Movie review: ‘Apocalypse’ a great summer blockbuster
–The modern wave of comic book franchises owe a lot to the X-Men. Back in 2000, when director Bryan Singer gave the world “The X-Men” as part of that summer’s offerings, the landscape at the movies looked very different.
In 2000 Marvel was still eight years away from launching its empire, Christopher Nolan hadn’t started filming on his first Batman film and Tobey Maguire had yet to embody Spider-Man on the big screen. Comic book films were a rare find after the Superman franchise died out in the 1980s and the Batman franchise followed in the 1990s.
But Singer had a vision for telling a story about these heroes, who I loved watching in cartoon form on Saturday mornings. And his film was a hit, making many of these X-Men characters into stars.
Sixteen years later Singer is still hard at work on the franchise, which has now spawned eight films, including “X-Men: Apocalypse,” the latest film in the franchise, which opened on May 27. Though it’s not the best of the “X-Men” films, it proves the franchise still has legs. And it delivers a summer blockbuster that I’d argue is more satisfying than the heavily hyped “Captain America: Civil War.”
“Apocalypse” concludes the second trilogy of “X-Men” films, this one beginning with “X-Men: First Class,” which introduced the younger version of these characters in 1963. “Days of Future Past” advanced the story in the 1970s and now “Apocalypse” jumps to 1983, where the effects of the events in the previous installment still linger.
Eric Lenhsherr (Michael Fassbender) has dropped his Magneto persona, and sits in hiding in Europe. There he has a quiet job and he’s built a family. Others have tried to put the past behind them, too.
Charles (James McAvoy) and Hank (Nicholas Hoult) have built the school. Among their new recruits are powerful mutants Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) who struggle to control their powers.
Elsewhere, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) has tried to distance herself from Mystique as well, and spends her time avoiding the spotlight and saving mutants in trouble. Her latest project being the shifty Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). And Peter (Evan Peters) just longs to finally meet his father.
Their quiet, peaceful world is thrown into disarray when a powerful ancient mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), is awakened. He sets his sights on conquering the world, and recruits some powerful mutants — Angel (Ben Hardy), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Psylocke (Olvia Munn) — to help him do it. When he sets his sights on a distraught Eric, it pulls in Charles and the rest of the gang as they have to prevent Apocalypse from destroying humanity to build his new world order.
“X-Men: Apocalypse” marks Singer’s fourth time in the director’s chair for X-Men films. By now, he has a great feel for the world and the characters. That makes sense when you consider he set the blue print for the tone and feel of this world back in 2000.
“Apocalypse” has to accomplish a hard task. It has to tie up all the loose strands remaining from “First Class” and “Days of Future Past” while setting up a new generation of heroes for the future. This could mark the final X-Men film for McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence, but likely won’t mark the end of these stories on screen. In addition to all that, “Apocalypse” tells a complex story that’s a rich part of the comic tradition for these heroes.
That’s a tall order, but the film handles it all well. The character introductions don’t feel rushed or forced, and all of them fit into the overall story being told here. And the payoff for this story feels move emotionally grounded and more earned as a result.
Some have quibbled that the story feels rushed. It is a lot of narrative to pack into 144 minutes. But watching the film, I felt it had a strong pace and made the most of its talented and diverse cast.
But what helped set it apart is the emotional payoff in the third act, which feels earned not only from the action in this film but in the previous two installments. This certainly feels like a concluding frame, while also offering the promise of a new beginning.
I have always appreciated the tone with which these X-Men films present the world. It feels different than the glut of superhero films out there, and works well. There are action sequences and big stakes, but there’s a more fascinating story at work. These films have always felt more cerebral than other comic book films, and that’s true of “Apocalypse” as well.
I enjoyed this film a lot. To me, it’s been the best of the summer blockbusters so far. I hope this cast makes more films, and I look forward to seeing the next generation of heroes continue to grow into their roles, too.
“X-Men: Apocalypse” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images.
Four stars out of four.