The most amazing facet of X-Men: Apocalypse, a middle-of-the-road X-Men movie, is the fact that it marks 16 years of X-Men movies. While 2008’s Iron Man gets all the glamour for kicking off Marvel’s MCU, it was 2000’s X-Men that launched Marvel proper, and 2003’s X2 that solidified a lifelong love of the X-Men for me.
Yet here we are 16 years later, and the X-Men franchise has found a way to navigate 6 X-Men films, 2 Wolverine offshoots, and the technically connected goodwill of Deadpool.
If This Is The Apocalypse, I Think I’ve Heard This One Before
Apocalypse itself doesn’t offer a lot of meaningful conversation. Director Brian Singer is a long ways off from X2’s actual efforts to say something, and Apocalypse is going to be visual fun for a lot of X-fans, and another karaoke round of REM’s most popular song for the summer blockbuster crowd.
At the end of the day, this sure is an X-Men movie. Visually, Apocalypse offers a greatest hits reprise for Singer in the director’s chair, with Magneto whipping metal shards through unsuspecting officer’s necks, Nightcrawler bamfing his way through incredible action sequences, and Quicksilver stopping time to exhibit an entirely implausible yet visually captivating power set.
If you like the X-Men, and you’re willing to enter with a Fast and Furious sense of humor about the silliness of all this macho action (Scene: Angel gets cool wings, throws blades at walls, flexes and pauses for righteous guitar licks), you may well love X-Men: Apocalypse. The post-First Class X-Universe hasn’t really pretended to owe anything to actual X-Men comics, so I’m more than acclimated enough to expect wild, occasionally thrilling, occasionally frustrating adaptations of well-known mutants.
Fassbender’s Magneto is still magnificent, and his performance here steals the thunder from our so called big bad. The same goes for Evan Peter’s Quicksilver, whose charisma blazes through Days of Future Past and Apocalypse, and likely marks the first time in recorded history that anyone’s favorite mutant has been Quicksilver.
Apocalypse also delivers an excellent Nightcrawler, who performs both the best fight scenes of the film and the best intentionally funny gag with a short-handed countdown. A number of X-cameos provide some fun as well, including a surprisingly interesting take on Caliban, and a wonderfully costumed appearance for everyone’s favorite Blob.
As for Apocalypse himself, well, I think we can all agree that Oscar Isaacs could have been given a juicier role. It’s not a terrible take on a very challenging character, and by comparison to some of comic book moviedom’s recent villains (Ronan the Accuser, Doomsday, Malekith the Accuser), Apocalypse is reasonably well developed. Nonetheless, he’s left vaguely all-powerful, with poorly explained motive, which is especially frustrating given that any X-fan knows Apocalypse literally has a mission statement for motive: The strong shall survive! Sure he says as much at one point, but the madman’s Darwinist ethos isn’t a part of the character throughout.
While I enjoyed the flashes of brilliance that Singer has delivered over the years, Apocalypse is ultimately tedious, and worst of all, a bit boring. We don’t ever jump straight to an in-power Apocalypse, instead getting slow introductions and rise for the better part of this third film in the franchise.This is particularly devastating for the clean-up hitter in 2016’s comic book movie lineup, and if you’re one of the many movie goers thinking “Do I really need another comic book movie,” in the case of X-Men: Apocalypse, you really just do not.
Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me, In 2024?
All that said, the question I find most compelling is whether X-Men has aged well, and whether other comic book movie franchises can learn anything from the longest running property in cinema?
When faced with decisions of longevity, most comic book franchises have simply rebooted from the bottom up. We’ve seen this now with Hulk (3 times), Spider-Man (3 times), and the Fantastic Four (may we all sleep well and forget).
X-Men: First Class looked like it was taking the same approach with a new cast, and Director Matthew Vaughn’s effective jump back to the 1960’s. Then Days of Future Past rolled around, and suddenly, everything old was new again.
It was perhaps nothing more than an excuse to throw Ian Mckellan and Patrick Stewart into another X-Men movie (always a good call), but the timey-wimey “don’t think about it too hard or you’ll ruin it for yourself” ending of Days of Future Past looped continuity back in on itself.
This approach has allowed for some compelling intersection of characters, but it also creates some major continuity headaches and “no prize” solutions. For example, the X-Men just met Nightcrawler, and he joined the team, but in X2 the X-Men meet Nightcrawler for the first time. Wha??? Huh???!
Given the familiarity both the Marvel and DC Universe’s have to time travel mechanisms, you can’t rule out a similar approach for when the MCU and DCEU reach their inevitable real world capacity, but it certainly feels like the most complex approach imaginable. That said, I’d be just fine with Kang or Braniac resetting the timeline in favor of new, younger actors and actresses (when the time comes of course).
What I’d actually prefer, and this is where X-Men is trying to have its cake and eat it too, is a version of heroic legacy and new character additions. So when it’s time for our brand new Spider-Man to move on, the MCU doesn’t recast Peter Parker; instead it casts Miles Morales. When the Flash decides its time for Barry Allen to sacrifice himself for the universe; we cast Wally West.
This approach has proven wildly successful across DC proper, and of course Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, and it’s definitely the long term strategy I’m most in favor of as the comic book movie landscape steamrolls into waters that until now only the X-Men have swam.
Final Takes (Spoilers Follow!)
1) Apocalypse Is Cool?
If you’re left wondering why X-Men fans are into Apocalypse, I can’t blame you. I can recommend you check out Age of Apocalypse, and see what the strongest survivor looks like in the right hands.
2) Psylocke, The Mute
Congrats to Olivia Munn for having the coolest character reveal in the trailers, and absolutely nothing to do in the actual movie. I don’t even have an opinion on whether or not she was a good Psylocke given the barely-there role.
3) The Four Boredoms Of The Apocalypse
The four mutants chosen as the horsemen of Apocalypse are always one of the coolest parts of any Apocalypse story. Aside from Magneto who is already a well-established character in the X-Universe, the remaining horsemen were sadly wasted set pieces. Perhaps none more egregiously than Angel, our petulant, worthless, never actually labeled Horsemen of Death!
4) X-Men Power Rankings!
X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t the best X-Men movie this year (Congrats, Colossus!), but it is pretty much middle of the pack all time:
- X2: X-Men United
- X-Men: Days of Future Past
- X-Men (X1)
- X-Men: Apocalypse
- X-Men: First Class
- The Wolverine (Wolverine 2)
- Images of Eyeballs being dissected
- X3: The Last Stand
- Wolverine Origins
5) Better Than First Class?
I’ll have to watch First Class again to verify which film I like more, but for all my nitpicking, I’m reasonably sure I prefer a movie with a cool Nightcrawler and Weapon X destruction to a film with Mystique as the main character.
6) Speaking of Mystique…
Oh boy what a bunch of nothing. At what point does Jennifer Lawrence just assert her stardom and say, “Listen X-folks, it’s clear none of us are feeling this anymore, let’s just all agree to move on, huh?”
7) Hey Eric!
2016’s award winner for unintentionally funniest moment in an X-Men movie.
8) Astral Plane
I got all excited for a Professor X and Apocalypse showdown on the Astral Plane, and instead I just got a tall Apocalypse giving Professor X a slow back massage with his big fist. I would have been entirely fine if the filmmakers had just inserted X2 Legends: Rise of Apocalypse cutscenes of Professor X in gladiator attire. Ball’s still in your court Doctor Strange!
I loved the final reveal of the more classic X-Men costumes, particularly my all-time favorite, mister Kurt Wagner in the sleek red V. Although it leaves me wondering… why didn’t we just start there? This is the 6th movie in this franchise!
While I’m pumped for the end credits reveal setting up Wolverine 3, I do have to wonder who in their right mind would have insisted on placing Jubilee in the 80’s X-Men movie rather than simply waiting for the 90’s!
What do you think? Is X-Men Apocalypse actually one of the better X-Men movies, or a let down? Do what feels right to you in the comments.