On the way home from seeing the oft neglected middle child of summer comic films that isn’t Captain America: Civil War or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I began explaining how the continuity from X-Men: Apocalypse played out in the comics to my erstwhile and long suffering movie going companion; the origins of Apocalypse, where he (may have) got his tech, the relevance of the after credits scene, how it all tied together, and so on and so forth. When I got to the time travel aspects regarding Cable, after explaining his birth from a clone of Jean Grey who wasn’t really the Phoenix after all, she told me to, and I’m quoting exactly; “Shut the f$&k up. You’re ruining the movie for me.”
Needless to say (but I’m going to anyway), X-Men: Apocalypse plays fast and loose with the source material, and for that we should all give thanks to En Sabah Nur or the Phoenix Force or Stan Lee. Of course, more so than many of its contemporaries, it also plays fast and loose with basic physics. And the way the human body ages. I mean, Mystique is a shapeshifter, but what’s Professor X’s and Magneto’s secret? After doing the math, I’m left with nothing to do but ask “what moisturizer does Charles use, and where can I buy it?”
Maybe the Disney Marvel films have raised the bar to such a degree that nothing short of a one round knockout registers with critics as a success anymore. If it isn’t a fresh young franchise like Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy then the people who make money doing what I’m idiotically doing for free think it must therefore be a failure.
And X-Men: Apocalypse does have failings; like some of the casting, a performance by Jennifer Lawrence that feels more like a bet to see how badly she has to play the character before they’ll replace her, the grossly misallocated screen time for some characters (bye Jubilee!), including an unnecessary but probably legally obligated appearance by a certain clawed Canadian, and the recycling of gimmicks from previous films. Too often, the director Bryan Singer takes the easy way out, for instance, by employing another Quicksilver-moving-fast-while-everyone-is-a-statue-set-to-cool-music scene. It works, oh, how it works! But it also feels a little cheap, like when your partner starts getting affectionate to distract you from an argument they don’t want to concede even when they know you’re right. And exactly how fast would Quicksilver’s music have to be playing for him to hear it normally at super speed? It’s Alvin and the Chipmunks singing the 80s on amphetamines!
Yet with all that, still Apocalypse satisfies the very basic needs of a good fun superhero flick. The return/origin/recasting of Cyclops and Jean Grey bring back the vibe of what worked in the original trilogy of films while keeping the rebooted feel begun with First Class and capped with Days of Future Past. In many ways, we’ve come full circle now, with this film serving as the bridge between the two trilogies (at least until the inevitable next one), and we get to enjoy the best of both worlds. Aside from the overused Lawrence, the rest of the cast give great performances, with Michael Fassbender apparently putting his heart into every role he gets. His portrayal and struggle are the secret and true soul of the movie, and he and James McAvoy ease the absence of the characters’ original performers. I was skeptical about both Olivia Munn as Psylocke and Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse, but for the most part they both sold me. The rest of the new cast take on the mantle of the franchise with competence. If they give her something to do, Alexandra Shipp has the potential to be awesome, and I don’t hate Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, which is progress! Besides, we can finally see Sansa Stark kick butt and move forward in period piece work that probably won’t involve
swords and resurrected characters dragons and copious nudity.
The pacing is a bit slow in the first third of the movie, but after the establishing acts, it picks up and hold steady toward the climactic final battle, full of the expected explosions, cool powers, combat, and philosophical tongue lashings from Professor X. Also, for the readers, there’s more than a few Easter eggs for the next installment set in the 90s, which I am here and now betting is called X-Men: Mutants On Line, where the gang is inundated with CDs nearly daily for dial up internet.
Now the question becomes, is X-Men: Apocalypse fit to survive? Has the franchise evolved into a superior movie going experience that would justify, if not their dominance, than at least their continued survival at the box office? Let’s do the Punnett squares and get that sweet sweet Geek Stranger Score.
Despite what may be franchise burnout on the part of the director and leading lady, it looks like the uncanny student body will live to fight another day. In relation to previous X-Men movies, it isn’t as good as X2 or Days of Future Past, but matches in quality the original X-Men and the underrated First Class. Nothing for it now but to look forward to X-Men:Grunge