20th Century Fox has, for the most part, done very well with the way they have managed this particular franchise. While they have repeatedly had difficulties with Fantastic Four, they have done reasonably well with the X-Men.
The story sounds simple enough. A very powerful being has risen and our favorite cast of mutants must eventually band together in order to save the world. One might say it was quite formulaic, possibly even cliché. But it isn’t. Writer Simon Kinberg manages to really get beneath the skin of these characters. We get to know their minds, and what feelings are buried in the hearts of each of them. Characters, who were given marvelous development in previous films, are taken even further to where we can feel their love, their fear, and even their pain. They are fully realized. Some of them are at the end of their particular story arc into becoming who we recognize them to be, while others are at the beginning of their journey, and perhaps if there is a failing in this movie this would be it.
As with many movie franchises, this film isn’t entirely standalone. While the particular plot and adversarial elements may be unique to this movie, many story threads continue from previous films. There are plenty of references to X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, but to someone who hasn’t seen either of those films the references drawn from them might not have any emotional resonance. Yes, they are informational, but to the “uninitiated” it may not be enough to fill any emotional gaps the viewer may be experiencing. However this movie is filled with rewards for those who have been following these characters on their journey, and a good deal of that has to do with how the last several movies of this franchise have been cast.
The “big bad” for this movie is played quite well by Oscar Isaac, who most people might remember from Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens as Poe Dameron. Here he is totally unrecognizable under the makeup of Apocalypse, and while his character may come off as a bit more thoughtful in this film than in other forms of media, he still gives us a being of enormous power and conviction. There isn’t a lot of depth to his character, but we do understand what drives him. Without that he would have been completely unbelievable as this movie’s chief antagonist. However it is in the rest of the cast that this movie truly shines, starting with none other than the amazing Michael Fassbender returning for a third go as Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto.
He has always been something of a tragic character, even back when played by Ian McKellen at the beginning of the life of this franchise. He wasn’t the villain you loved to hate. He was the character you wanted to help because he was, and still is, a man in pain. We saw that in the original X-Men back in 2000, and we see it again here. With this movie Fassbender clearly demonstrates where Magneto’s pain comes from. You believe it to be real and in doing so everything that Magneto does has a sense of truthfulness to it. You believe his motivation because you believe his pain.
The other standout is of course James McAvoy as Charles Xavier. For an actor of his age he manages to bring a sense of serene calmness and wisdom beyond his years, but still with a youthfulness that one would expect from a young Xavier. However he still plays the part in a way that foreshadows the character we all know and love as played by Patrick Stewart. Everything that Xavier went through to become the elder statesman at the school for the gifted all comes to a wonderful conclusion here. And just as both Sirs Stewart and McKellen had remarkable chemistry in the earlier X-Men releases, we get a sense of that same chemistry between McAvoy and Fassbender. You feel the friendship that exists between these two characters, even when they are at odds with each other. Both of these actors did a magnificent job at bringing this early chapter in their lives to satisfying close.
One other element that makes this film so enjoyable to watch is the humor. Being able to place the right type of joke in a movie like this is no easy feat, yet Kinberg executes it perfectly, while even taking a stab at himself with the greatest self-referential joke regarding “third movies in franchises.” It was a gag that drew a big laugh from me. This of course does bring up the issue of canon. While there are many references from previous films, there are parts of this movie that seem to stand in contradiction to past films. Characters that were introduced during the first two X-Men films are now introduced again for the first time, thereby causing a bit of a canonical dilemma. An argument could be made that perhaps events from Days of Future Past may have made these changes possible, but the best advice I could give is to not think too much on that and to just enjoy this film for what it is, and that is a fun, popcorn flick!
I have expressed in the past that I would very much like to see the X-Men back in the fold of the Marvel Studios. I would still like to see that. However, if 20th Century Fox can continue to produce these movies on the level of Apocalypse, then I will be satisfied to know that this franchise is in excellent hands.
On a scale from A (excellent) to F (fail), this movie easily earns an A!
Have I mentioned how much I enjoy surprises???
Have you seen X-Men: Apocalypse, and if so, what did you think about it? Was the perfect denouement for this part of the franchise? What would you like to have seen done differently? Would you like to see more X-Men films?
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