Following his work on X-Men: Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer takes the reigns again on X-Men: Apocalypse, in which the X-Men battle the original and most powerful mutant, known as Apocalypse. It was Singer who kicked off the successful X-Men franchise in 2000, followed by the blockbuster X2 in 2003.
But back to the storyline in X-Men: ApocaIypse. In Cairo in 1983, the invincible and immortal Apocalypse is set free after being entombed for several millennia. He is shocked and repulsed by the planet’s decline – the cars, the noise, the pollution – all signs of a failed world that he must cleanse. His mission: exterminate the weak and rebuild it for the strong.
As Singer says: “Apocalypse sees this as a civilization in desperate need of culling. There are false idols: people now worship money and possess nuclear weapons, which gives them a false sense of godlike power. “This does not work for Apocalypse. So he wants to put an end to it and start everything fresh again – and to reshape earth in his image.”
Enraged that his kind is no longer treated like gods, Apocalypse assembles a team of powerful mutants, including a disheartened Magneto, to destroy humankind and create a new world order, over which he will reign. To end Apocalypse’s path of global destruction, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Professor X (James McAvoy) lead a team of young X-Men in a showdown with a seemingly unstoppable enemy.
Singer was particularly drawn to Apocalypse’s self-designation as a god. He was fascinated by the notion of ancient mutant powers and what a mutant would think if he or she was born 20,000 or 30,000 years ago. They would, of course, believe they were a god and would behave as one. And they would be looked at and worshipped like a god. That is, indeed, the starting point for the film. Moviegoers got their first glimpse of Apocalypse in a post-end credits sequence in X-Men: Days of Future Past, where a younger version of the mutant was seen building pyramids telepathically while his minions looked on.
Oscar Isaac takes on the role of Apocalypse following his turn as the heroic starfighter pilot Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The blue-skinned shape-shifter Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is more Raven than Mystique in this story because she can’t be her true mutant self in a world that is not as mutant-friendly as it is perceived to be. Magneto (Michael Fassbender), too, has hidden his true self. He has hung up his cape and evil ways and is living a quiet life in Poland with his wife and young daughter. But then tragedy strikes.
As for the driving force of the group, Professor Charles Xavier, he remains the world’s most powerful telepath. He has rededicated himself to building his School for Gifted Children as a safe haven for mutants learning how to control their powers. When all hell breaks loose he has to call upon some of his young charges to step up. It is Xavier and his team of X-Men versus a newly assembled band of warriors led by Apocalypse.
I liked the set up and the back stories as to who is who in the zoo and why they are where they are. It drew me in and kept me engaged, elongated though it was. The opening, too, is compelling, establishing the omnipotent powers of the ancient and otherworldly lead villain. I also appreciated the time taken to establish the respective personalities of the mutants, with some – like Magneto and Raven/Mystique – given more time than others.
The new kids on the block – characters familiar to audiences as fully-fledged heroes, but not in the younger forms in which we see them here – add insight and interest. Foremost among them are Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), who has the dual powers of telepathy and telekinesis, and Scott Summers, aka Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), who shoots powerful red rays from his eyes. Both their superpowers are yet to be controlled. In Cyclops’ case, his optic blasts can only be contained by wearing custom ruby quartz glasses.
The action sequences and occasional humour don’t disappoint, although the film’s lengthy running time started to wear thin. Also – another general comment about the rise and rise of comic superheroes – it is all becoming a bit much and confusing for me, especially when there are simply so many of them. Then you have to remember just who did what to whom in a previous installment. I am suffering from cartoon turned live action overload.
Nevertheless to give X-Men: Apocalpyse its due, it continues to entertain. As a final note, do stay on until after the final credits because a short sequence points to the next installment. Rated MA, it scores a 7 ½ out of 10.
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: James McAvoy, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jennifer Lawrence, Olivia Munn
Release Date: 19 May 2016
Rating: M – Frequent action violence and infrequent coarse language
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television