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X-Men: Apocalypse - Review: 2nd Class but still delivers

X-Men: Apocalypse - Review: 2nd Class but still delivers
7 out of 10

In 1983, after laying dormant for thousands of years the all powerful mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Issacs – The Force Awakens), awakens to take over the world with the help of his Four Horsemen: Archangel, Storm, Psylocke and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) must reluctantly lead Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and a new generation of X-Men to stop him.

Now before I go any further let’s be clear: I enjoyed this film. However, there are arguably more negative talking points about it than positive so as I continue, it may seem like I’m getting overly down on it but please understand that I still had a fun time watching it. X-Men: Apocalypse is not a bad film, it is a good film with problems, some of which are fundamental. The biggest comes from the film’s approach in that tries to be two ends of the same stick. It wants to be an ending --to give a sense of closure and trilogy feel to the films from First Class onwards. While at the same time, it wants to be a new beginning as it launches a new generation of younger principle recasting (the Second Class if you will) for a whole new line of films. It has the capability to do both and achieves each in some sense but both factions spend the entire film wrestling for screen time because there just isn’t enough time to tell both stories to their full potential. It’s nowhere near as bad as Batman V Superman for cramming too much in but particularly as both sides square up for the big CG budget=breaking finale after not a huge amount of story developments you’ll be left with a sense of, “Is that it?”.

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Now at the same time, that pulls back to a big strength of the film. X-Men: Apocalypse has a huge cast but while it may struggle to get around every character, some of its character arcs are outstanding. We saw with Days of Future Past the advantage of the decade skipping approach: it allows all the aftermath and fallout of the prior film to be explored while allowing the characters to be believably repositioned into any circumstances. Here we see that 10 years after, mutants became full public knowledge, and they are treated with fear and even violence such as the mutant salve fight club at which we meet Angel (Ben Hardy – Eastenders) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee – Slow West).

Then we find Michael Fassbender’s Eric/Magneto retiring into civilian hiding with a new family to boot, only to be traumatically forced back into his old life. It gives an excellent theme of destiny and a hint of tragedy that befits his stance an anti-hero as much as a villain: that whether he likes it or not, he is Magneto because people will never stop seeing him as an all powerful threat. Then we have a mirroring arc with Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique. Having publicly saved the president last time around, she’s now become the poster girl for all young mutants with even runaways like the young street thief Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp – Straight Outta Compton) knowing who she is but hiding from the responsibility in a great contrast to her classic, “Mutant and proud” stance. She doesn’t want to be mutant poster girl at a time when humans are all too keen to tear them down. This also leads in well to the idea of her reluctantly leading the new X-Men team by being someone that inspires them. Then on top of that, we to meet Scott Summers/Cyclops first discovering his powers and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner – Game of Thrones) still coming to terms with her powers in the sense of meeting these new team members at their coming of age.

Another heavy element that becomes a source of positives and negatives is the “greatest hits” approach the film takes towards its back catalogue (even the ones that technically don’t exist anymore after the timeline reset). Some of this is fantastic in achieving the desired impression of coming full circle: that the events of this film see the birth of the X-Men as we came to meet them back in 2000's first film. The Mansion interiors both above and below look straight out of Bryan Singer’s original and will create some very warm feelings among long standing fans. Similarly, bringing back Rose Byrne’s Moira MacTaggert and using Havoc for more than a cameo pull in welcome material form First Class, and the film is littered is Easter Egg gem’s visual references to classic dialogue reprisals. Yet at the same time, there are some strolls down memory lane that are nothing but time consuming detours.

Magneto’s WW2 prison camp memories get pointlessly dragged out again for emotional drive right after he’s just been though something as traumatic so much that the film treads all over its point rather than just making it. Then William Styker and the Weapon X get needlessly thrown into the mix and feel more than anything else like something that could have been easily cut to ease the overcrowding. Yet the most surprising flop of all is the film’s much hyped big Quicksilver slow motion/speed running sequence. It’s counterpart in Days of Future Past was in most people’s eyes the best scene in the film and maybe even of the entire franchise. Despite raising some smiles, this encore offering merely feels like more of the same that despite Time in a Bottle making way for the Eurhythmics feels like someone left the same record playing. Although its results will (even if unintentionally) give anyone that enjoyed February’s Deadpool one of the film’s biggest laughs.

However, like any good superhero movie, X-Men: Apocalypse does deliver on having great action and visual spectacle making for an enjoyable blockbuster viewing. Even if the story isn’t everything you wanted it to be, you will walk out satisfied with the entertainment with its big mutant on mutant battles, vast landscape destruction and crucially plenty of good humor. Thankfully, X-Men: Apocalypse never takes itself completely seriously with the likes of Quicksilver’s goofing and Nightcrawler’s awkwardness producing plenty of good comedy. James McAvoy even chips in well, especially during his reunion with MacTaggert. The strong character chemistry is still present from the more familiar faces but thankfully has extended to the newer cast members with Scott and Jean in particular coming across like a relationship we can invest in over the future films.

Speaking of the future, there is some clear signposting of where the franchise is heading next which supports recent rumours and stay to the end of the credits for an upcoming villain hint. The cast are too thick and vast to run through all. All of returning faces will deliver to your expectations with Fassbender being the standout. Of the new breed, Olivia Munn’s steals most of her scenes and looks utterly stunning in action. Issacs’ Apocalypse struggles for feeling too undefined both in powers and villainous motivation but is menacing when required. The only worry of the younger re-castings is Shipp’s Stormm who while doing nothing wrong, of all the four feels the least convincing in taking on the role. Smit-McPhee does great as Nightcrawler while getting bonus points to rocking the red Thriller jacket to perfection. Turner brings equal likeability, vulnerability and strength to Jean Grey while Tye Sheridan impresses by showing a more rebellious side to the Scott Summers of James Marsden’s era.

It will undoubtedly give you no shortage of comment-trolling material but despite a lot of early reviews heavily criticizing the film, if you’ve liked the X-Men film franchise to date, you will enjoy this film and leave glad that you chose to see it. It is not the best film in the franchise but it is miles above being the worst and that should not be understated. This X may not quite hit the mark but we are in no way cancelling this apocalypse.

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