X-Men Apocalypse Review: This One's For The Fans

“You don’t have to be an X-Men fan to like it, but it helps.”

During the X-Men’s first few cinematic excursions, this adage more or less held true. While nominally aimed at comic book enthusiasts, the franchise wisely dispensed with dense backstories, superfluous characters and silly costumes in favour of the bare, leather-clad essentials. They were deliberately accessible to the mainstream and all the better for it.

Fast-forward to X-Men: Apocalypse and things have changed. Now, it’s: “If you’re not a diehard X-Men fan, GTFO!”

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

When it comes to sprawling super hero franchises such as X-Men, most people tend to dip in and out. They’ve seen most of the origin movies, maybe one or two of the sequels and all of the tent-pole team-up movies. But much like Wolverine, there are plenty of gaps in their knowledge.

A super hero movie’s strength lies in its ability to win over these casual viewers. There needs to be a satisfying. standalone movie within a larger multi-part saga. The Avengers did this amazingly. So did Guardians Of The Galaxy and The Dark Knight. X-Men: Apocalypse... Not so much.

Even if you’ve seen all of the previous X-Men movies, Apocalypse is a tough flick to wrap your head around. There are simply too many second-tier characters, carried-over plot threads and half-remembered flashbacks to tell a cohesive story. This is particularly evident in the first act which seesaws wildly between plots and continents as the many (too many) protagonists embark on disconnected quests and errands. It’s like watching three movies in one; and not in a good way.

Things begin to settle down once the good guys converge — but your enjoyment will mainly come down to your level of fandom. Are you excited by the prospect of watching teenage Scott Sommers trade verbal barbs with classmate Jean Gray? Or Professor Xavier losing his hair? Or Beast versus Psylocke versus Quicksilver versus Storm? If none of this means anything to you, the movie will likely leave you cold. For everyone else, it’s still a sprawling, unsatisfying movie, but peppered with fan service to make you crack a half-smile.

So what’s it all about? We’ll try our best to break down the plot without going into major spoilers. The film takes place around 10 years after the events depicted in Days of Future Past: Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is up and running, Mystique has become a mutant-rescuing vigilante and Magneto is living incognito as a Polish metal worker (incidentally, the latter provides some of the best moments in the movie). Oh and there’s also Rose Byrne doing her CIA thing and a bunch of new mutants doing mutanty stuff.

But before all this, we’re treated to a grandiose, CGI-laden prologue set in ancient Egypt. It turns out that mutants have always living been among us and were responsible for building the pyramids. Or something.

It’s here that we first meet the aptly named Apocalypse; a mutant-cum-Egyptian god hell-bent on world domination. Luckily, things don’t go according to plan and he ends up getting buried alive for 6000 years. His inevitable resurrection from the rubble triggers the events in the movie and it’s up to Xavier’s ragtag bunch of mutants to stop him.

We should point out that Apocalypse is a hilariously goofy villain. He reminded me of the brother from Everybody Loves Raymond with clown makeup slapped on his face. It’s obvious they were going for something different, but his dour, sleepwalking performance isn’t particularly menacing.

"Another gift for Raymond!"

His trio of new henchmen – including future X-Men member Storm/Ororo Munroe – suffer from the opposite problem: they’re way too colourful and outlandish to take seriously. They all look like Skeletor’s B-team henchmen from He-Man: Masters Of The Universe.

This would normally be fine for a comic book movie, but X-Men: Apocalypse frequently seeks to be portentous. For example, there’s a scene where these ultra-cartoony, lycra-clad villains are hanging out in the ruins of Auschwitz. This is all kinds of wrong.

X-Men: Apocalypse also borrows too heavily from its superior predecessors. There’s another scene of Magneto denouncing humanity in the face of a personal tragedy, another power play from the mutant-hating Colonel Stryker, another Quicksilver slow-mo pop music sequence, another unexpected attack on the Xavier Institute and another cameo from a certain Weapon X.

Hell, they even trot out that flashback of kid-Magneto tussling with Nazis while bending gates again. By our count, this scene has now appeared in the X-Men movies four times.

There’s arguably nothing wrong with delivering more of what audiences want – after all, it works for James Bond, Fast & Furious and The Avengers. With that said, you have to give us something fresh. This just feels like the same movie as its direct predecessor but with more CGI. Ironically given its subject matter, the X-Men franchise has refused to evolve.

X-Men Apocalypse is in theaters nationally from today.


Comments

    Has Marvel still got the current comic book incarnation of the X-Men in the nether-realm/limbo/phantom zone or whatever the equivalent of a dormant IP is over there?

    Killing off your most recognisable character while the actor portraying him practically carried the franchise kicking and screaming into the mainstream was damn cold.

      Marvel controls the comic books whilst Fox controls the movies. So yeah. Cold.

      Marvel kills off their popular characters quite often.

      Usually they get better though.

      What? No, X-men has many on-going IP's including the main characters.
      There was a big split before Secret Wars over the last few years where the x-men turned into 2 different comic book series, one about Cyclops and friends and the other about Wolverine and Friends. Since Secret Wars, there are 2 more series which are going strong.

      The big thing was they've made it so mutants are not constantly appearing, so they don't give fox more characters to work with in their IP's. I think it's standard now that mutants are instead "inhumans".

      The only one that is really "dormant" due to licencing issues is Fantastic Four.

      Also, I'm not sure what character you are refering to being killed off and don't want to say due to spoilers. But I mean, if its the one I'm thinking of, they have a replacement from the multi-dimensional battleworld secret wars stuff in the main universe atm.

      Last edited 19/05/16 9:31 pm

        I really like what Marvel did with the Fantastic Four family in the culmination of secret wars, it's a brilliant way of putting their series on hold.

    Pretty average movie. It was something that I could watch once, but there is no way I will probably watch it again.

    My question with every one of these X-men movies is why take interesting characters and dumb them down into vanilla boredom. In the first one: We've got a sassy southern gal who can fly and is almost indestructible, but struggles with horrible feelings of isolation due to the nature of her powers... nah whiny teenage damsel in distress is better. Now I can't help but feeling ripped off with psylocke apparently being another uninspired bit part. They took what looked cool about the character and just dumped what actually made her interesting.

    I haven't seen this yet and probably won't. Either give the characters the space and time they need and just have less of them or... no.. just do that.

    I'll watch it. I watch all of them, why stop now?

    What's the point of writing a review with deliberate spoilers? Surely the main audience for a review is people who have not yet seen the film...

    just watched it and i thought it was fantastic .. don't get the hate and the mixed reviews

    I really enjoyed it but the first thing I thought when I walked out of the cinemas was, if you're not an X-men fan then you'll struggle with this. It's very much a case of "Here's some x-men characters that you know and love, but we're not going to provide back story 'cause you're all fans, right?"

    As a fan though, loved it.

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