X-Men: Apocalypse (2016, Bryan Singer)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A powerful, ancient mutant is awoken in 1983 and begins his quest to wipe out humanity so the world can start again. The X-Men, including some young additions to the team, stand in his way…

Get used to multiples names…
* Charles Xavier aka Professor X (James McAvoy) is now running a private school so he can covertly help young mutants come to terms with their powers. During the action climax, he loses all his hair – we knew that would happen at some point!
* Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has gone to ground since the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) He’s living under an assumed name (Magneto incognito?) with a new wife and daughter in Poland. But when they’re killed, he goes ape and joins forces with the film’s main bad guy.
* Raven Darkhölme aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is off on her own when we first see her, helping mutants in places like East Berlin, but soon gets seconded back into the X-Men team.
* En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is possibly the first ever mutant, is incredibly powerful, and has been asleep since being betrayed in Ancient Egypt. When he wakes up he’s grouchy, so decides to kill everybody… Well, aside from a few handpicked acolytes: Psylocke (Olivia Farrington– I mean Munn), Ororo Munroe aka Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Angel (Ben Hardy). Storm defects to the good guys at the end. Psylocke sneaks off, hoping to be in the sequel.
* Hank McCoy aka Beast (Nicholas Hoult) is still Xavier’s right-hand man.
* CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) has no memory of her involvement in the events of X-Men: First Class (2011) because Charles used mind-control to give her amnesia. But she helps the team defeat Apocalypse. There’s a joke about how she looks like she hasn’t aged a day – it’s been 21 years since we last saw her, fictionally speaking! – and she mentions her son, which is seeding a potential plot for a future film.
* After his scene-stealing spot in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Peter Maximoff aka Quicksilver (Evan Peters) returns for an *even more inventive and entertaining* set-piece here, as well as generally getting more to do. It’s also confirmed that he’s Erik’s son.
* The junior members of the team – X-Men: the Next Generation? – include younger versions of characters from the original trilogy: Scott Summers aka Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
* Alex Summers aka Havok (Lucas Till) appears in his third X-Men movie.

Stan Lee cameo: During Apocalypse’s apocalyptic apocalypse, Stan Lee and his wife, Joan, appear as an elderly couple looking on in horror. It’s a lot more sombre than his usual cameos.

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that are contradicted or expanded in other movies.
* Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has a surprise cameo when the characters break into a secret research base. Because we’re now in an alternative time (thanks, Days of Future Past!) he’s kinda going through a different version of the events seen in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). To be frank, the sequence is self-indulgent and slows the pace. The film wouldn’t suffer if it had been cut.
* William Stryker also crops up: this is the character’s fourth X-Men film, but it’s the first time an actor’s played him twice.
* The character of Angel had been in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). His age makes no sense here.
* The film’s post-credits scene seems to be teasing the next solo Wolverine movie, which is due out in March 2017.

A comic-fan writes… Because I know next to nothing about the source material, I’ve asked my friend Fraser Dickson to talk about this film: “I was never a fan of Apocalypse in the comics. He seemed like this generic big bad who just wanted to rule the world. All a bit old-fashioned in comparison to the other more nuanced threats the X-Men were facing in print at that time. Unfortunately, for me, this film ended up re-enforcing that view. I say ended up because I really liked the new cast and it set off at a sprint developing into an enjoyable caper movie that really built on the strengths of First Class and ignored the worst of Days Of Future Past. Then came the world-ending CGI, which dwarfed the individual battles and stories being told and sent us back to generic disaster-movie territory with a blank villain at its centre, which, for me, sold short an otherwise enjoyable reboot…”

Review: There *are* problems. This is yet another bloody superhero film with a climax that consists of CGI buildings being destroyed. (Dear Hollywood: we’re all bored of that now. Think up something new.) And the bad guy’s not exactly what you call nuanced. But on the whole this is entertaining stuff. For a start, it shows recent rivals Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War – two movies that sag under the weight of too many characters and subplots – how to do a big-budget action film where everyone feels like a vital cog in the machine. The story has been smartly constructed so that nearly every character has a journey or a moment to shine, while the younger cast in particular are likeable, fun and work well as a team. There’s also a joyful 1980s-ness to the whole thing: Kurt wears a Michael Jackson Thriller jacket, characters go to see Return of the Jedi and make a self-deprecating gag about trilogies, there are themes of nuclear war, and Ally Sheedy pops up in a small role. Two hours zip by very enjoyably.

Eight Brooklyn Bridges out of 10

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