Right up there with The Watcher and Ego The Living Planet, Apocalypse has to be pretty high on the short list of Marvel Comics concepts thought unadaptable into live action. Which is what makes the fact that Apocalypse himself is probably the best thing about X-Men Apocalypse so surprising, especially from the same studio that once gave us an evil storm cloud as a villain and blasphemously called it “Galactus”. But in a post MCU world is a good comic book movie good enough? With the near perfection of Captain America: Civil War still in theaters? Sure this is decent summer popcorn blockbuster fare, as all the X-Men movies have been (even reviled installments The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine aren’t without their guilty charms), but as adaptations of beloved decades old comic lore, they continue to fall disappointingly short of what Marvel themselves have achieved.
Apocalypse bursts on the scene in the usual fashion, though with less gravitas than in any of his comic appearances, taking some of the spark out of En Sabah Nur, “the first one”, a mutant Egyptian god with near omnipotence and limitless telekinetic, telepathic, size shifting and astral projection abilities, and his “survival of the fittest” plan of worldwide desolation that will leave only the most capable of survivors, to bask in a new golden age. Star Wars favorite Oscar Isaac imbues the mutant supremacist with a soft spoken candor, a believable ability to attract young, wayward mutants to join his cause, though that does make Magneto’s devotion to Nur a bit of a head scratcher.
Michael Fassbender continues to be a revelation in every second of screen time he gets as the mutant master of magnetism, but even after a catastrophic event sees the idyllic, “normal” life he’s built for himself in the ten years since Days of Future Past crumble before his eyes, it’s hard to believe Eric Lensherr would side with Apocalypse for a plan that is tantamount to worldwide genocide. Comics readers, knowing Apocalypse’s strength and influence from the source material will probably shrug and say “okay”, movie fans will be wondering why the hell the once mighty Magneto is all of a sudden taking orders from this blue guy.
But make no mistake, though the rushed and jumbled plot do him no favors Isaac is outstanding in the role, pity then that his Horsemen (aside from Magneto), especially Olivia Munn’s heavily promoted Psylocke, amount to little more than set dressing, though the use of Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen” during Angel’s recruitment scene was probably the highlight of the movie for me. The new faces on the heroes’ side fare a bit better, though no amount of X-Men Evolution aping charm will get me to sign off on that Nightcrawler (Kodi Smitt-McPhee) haircut. The budding romance of mutant prom king and queen Scott “Cyclops” Summers and Jean Grey is played to perfection, young Tye Sheridan (Mud) and Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner perfectly embodying the comfort the young couple find in one another, both being the most dangerous and unpredictable mutants on the burgeoning X-campus, and their uncontrollable powers unleashed in the film’s climax are another highlight. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is yet again a joy to behold, the one thing the X-films have gotten right over Marvel’s, given the botched execution of the character in Age of Ultron. His sardonic wit and awesomely realized power set are no longer the shock they were in Days of Future Past, but are still quite the relief in these somewhat downbeat and dour proceedings.
Dour is definitely the order of the day here. Jennifer Lawrence’s well publicized distain for her continued participation in the franchise seems to have trickled right down into her character, and with Mystique at the forefront of the plot as an in-universe mutant folk hero transitioning her into the de-facto leader of the X-Men by film’s end, Fox’s X-Verse seems to have no problem letting Deadpool have all the fun. Not that Mystique was ever a ray of hope and sunshine in the comics, but trying to make her a full-fledged hero here (due more to Lawrence’s increased Hollywood profile than any sensible plot direction) just doesn’t work. It’s kind of a shame, as while there is some decent comic relief to be had here (mostly courtesy of the aforementioned Peters), there’s no reason why X-Men can’t be just as much fun as the MCU, even when they are defending the earth from both a literal and figurative “Apocalypse”. That wordless Wolverine cameo (the movie’s worst kept secret) doesn’t help much either, as more participation from the franchise’s stalwart good guy figurehead could’ve righted this ship from, as we said before, “good”, to “great”, just as it had with the previous installment.
In the end, where does this leave our mutant heroes? Lawrence, Fassbender and James McAvoy supposedly want out of the franchise, and interviews with the filmmakers tease a 90’s set follow up. With time traveler Cable set to debut in the upcoming Deadpool sequel and a Channing Tatum starring vehicle for that most 90’s of all heroes, Gambit, still “in the cards” (See what I did there?), mashing all these seemingly disparate X-concepts together into one giant, highly entertaining clusterfuck may be just the shot in the arm this franchise as a whole needs. Don’t expect Fox to put too much effort into revitalization though, reviews for this installment were all over the place but it made decent money over the holiday weekend. I guess just good really is good enough after all.