Counterpoint: “X-Men: Apocalypse” Is Better Than You’ve Heard

By Jamie Schiffer

The first round of reviews for “X-Men: Apocalypse” was discouragingly negative, particularly after strong critical receptions for the last two films in the franchise (“X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men: Days Of Future Past”), which really reset the series. But having seen the movie now, I can assure fans of the franchise that it’s not bad. Actually, it’s pretty good. Sure, it might be a little bit more overblown than “First Class” and a little looser with its plot than “Days Of Future Past,” but I’d still count it as one of the better films in the franchise.

“X-Men: Apocalypse,” for those who may not be familiar with the comic plot, tells the story of the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), being rediscovered after spending millennia underground. He has the power to transfer his consciousness to a new being before dying, and when he does so he gains that new being’s power as his own (if indeed it’s another mutant). Thus, over the course of his immortal life, he’s gained enough abilities to essentially become an all-powerful mutant. When he resurfaces, he immediately embarks on a quest to gather a small mutant army and cleanse (erm, destroy) the Earth to create a better one. And of course, it’s up to the X-Men and the ever-reconciling frenemies Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Eric Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) to save the day.

So what is it that works well in this film? I’ll just go point-by-point.

To begin with, the leads are terrific. McAvoy has gotten the role of Professor X down to a science, and at this point there’s just something immensely satisfying about his calm, wise leadership of the X-Men academy he so desperately wants to lead. Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), whose possible departure from the franchise has been a distracting rumor (by no fault of her own), does a subtly skillful job of once again portraying her character’s inner struggle between Xavier’s peace and Lensherr’s war. And Fassbender may just deliver the finest acting performance we’ve yet seen in a superhero movie, beginning the film living as a normal man but ultimately being pulled back into the struggle for mutant freedom that always drives him to violence. These three carried an imperfect script, and frankly probably could have carried a worse one.

Next, the general character focus finally feels about right. The X-Men films have really jumped around over time incorporating different characters, and it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s meant to be at the center of the story aside from Xavier and Lensherr. Interestingly enough, the best approximation of the gang that’s migrated to the core comes from an arcade slot machine featured among games with characters from other major films and pop-culture events. There we see Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine at the center of a cast of characters who appear as icons on a slot reel including Storm, Beast, Mystique, Cyclops, and of course Xavier and Lensherr.

That’s not to say the slot game foretold the film’s focus, but it is an intriguing combination of characters from years of X-Men films. And it’s largely that group that dominates “Apocalypse,” though Jackman has only a cameo role while Quicksilver (Evan Peters) has a significant role. Altogether, this central group has great chemistry though, and as a result there’s something about “Apocalypse” that just feels complete.

Sticking with characters, Oscar Isaac’s take on Apocalypse is a lot better than it looked in posters and previews. Frankly, he appeared to be an even more robotic and soulless version of Ronan The Accuser from “Guardians Of The Galaxy,” and I do have some issues with his costume. He’s supposed to look at least a little bit like a pharaoh (he was last in ancient Egypt before he rises in the 1980s in this film), but the costume looked oddly robotic. The performance, while stiff, was intentionally so.

For his part, Isaac said he was sure his take on the character wouldn’t be everyone’s favorite, but it was actually a pretty clever version. Isaac moves through the movie with a quiet arrogance and visible disconnect from the modern world; you truly get the feeling that he views humanity as an anthill, and yet something about him seems sad and vulnerable. Isaac’s take seems t
o come from the idea that a god-like being on Earth would be all-powerful but lonely, and it works pretty well—particularly as a contrast to Xavier’s assertion that the X-Men don’t have to be alone.

Finally, it’s also important to note that the elements of this movie that don’t work are largely left in the background. For instance, the portrayal of a somewhat-ridiculous ancient Egypt run by mutants and spells sets a pretty rough tone in the opening five minutes or so, but is quickly left behind in favor of a more modern movie. Olivia Munn’s Psylocke was written in abruptly and lazily but she’s really not on screen much unless she’s joining in a fight filled with more compelling characters. And for each cringeworthy one-liner, there was a genuinely funny line to lend the movie a sense of self-awareness.

None of this is meant to suggest that “X-Men: Apocalypse” is a perfect movie. But it’s probably better than you’ve heard, and in my mind it’s perfectly worthy of the two terrific films that preceded it.

This is a guest review from Jamie Schiffer. The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of this website or other content creators.

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