as Scott and Cyclops and there were moments I was really into his battle scenes. Maybe in the future those parents will be revealed as being foster or adoptive to both sons?
Big directorial miss - Jean Grey has her nightmare as highlighted in one of the trailers and you can’t help but hear Sansa Stark’s English lilt, but in other scenes Sophie Turner’s American accent is very decent. Don’t these directors take more than one shot? This was the best take? Jean doesn’t have much story except that in a school full of unusual kids her uncontrolled power to hear thoughts still makes her an outcast to everyone except of course, new student Scott Summers.
I liked that Angel has a talon on each wing before Apocalypse mutates him to Death. It’s an innovation I think the comics could have used. The strength of a big raptor’s wings at the scale of a human sized avian and using them as a tool of aggression is a great idea. But I never hear him mentioned as being Warren, heir to the Worthington fortune. And his Archangel of Death is a pale reflection of the comic book version. So again, where is the setup for future uses of the character? Maybe there will be other winged mutants in the future?
Psyloche - Olivia Munn super trained as we saw on YouTube in swordplay to be everyone’s favorite ninja psychic but we never see her use any significant katana skills; just some slashing. Maybe she isn’t Elizabeth (Betsy) Braddock at all? Maybe she’s the (part) Japanese character that Betsy displaces from her body? Sorry I forget that character’s name from the Jim Lee X-Men art days. The contradiction of an English woman from a noble family having a Japanese body and ninja skills is what fans love about her. And what the heck is she doing in Egypt working for Caliban?
Caliban was pretty good for what he was used for. ‘Nuf said about him though.
I liked Alexandra Shipp’s Storm more than Halle Berry’s and the backstory of being a thief with some weather skills actually decently resembles her comic origins. Apocalypses gift of enhanced power is even used to explain why this African women and snow white hair. No criticism of this in particular.
I also enjoyed Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler / Kurt Wagner. I enjoyed the implicit reference to Alan Cumming’s turn as Nightcrawler back in X-Men United (X2) as he keeps getting cut off from introducing himself. I was wondering if they were going to try to dilate the calendar to make Mystique / Raven his biological mother. Maybe the scion of an interlude with the other Blue X-Man, Hank McCoy / Beast who is obviously holding a torch. I haven’t tried to do the math so maybe this is still possible.
Mystique is hiding her true self throughout most of the movie. Is this because the makeup is so onerous to apply? Sucks to be Kodi. They don’t do anything with her shape-changing ability or martial skills. She is merely a leader here. Storm idolizers her but we never get a sense of why. It’s just taken for granted. When she’s being choked out by Apocalypse couldn’t she have changed form and escaped his clutch? All we get is that falling domino“effect” when she changes appearances. Maybe it’s supposed to imply he’s able to block her power?
Hank McCoy’s battle against Psylocke is not really satisfying. He’s supposed to be super agile, and they explore that a little but I have the same complaint in the movie as in the comics. He tends to be a very poor fighter being focused on his scientific interests. When will they let the Beast out? Continuing to a real beast.
Hugh Jackman had a somewhat baffling cameo. We get a satisfying exploration of the Barry Windsor Smith drawn Weapon X mini series in full headgear and vest. Now Weapon X has his claws. And then Jean soothes the beast in Wolverine after a lot of wanton slaughter of token henchmen. I liked his berserker in X2 better. But this movie was overlong already so did we need this when Cyclops is able to level all the soldiers with a lift of his stylish Ray Bans? Well, who really cares? Always great to see Hugh Jackman buff up, slice and dice even if it is for novelty and Fox Studio’s sense of what’s necessary to be successful (CAMEOS).
Which segues me to William Stryker, the big bad from X-Men 2, probably my favorite chapter still. It’s hard to beat or compete with Brian Cox’s casting. He’s one of those scene stealing character actors we enjoy in every bad guy role he gets. I don’t think Stryker was ever supposed to be as physically impressive as Josh Helman is. Helman would make a good Colossus. Stryker is used to move the events from X2 to the 80s instead of the 90s and sync the histories I suppose. He’s also shown to be a coward when Weapon X escapes. Continuity seems to be correcting itself even as Fox and Singer work to make the X-Men franchise viable with new actors.
One of the more anticipated highlights of the movie like in DoFP is the “time in a bottle” scene in which Quicksilver aka Peter (not Pietro) Maximoff saves everyone (except Havok, again presumably) from the explosion Havok causes when he misses Apocalypse with his energy blast and hits Hank McCoy’s weaponized SR-71 Blackbird. Poor Lockheed, we never even flew you. But again how can any human body even a mutated one operate at the speeds he does? Still it’s very fun and it brings Peter into the X-Men fold in an untraditional way. But his little sister was not highlighted at all this time and clearly Magneto didn’t father the sister as well. This probably means no Scarlet Witch for the X-Men. The MCU Avengers have their Wanda, but her powers are mind gem derived rather than mutant so Singer would have had an opportunity if Peter had a twin sister even if she didn’t accompany him in the past two movies. And Peter couldn’t bear to tell Magneto that he still has some family when he had the chance. Continuing.
Back to Apocalypse complaints. My complaints are the same as I have in the comic. He’s overly and vaguely powered. Back in the X-Factor days I don’t think he was ever designed well. I like his Egyptian origins but not his look or abilities. The Mr Fantastic style stretching was abandoned here but now he can teleport, he can “stimulate” the mutant powers of others which I grant benefits him for being able to select and promote his horsemen. He can self heal thanks to the victim that Oscar Isaac played sans makeup and has some power to use sand as an offensive weapon and encase his victims in stone. He can pretty much do anything because before their were any mutants he was collecting their powers; I suppose this is his real and original mutant gift in addition from being able to pack up those abilities and transfer them to a new host? All he lacks is Charles’ telepathy which is described as being more like Karma’s (Shan/Xian Coy Man) possession power than his mind reading and limited remote control. Of course with Apocalypse’s help he can control everyone in the whole world! It’s too much, too big and not clearly enough defined. Not in my opinion.
And the whole movie is a DCCU movie level of destructive spectacle such as having those world engines slam their gravity waves and irresponsible Kryptonians smashing through Metropolis’ buildings. But Singer triples down on the spectacle and destruction. What is Magneto supposed to be creating in his magnetic debris fields anyway? Is it merely for a display of power? The MCU movies have avoided this waste even when the aliens are attacking NYC through the wormhole in the first Avengers movie. How is the X-Men’s world supposed to rebuild on that scale of destruction?
I’m not a fan of making men or mutants into gods. It stretches credibility which may sound ironic but I feel like many of us are attracted to at least some science in our fiction.
I’ll try to be generous as well because despite all that as I said I liked it mostly. I think the casting except as I said of Oscar Isaac are decent to good. I can see that this franchise can continue to be a solid performer for Fox studios compared to the disastrous Fantastic Four movies. Unlike others’ opinions I am not sure having an Avengers / X-Men crossover would work well. Both worlds have plenty of characters and stories to explore on their own. Sure it would be great to have Spider-Man, Wolverine and Luke Cage alongside Cap on a New Avengers team, but that’s not necessary for years to come. Clearly the Dark Phoenix saga will be accelerated and force Singer to kill Jean probably in the next movie. Again, the Star Jammers would be a great addition, maybe as a two part space spanning epic where young Cyclops meets his real father and learn how some Shi’ar royalty murdered his mom. Maybe Havok is not dead and was accidentally teleported by being so close to Apocalypse? Maybe youngest brother Gabriel is out there being raised by aliens? We can hope.
I think taking the X-Men to space might help them achieve the level of story we get from the MCU replacing destruction with the awesome spectacle Guardians of the Galaxy usurped from the X-Men’s rightful claim. They need room from merely being analogies for racial discrimination. The X-Men were never just that. They are not victims. They were the coolest heroes and had the coolest villains. They face down the toughest challenges. They thanklessly protected the world from threats terrestrial and celestial. They sacrifice for others. They were always the underdogs, often out powered and not always the winners except of our hearts. That’s the X-Men I have always hoped for in the movies and always hoped someone at Fox or Marvel would remember. I think Marvel comics editorial staff has also forgotten who the X-Men were since Bendis damn him revitalized the Avengers.