First things first: credit where credit is due. Before Iron Man’s arc-reactor was a pale blue twinkle in Disney/Marvel’s eye, Fox’s X-Men franchise was paving the way for the current onslaught (ahem) of ensemble superhero films. Bryan Singer’s X-Men and X2 (out in 2000 and 2003) elevated the status of comics-based movies with their strong and respectful take on the characters. Where other attempts at Marvel properties flopped, the X-Men soared, due in no small part to Singer’s devotion to the source material. By the time X-Men: Last Stand came out in 2006, Singer had jumped ship to direct Superman Returns, so the fact that that one felt like a bit of a mess was disappointing but not entirely unexpected. I for one, along with pretty much everybody else, was happy to let it slide.
Which brings me straight to X-Men: Apocalypse. About midway through there’s a scene during which the teenaged Jean Grey, Scott Summers and Kurt Wagner sneak out to the cinema to watch Return of the Jedi and a ‘wink, nod’ comment is made about the third film in a trilogy always being the weakest link. If you’re looking at the later-but-chronologically-earlier instalments of the X-Men movies (First Class, Days of Future Past and now Apocalypse) as a trilogy, this rings true here too. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a ton of fun, anyway.
Singer’s latest contribution feels tonally similar to his earlier X-Men films, which took themselves fairly seriously despite extremely high levels of camp. Where superior First Class and Days of Future Past are very stylistic and influenced by their time-settings in the Sixties and Seventies, the Eighties vibe (apart from a few soundtrack selections and questionable hairdos) is only faintly detectable here; style takes a backseat to spectacle. Apocalypse rises, summons his horsemen and sets out to remake the world in its entirety. Everything about it is large-scale, from its titular villain to the number of characters it juggles to its own grand ambitions and showdowns—it’s not called Apocalypse for no reason.
The new, younger incarnations of the original team (Cyclops, Phoenix, Storm and Nightcrawler) take center stage this time with Professor X, Magneto, Beast and Mystique slightly side-lined. Fortunately, the new actors are up to the task, particularly a delightful Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver once again steals the show whenever he’s onscreen (if you thought the ‘Time In a Bottle’ sequence from DOFP couldn’t get any better, wait until you see this). The only qualms I have about the cast would be that there are simply so many great actors in this film that it’s a shame to see some of them get short shrift. Oscar Isaac’s abominable Apocalypse gets plenty of screen-time, and though he’s barely recognisable under the prosthetics, he manages to make the most of it.
Like the Singer-directed X-Men films that came before it, Apocalypse has a lot going for it and most of the time it works. Even when it doesn’t, it’s still hugely enjoyable, especially if you don’t overthink it. As a new puzzle-piece in Fox’s X-Men universe, this one fits just fine, and I’ll look forward to watching it again—but not quite as much as I’ll be looking forward to whatever comes next