Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE | 140 min | PG-13
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence,Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan and Kodi Smit-McPhee
If you haven’t already done so, by now you can forget what you know of director Brett Ratner’s iteration of the X-MEN franchise and welcome the reboot with open arms. In director Matthew Vaughn’s FIRST CLASS, we saw the gang come together and split apart over differences in philosophies. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST had director Bryan Singer filling the large shoes Vaughn left behind, showing us how the beloved mutant crew were forced to unite in the name of self-preservation. Now, with X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, Singer takes us back to the eighties – a time marked by war, greed and power – to show us how the mutants deal with the changing times. In aesthetics and gravitas, Singer surpasses his previous superhero film. Nevertheless, it’s still in the long shadow of Vaughn’s film.
It’s been ten years since the gang was able to defeat Trask’s Sentinel program, and they have scattered all over the globe, seeking peace and redemption. Raven/ Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is in Berlin, helping rescue fellow mutants like Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Eric/ Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has completely turned his life around, living the quiet life in Poland with his wife and daughter, working in a steel factory. And Charles Xavier/ Professor X (James McAvoy) is still providing sanctuary for a new generation of mutants like Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers/ Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) at his School for Gifted Youngsters, where Hank McCoy/ Beast (Nicholas Holt) is now a teacher and lead engineer. However, a new danger is about to awaken from a long slumber. Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the first and most powerful mutant, has risen and he’s pissed about what a cesspool this world has become. He hopes to cleanse the planet – and with squad members Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) on his side, he just might be able to do it.
Screenwriter Simon Kinberg ties the emotional crux of the picture to Eric’s palpable loss. It worked in FIRST CLASS, so looping back around to it continues to function brilliantly – especially because Fassbender has the chops to pull it off. Unlike the other two films in this franchise, it’s refreshing to see the narrative’s B-story be a genuine coming-of-age tale. This is just as much Scott and Jean’s origin stories as it is the established crew battling a new threat, and a cameo vehicle for a certain fan favorite (I’m not going to spoil it just because the trailer does). Kinberg’s fairly buoyant script achieves a nice balance between multiple character arcs all whilst setting up what’s next – a true feat given there are a multitude of new characters.
Aesthetically, this is the best looking X-MEN film to date. The special effects are surprisingly transportive. You can probably skip the 3-D though, as, outside of the opening credits and Psylocke’s purple sword arm, it’s not utilized to its full potential. Singer also shoots action in an ingenious manner, pushing the envelope for how much PG-13 can show – specifically allowing one character to get his hands bloodied during a sequence I don’t want to spoil. Isaac’s baddie is an imposing presence. Though he’s caked in prosthetics, with his physicality and voice, we can sense the human underneath. He’s one of the franchise’s better villains because his aim is clear. Yes, there’s a little bit of grandstanding. However, it’s never expository and keeps the hefty weight of the building thrills at the forefront.
While there’s a lot to like here, there’s also a discernible amount that feels like filler. It was great that Cerebro, Professor Xavier’s mind-reading device that really needs no re-introduction, wasn’t explained to us upon first sight. However, for inexplicable reasons (cough cough, padding and underestimating the audience’s abilities to remember things they’ve seen before), twenty minutes later, when the Scooby gang utilizes it, the machine is then re-explained. Show – don’t tell. In the third act, Nightcrawler essentially functions as a deus ex machina, teleporting a few characters out of sure-fire death. Psylocke isn’t given much to do except look good in her costume. Where are those bad-ass sword skills she displayed in that viral video?! Oh honey. It also relies on you remembering who the tertiary character of Col. Stryker (Josh Helman) is when he shows up. Fans will know, but casual audiences may be confused. There’s yet another eye-popping Quicksilver (Evan Peters) sequence. Granted it comes as an unexpected surprise when it occurs and it’s handled with a livelier, more humorous touch (and it’s set to a better song), but it can’t skirt a familiar feeling.
Though the emotional core feels organic, humor feels synthetically manufactured – the most egregious being the meta, self-reflexive sequence that has the new class commenting about how third films in trilogies typically suck. Tell that to CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. Some will find this cute. Others, like me, will find it irksome because it’s just padding for padding’s sake. And similar to PAST, Singer is still unable to duplicate the snappy crackle and brisk pace that makes FIRST CLASS work so well – e.g. the early scenes between Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) and Xavier.
Despite the long run time and obvious filler, this is a wholly entertaining blockbuster of superhero magnitude. Though it could have used a bit more tightening up in the editing room, there’s plenty of engrossing drama and thrilling action for franchise fans.
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE opens on May 27.