Before there was the Marvel Cinematic Universe, before there was the current wave of movies based on superhero comics, there was the first X-Men film. Based upon the successful Marvel Comics series about a team of mutants fighting to protect mankind and mutants from those who threaten both, the film helped to show that a superhero film could be done not in a way that not only delivers the thrills of the genre, but also could be taken seriously. While most superhero movies up until its release had been campy, X-Men pulled away from the more ridiculous elements of the comics and captured the heart of its source material. From that first successful film has come a long time of movies set within the world of the X-Men. Though there was a drop in quality in the franchise at one point, it was received new life in recent years thanks to the fun inventive flair of X-Men: First Class, followed by the masterful time travel adventure of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Now, the latest installment of the franchise arrives with X-Men: Apocalypse, bringing along one of the biggest threats to ever face the X-Men in the comics: Apocalypse. The film itself is another good entry in the series, even if its villain does not quite match the same heights.
The year is 1983. Ten years have passed since Mystique had saved the president from an assassination attempt by Magneto, and humanity has seemingly grown more tolerant of mutants. Charles Xavier is teaching at his School for Gifted Youngsters, Mystique is still seeking to take down those who would abuse mutants, and Magneto is trying to live a peaceful life incognito. However, their current course is shaken when an ancient power is revived: En Sabah Nur, a being some believe to have been the world’s first mutant. Looking upon our world, he believes that the weak have come to rule the strong and he intends to change that. Assembling four mutants and heightening their powers, he seeks to tear the world apart and intends to use Charles Xavier as part of his plans. Now, it is up to Mystique to lead a team to take on Apocalypse and his four Horsemen before his plans can come to fruition. Thankfully, she has some help on her side, thanks to new students Scott Summers, Jean Grey, and Kurt Wagner, along with some old friends like Hank McCoy.
On the whole, this was a pretty good film. Though this may be a more standard X-Men movie in comparison to the last two entries, it still offers plenty of the strengths that have been present throughout the franchise. The action sequences offer some good thrills to their spectacles. In fact, they take advantage of the mutants present throughout to come up with interesting action sequences. From a battle between Kurt Wagner and Angel in an East Berlin underground club to Peter Maximoff’s super speed being used to save a whole building of people from an explosion, the film finds ways of delivering neat action moments thanks to the variety of mutant powers on display. Along with that, it also has time for fitting in character moments along with the action. For instance, both Scott Summers and Jean Grey begin to bond over how both of them are struggling to control their powers. Also, a major factor in Magneto’s path here stems from a failed attempt to hide his identity and live a more normal life, only to be driven out when his mutant nature is discovered. Character development and growth from moments like these have been a big part of what helped the X-Men film franchise to become so prominent at the start of the current wave of superhero movies. However, there is a weakness in this film worth discussing: Apocalypse.
In terms of X-Men villains, Apocalypse has always been one of the most powerful and intimidating of the X-Men’s foes. However, this film presents a weakened version that does not capture his sense of strength. For one, the film over-complicates the nature of his powers. This film’s iteration of Apocalypse has him as a being which has transferred his consciousness from person to person over the ages, taking along the powers of any mutants he has used. In fact, a key part of his plan in this film involves capturing Charles Xavier and taking over his body so Apocalypse can possess his incredible psionic powers. This adds too many steps and points to explaining Apocalypse’s staggering power levels, which could have been better handled had they stuck to the original comics where his mutant power was total control over every molecule in his body. Along with that, I feel that Oscar Isaac may have been a slight miscast for the role of Apocalypse. Though he is a good actor and works alright for the most part, he does not capture the powerful presence that should come with the character. In the comics, Apocalypse is a figure who towers over others even when he has not used his gifts to make himself gigantic. He carries himself with the airs of a god, as he seeks to push forward his philosophy that only the strong shall survive. With the capabilities of his mutant powers, he is almost like one. There is a reason why he is one of the most dangerous threats to the X-Men. Unfortunately, this film does not quite capture the level of threat that he should present.
Even though the current wave of superhero movies has brought a bounty of excellent films forward, it all began with the X-Men. Though it may have its faults in terms of its villain and it does not have quite the same skillful spark as the last two movies, X-Men: Apocalypse does offer a good reminder of why the franchise has managed to last for so long.