Some fans are excited about X-Men: Apocalypse. Some are nervous.
Both camps are right to be. And they’ll probably add a soupçon of disappointment — and anticipation of what’s still to come for the franchise.
All of the expected thrills of a superhero movie are in place. Mass destruction of recognizable landmarks? Check. Easter eggs for longtime fans that won’t lose first-time watchers? Check. Reinvention of key characters in the canon? Sigh … check.
But audiences have been there and seen that.
Apocalypse is absolutely fine, except for the feeling that we’ve seen it all before.
Just like audiences’ emotions, the film is all over the place. There are just too many moving pieces. That’s been true of all the X-Men movies, come to think of it. And that can be OK because it comes with the territory: the movies have always been completely about the team, with hardly a supporting player in the bunch. That’s quite unlike the world- and character-building that’s gone on with that other Marvel team-up franchise.
Back to the story at hand: The not-quite-yet X-Men face a mutant who many believe was the world’s first. We meet En Sabah Nur during a grand ceremony of an opening scene set in the Nile Valley in 3600 B.C. After a train ride through history, all the way to 1983, the students at Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters are (re)introduced.
Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is an ageless, all-powerful mutant. When a body gets too old for his uses, he transfers to another and absorbs whatever power happens to be within it. When he awakens from a forced slumber in 1983, he does not like what he sees. In his mind, only the strong should survive, and he wants to make it so.
He starts gathering powerful mutants — four horsemen, natch — to help him with his plan. Once aware of his presence, our nascent team realizes that the stakes are high. They’re fighting for everyone’s world, mutant and human alike. This is serious, so much so that even the cameos are glum.
Some of the set pieces are wonders. So, too, is Michael Fassbender, back as Erik Lehnsherr. And, as usual, the best story is that of Magneto.
He always has the right reasons for doing the wrong thing.
In this movie, things are no different. Magneto always comes with a dose of sadness. But there are many moments of levity, especially any time Quicksilver (Evan Peters, who has a way with stealing scenes) runs through. Jennifer Lawrence is very comfortable in the blue skin of Mystique, and James McAvoy (Professor X) is having great fun.
In more than a nod to the source material, enthralled horsemen Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) look uncomfortable but glorious, as if they stepped right off the comic pages. True believers will get a thrill every time Psylocke unleashes her psychic blade. (You’ll be able to play a good game of Spot the Mutant as our heroes — and our villains — gather their forces.)
Pay close attention to the dialogue as it will foreshadow what is to come. Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, with sorrow in her eyes) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) are children here; you know the story. And after the events of Apocalypse, there’s plenty of room to tell it.
The X-Men have always existed in a high-flying, world-beating universe quite unlike that of other superhero properties, which can seem much more grounded, even with tights and flights. In Fantastic Four, they worried about paying bills. In Captain America: Civil War, Cap did his own laundry. In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman is broken.
So it may be wrong to expect a film titled Apocalypse to be mindful of mundane things.
The franchise, reinvigorated by the stellar, underappreciated First Class, stumbles a bit at the reset after Days of Future Past. Moviegoers would do well to adjust their expectations accordingly. Director Bryan Singer, who started the franchise in 2000, has always had a vision when it comes to these movies. Remember the anticipation we talked about? His Apocalypse may be noisy, but one thing is clear: It’s a setup.
And that’s worth watching.