Since 2011’s X-Men: First Class, we’ve been slowly introduced to the X-Men we know and love, watching them as they first learn to embrace and/or control their superpowers. X-Men: Apocalypse is the third of the prequels, so this film is less backstory and more moving forward.
Casting for the iconic comic-book roles has been hit-or-miss; Jennifer Lawrence’s takeover of Mystique from Rebecca Romijn is now generally accepted after some initial audience resistance, and James McAvoy as Patrick Stewart’s Xavier is spot-on and almost seamless. I wish I could say the same for Sophie Turner (Sansa of Game of Thrones) as one of the X-Men’s greatest heroes, Jean Grey, who plays a big role in X-Men: Apocalypse.
I get what the powers-that-be behind the franchise are trying to do here — keeping it young, pretty and “sexy” — but it only partially works. Casting Turner is most certainly appealing to fans of the genre (sci-fi = fantasy = comic books from a broad perspective), and I can’t deny her charisma. But Jean Grey is a character of immense power, and Turner’s sleepy performance doesn’t do her justice. Played as an “adult” by Famke Janssen in previous X-Men films, there was a severity and an otherworldliness to her portrayal. In Apocalypse, Turner only conveys those qualities at the very end of the movie, and not as convincingly.
If only all actors could have a magic anti-aging potion like the one Michael Fassbender seems to have gotten his hands on. There’s no need to cast a “younger” Magneto. Fassbender is back as the emotionally torn hero, and it’s like he hasn’t aged a day. We witness his horrific backstory and discover why he’s so enraged and bitter all the time. Yes, the gang’s (mostly) all here, including some fun cameos that come with the territory in modern Marvel movies.
X-Men: Apocalypse‘s plot is exactly what its title implies: taking place in the 1980s with the world facing literal Apocalypse (an ancient, powerful entity said to be the first-ever mutant, played by Oscar Isaac), only the X-Men can make things right… but only if they can band together. The audience travels from Egypt to Poland to many other places, and finally lands in the United States, where Xavier is trying to make his dream of a peaceful world a reality. Shout-out to Toronto’s Casa Loma, which reappears again as Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
Some characters who’ve gotten short shrift in the past, like Cyclops or Storm, get more attention in Apocalypse. We witness the burgeoning of their powers — Cyclops nearly kills a bullying classmate and Storm is committing petty theft in an Egyptian market — and their acceptance into the mutant fold. The whole mutant-discovery sequence, which we get in every X-Men movie, never stops being exciting. It’s like watching Season 1 of Heroes anew, over and over again.
Apocalypse (and the rest of the X-Men films) is strongest when they focus on the lore and legend. Dialogue is very weak at times, prompting eyerolls and sighs from the audience. When the action slows down, interest inevitably wanes. Nobody wants to see a bunch of heroes standing around and talking. That said, the action is plentiful, and in 3D, there’s an added immersion to the film.
Fans of the X-Men comics won’t be disappointed. Many big moments take place during the film (no spoilers here), and we get some great scenes featuring Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). A fan favourite stops by for a too-short visit, too.
Overall, Apocalypse fits nicely into the summer blockbuster canon, its edge-of-your-seat action coupled with nerd-satiating exposition and detail. The end of the world never looked so good.
‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ opens in theatres on May 27, 2016.