By Tim Murr
My first X-Men comic was The Uncanny X-Men #234, from September 1988. From then on I was hooked, collecting every new issue for the next eight years along with as many back issues as I could afford. The Uncanny X-Men was one of the best mainstream comics out there and this was the era when Ann Nocenti and John Romita, Jr. were doing Daredevil and Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle were doing Detective Comics, so that’s really saying something. I stuck with the X-Men until their books narratively crashed and burned and didn’t come back until Grant Morrison made it all better.
When the first X-Men film came out in 2000, well ahead of the current super hero movie boom (only preceded by four bad Batman films, one under the radar Punisher, a horrifyingly bad Captain America, an unreleased and horrifyingly bad Fantastic Four, four good to awful Superman movies, a shit Spawn, and a pretty good Blade), I was apprehensive, especially after seeing the trailer. I was happy with the team they picked and the cast, but the costumes—those boring black leather suits—just rubbed me the wrong way. I wound up really enjoying it though, along with X-2, X-Men: Last Stand, First Class, and Days Of Future Past. None of these films are flawless and as a long time X-Fan I’ve found a number of things to be annoyed about, but as a whole I’m happy. We’ve gotten way better X-films than I’d ever thought we would.
This year’s big X-Men event, Apocalypse, is a big, loud, fun, and emotional continuation of the X-Reboot that started with First Class. It’s now 1983 and we get to meet a young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp) along with returning favorites Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Havok (Lucas Till), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Newcomers Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy: as our third Angel in these films), and Jubilee (Lana Condor: our second Jubilee, yeah background character in X-2) are all solid, but what about the main villain? Oscar Isaac plays the film’s namesake Apocalypse, a.k.a. En Sabah Nur, an ancient being and probably the first mutant, one who has laid dormant for thousands of years.
Apocalypse always has four main followers, or Horsemen. This time he chooses Storm, Psylocke, Angel, and Magneto. Shipp and Hardy outshine the other Storm and Angel(s) we’ve seen in previous films, for the brief amount of screen time they get. Likewise, Munn is fantastic as Psylocke, with one of the most comic-accurate looks of any character in the franchise (at least in the form she’s currently known: the real Psylocke, was a purple-haired Brit, who kicked a lot of ass before going through the Siege Perilous and being reborn as a second-rate Elektra knock off).
Fassbender, as well as McAvoy, almost take a backseat to their younger co-stars, which I think is fitting, because like the comics, the franchise needs to be able to move forward without relying on Professor X and Magneto (hell, the most interesting relationship in the comics for decades has been between Cyclops and Wolverine, anyway.) I’ve never seen Fassbender or McAvoy not deliver strong performances, even in weaker movies, and Apocalypse is no exception.
As much as I’ve loved the X-Men, I never gave a shit about Apocalypse. I expected him to at least be more interesting in the film since he was being played by Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Ex Machina star Oscar Isaac, but shockingly he doesn’t do much or bring much to the character. Not that there aren’t some great moments with Isaac, it’s just that he’s stuck in a mildly interesting character that no one could really do better. That’s not the ruination of Apocalypse, though. If nothing else it’s a good stepping stone to better movies with better villains, with the younger core X-Men growing into their roles.
The real criticism I have towards the X-films in general is that it takes too long between films and each one has to be a big end of the world scenario. The strength in the classic X-Men books didn’t lie in world-ending events, but in the opposing philosophies, interpersonal relationships, and great characters. It would be nice to get some slightly smaller stories. Include some villains that weren’t so over powered, like The Marauders, The Reavers, the return of the Hellfire Club, and The Brotherhood of Mutants. The X-Men have an amazingly rich cast of characters that can’t necessarily end the world or need Magneto or Professor X.
Still, I really liked X-Men Apocalypse and I’m looking forward to the next installment. Like all the X-films before it, it had moments of shining brilliance and moments that will inspire some head scratching and whispered “why?”s, but so does any super hero film, including Civil War and The Dark Knight.
Bottom line: if you were a fan of the films before, you’ll like this one; if you weren’t, it’s not going to change your mind.