20th Century Fox’s X-Men: Apocalypse opens more than 2 and ½ weeks from now on May 27 in the United States. Atypically, the studio widely screened the film for critics Friday and set a universal review embargo date that just expired, days after Captain America: Civil War opened.
Translation: Fox is really, really confident in what they have on their hands, so much so they purposely arrange to have reviews debut in the wake of Civil War’s massive first weekend. And for good reason. Here is a sample of some other headlines we considered for this review:
“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE – Holy $%^#!”
“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE: Deadpool, Schmedpool”
and… “Marvel Studios, You’ve Been Served”
The last one is a joke of course, but Apocalypse is the film that finally realizes the full big-screen potential of Marvel’s X-Men franchise and elevates it to a level on par (or pretty close anyway) to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Of course with what’s likely to be a huge worldwide box office success for the film series that essentially hits the reset button, and also has more Deadpools, Gambit, X-Force and New Mutants in its future, it is becoming less and less likely the fan-dream of an integrated X-MCU Universe will ever occur. Bryan Singer giveth but Bryan Singer taketh away and it’s clear that unlike Spider-Man/Sony, Fox won’t need the MCU to help stand their Marvel franchise on its own mutant feet any time soon… but that is a topic for another day.
The director’s fourth installment at the helm plays somewhat like a cover album of all his own previous films’ biggest hits, but if the cover versions were actually better than the originals.
Love Nightcrawler’s “Bamf” opening sequence or Wolverine’s ‘beserker’ rage in the Mansion in X2? Apocalypse one ups them both, the latter in which will soon be one of the film’s most-discussed scenes .
Loved Quicksilver’s breakout super-slo-mo sequence in Days of Future Past? Apocalypse outdoes it handily, without feeling tired or derivative.
It’s as if Singer made a checklist of almost everything he knows hardcore fans really wanted to see that he either never delivered or the filmmaking tools of the time didn’t allow him to accomplish.
Cooler superhero costumes – check. Storm’s accent – check. Nightcrawler a full-fledged team member – check. The core of the most beloved comic book incarnation of the team a young fighting force – check. And so on and so on. It’s a love letter to the X-Men and make-good to fans all at the same time.
More reliant on CGI than in the past (Magneto’s flying and Beast’s acrobatics don’t look like physical wirework anymore), Apocalypse does have the mixed bag-effect of making Singer’s original X-Men from 2000 look laughably outdated while at the same time bringing the franchise around full circle (reportedly a sequel set in the 90s will complete the by-decade loop), fixing most of the shortcomings that came before.
Grander in scope than any previous film in the series, the story spends most of its first 45 minutes globetrotting to catch us with all the key characters, and introducing us to the new ones, including the young Jean, Scott and Kurt, played winningly by Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan and Kodi Smit-McPhee, respectively.
Along with Alexandra Shipp as Storm and the returning Evan Peters as Quicksilver, they make up the nucleus of a team that won’t be pushed aside by the upcoming New Mutants or X-Force. This is a roster X-Men fans are going to want to see more of, and the good news is that with Apocalypse set 30+ years in the past, there is considerable room and time to explore the primes of this X-Men team’s careers and the new teams without stepping on one another’s toes.
The other major addition is the nearly unrecognizable and controversially-purple Oscar Isaac as the ancient super-mutant Apocalypse. Rest assured, the make-up isn’t much of a distraction on the big screen and Isaac has a deal of fun with the role. Apocalypse’s M.O. is over the top even by comic book standards and screenwriter Simon Kinberg, Singer and Isaac embrace and don’t try to earnest their way over the theatrics of the character.
En Sabah Nur’s seethingly evil and Isaac expresses his contempt for everything and everyone mostly through his eyes, sometimes soliciting laughter from the audience, but in an ‘we’re in on the joke and approve’ kind of way. He’s Loki with less patience and a drier sense of irony… in a good way.
To delve much further into details would be to ruin a great deal of the fun of the movie, as Fox and Singer have done a pretty good job of not giving everything away (though we’ll see if that’s still the case by May 27). The current whereabouts and ultimate fates of several characters offer some surprises.
If there is a drawback, the bombastic final sequence may divide some audiences. It revels in a conceit that has come under criticism surrounding superhero films in recent years. If you think some of the extreme imagery you’ve seen in the trailers are dream or prophecy sequences, they’re not. And as mentioned, Singer has mostly done away with the more physical stunts and effects. The final battle heavily embraces CGI, which may be interpreted as a little too slick, or rivaling Civil War’s airport scene, depending on your POV.
Either way, Apocalypse spectacularly ends any speculation about the future of the core franchise. Xavier’s X-Men are alive and well on the big screen and are just back at the beginning fans always wanted but the franchise never had.