********* 7 out of 10 *********
Director: Bryan Singer
Actors: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Issac
The X-Men series chugs on with its ninth movie, X-Men: Apocalypse. The series is not as prolific as the Disney/Marvel franchise which has had as many as thirteen movies in half the time, but nonetheless, X-Men movies have now scaled up to match the other Marvel characters in terms of presentation and box-office performance. This is largely due to the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair in 2014 for X-Men: Days of Future Past which was breathtakingly beautiful in its execution of quite a complicated storyline. This was followed up by the resounding success of Deadpool, made on a much lower budget, but becoming the biggest grosser of the series so far. X-Men: Apocalypse too has the grandiose touch that you would now expect from movies of this franchise, with amazing visual effects that you dare not miss, and a greater evil than ever seen before in the form of Apocalypse. While X-Men: Days of Future Past was a fight to save the mutants, X-Men: Apocalypse is supposed to be a bigger fight to save the planet itself from annihilation. And while Bryan Singer takes his characters in the right direction, the screenplay this time lacks the brilliance of his preceding movie which does not allow it to match the greatness of X-Men: Days of Future Past.
X-Men: Apocalypse is set in the 1980s, a decade after the events of the preceding movie. Professor X has built his ‘School for the Gifted’, Magneto is living in hiding far away from America, Mystique is still trying to figure out where she stands. Their paths cross once again when an old being, a far dangerous and powerful mutant – Apocalypse – resurfaces and decides to do away with our existing civilisation so as to begin a new one. The story here is far simpler than Bryan Singer’s previous X-Men movies, be it the original one in 2000 or the most recent one in 2014. Here we have a typical villain who has to be beaten, though being such a powerful being, more than one hero will be needed for this job. So Bryan Singer has packed this movie with lots of them, something that he usually manages to do with relative ease. Younger versions of Cyclops, Storm and Jean Grey are introduced and so are the mutants Angel and Psylocke. Nightcrawler is re-introduced while Quicksilver returns from his exploits in the 2014 flick. And we have the old bunch of Professor X, Magneto, Raven and Beast along with Havok.
Bryan Singer has once again deftly managed to have a big set of mutants on-board without overcrowding the space. Most of them get a good enough backstory and share enough screen time to create a connection with the audience. That’s the kind of expertise which Singer brings to this franchise which no other director has been able to match. The screenplay by Simon Kinberg though is duller than his work in X-Men: Days of Future Past. The movie’s straightforward theme makes it less intriguing as compared to the other X-Men movies from Bryan Singer. Somewhere in the middle the movie seems too stretched – it has a 2 hour 24 minutes runtime! – and the pace slackens off. I especially disliked the piece when the villain Apocalypse goes about selecting his four horsemen, which basically involves recruiting the first four mutants that Apocalypse finds rather than giving it any serious thought.
The dull middle section of the movie still is worth enduring considering the grand scale at which the climax is shot. It is Bryan Singer at his best. The camera keeps moving around, from one set of mutants to another, from one drama to the next, from one fight to the other. There is no time to blink, no time to even check if you have been holding your breath for too long. Each mutant has his big role to play in that finale, but the one who stands out, and in fact has been doing so ever since X-Men: First Class, is James McAvoy as Charles Xavier. There is a calmness even in his anger, that reminds us so much of Patrick Stewart’s Xavier; there is a goodness in his heart that can move you, there is conviction in his beliefs that can inspire you, as James McAvoy once again delivers an excellent performance to move away from the shadows of Patrick Stewart and finally claim Charles Xavier to be his own character. Michael Fassbender as Magneto too proves to be a strong and imposing personality once more in X-Men: Apocalypse, holding that rage within him which makes him so different than Professor X. The chemistry though between the Professor and Magneto does not shine in the way it used to in the past, and the clash of their ideologies seems repetitive. Jennifer Lawrence is comfortable in her blue skin as Mystique/Raven, though I would have loved to see a bit of a fight in her character the way it came out in X-Men: Days of Future Past. It is always good to see Nicholas Hoult on screen who is charming as Hank McCoy and ferocious as Beast, and bringing back Rose Byrne as Moira creates a stronger connection with X-Men: First Class and widens the role of Professor X too.
The cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel is again outstanding, and that should be no surprise since he has worked on all the Bryan Singer X-Men movies, and would be at ease in understanding Singer’s requirements. The music by John Ottman keeps the tension levels raised through most parts of the film, syncing nicely with the events on screen. And it is the introduction of some fresh blood which reinvigorates the movie, be it the rebellious-looking Tye Sheridan as Cyclops or Sophie Turner as the powerful but scared Jean Grey or Kodi Smit-McPhee as the adorable Nightcrawler. Evan Peters returns as Quicksilver, and if you loved him and his pace in the previous movie, you are going to be cheering for him more in this one. Ben Hardy (Angel), Alexandra Shipp (Storm) and Olivia Munn (Psylocke) have little in terms of back-stories to be seen anything more than Apocalypse’s henchmen. As for Apocalypse himself, Oscar Issac shines in the awesome power of this formidable mutant, killing off people without a care, handling the likes of Magneto and Professor X with ease. The make-up work done on Issac is noteworthy, and so is the opening sequence which introduces Apocalypse in old Egypt many centuries back.
X-Men: Apocalypse is a fine spectacle, enjoyable and entertaining, with the elements of a typical Hollywood blockbuster in place. It however does not rise above X-Men: Days of Future Past, and so a direct comparison will leave you feeling disappointed. But in a year when superheroes have been treated with such disrespect as in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Bryan Singer still cares about the franchise which he has created and its characters, and I would love to see him taking the X-Men franchise forward into greater perils, greater darkness, so that our heroes can shine brighter and inspire us again.