By Thomas Griffiths (Cardiff)
X-Men: Apocalypse is directed by Bryan Singer and stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Sophie Turner and Rose Byrne, among several others. This is the ninth installment to the amazing X-Men movie franchise, and I will say, from the start, that this is the best X-Men movie so far, far better than X-Men 3, exceeding X-Men: Days of Future Past and eclipsing X-Men: First Class. I had a ton of fun with this movie, and I’m rather startled at the opinions I’ve read online about this film, people giving it a generally mixed reception to it. I think that this film is amazing, and not just because I’m a huge fan of the X-Men and the films, but because this succeeds completely as a movie and as a superhero action movie. It brings back fan-favourites from the previous films, including Nightcrawler, Angel, Storm, Psylocke, Beast and of course Wolverine.
James McAvoy returns as Professor Charles Xavier and gives a stellar performance as the younger version of Patrick Stewart’s incarnation of the character. I thought he was terrific in the last two films he appeared in, and I think that he is superb in this instalment because his complexity has run its course by now but still makes a compelling series of developments in this movie. Most of this is because, like in Days of Future Past, he is torn between his surrogate sister Mystique and his best friend/mortal enemy/antithesis Magneto. Jennifer Lawrence is also fantastic as Mystique, and provides a much more interesting character than Rebecca Romijin did in the first three films. She has been shaped by her actions in the last film, and what’s interesting is that people now see her as an idol, as a symbol of hope, but she doesn’t want to be like that which is why she mostly clings to her normal disguise as opposed to her true mutant shape for most of this film.
Michael Fassbender is amazing as Magneto, and like in the last few films he appears in the story revolves hugely around his personality and his morality and his inner demons. Just like Mystique, he has been shaped by his experiences in the last film. In this film, he has a family – a wife and daughter who is also a mutant – and has gone into hiding, working labour in the middle of nowhere like a nobody, because now everybody has seen him as a megalomaniac dictator and he’s trying to leave that life behind. However, his past also catches up with him and there is this amazing scene where his daughter is held hostage by villagers who are about to turn him in to the police, and the incident results in his wife and child’s death. This leads to a pivotal scene where we see him return to his persona as the ruthless, vengeful sociopath, who runs to the mill where he once worked and delivers this spectacular speech about intending to hurt the loved ones of the men who betrayed him by killing these men and forcing their families to experience the pain of loss as he has.
That’s what this film does astoundingly well – it still shows the human treatment and opinion of mutants, even after mutants have saved humans so many times and there are no more Sentinels like the last film, and no more of the Cure like in The Last Stand. We get a scene where mutants are pitted against one another in cage fights for the entertainment of humans, and the mutants will either fight each other or be gunned down by the humans. Mutants are also outclassed by the humans, who still treat them with immense fear and suspicion, which shapes the mindsets of several characters in this film. However, this acts as both a strength and an obstacle for the characters in more ways than can be expected.
Despite all of these amazing actors reprising their roles and bringing new things to original roles, there is one performance that stands out in this entire movie: Sophie Turner was sensational as Jean Grey, easily the best performance in this entire movie. We’ve seen her character develop in the first three movies, but now we get to go back to the very start and see Jean’s character develop from stage one, and Sophie Turner knocked this right out of the park. Jean Grey was interesting. I cared about her. She was a compelling, complex, inspirational character. She works brilliantly with her environment – the other students at Xavier’s School avoid and deride her because they think she’s a freak, but she takes this in her stride, which is impressive and difficult to perform without it seeming forced or unrealistic.
The special effects, CGI, screenplay and camerawork is fantastic, and the action sequences in this movie blew me away. Everything looked grounded in the reality of the situation and the universe that it exists in. Every mutant’s power comes into play in so many brilliant ways, it almost looks like the original 90s cartoon. And, who could mention the action sequences without bringing up Quicksilver – this guy was awesome in his scenes, and the scene where he evacuates the Xavier Mansion within seconds of it blowing up is mind-blowing and stupendously-made. We also learn that he is Magneto’s son, which is one of the biggest nods to the source material – and a pretty wise move, since it provides more fascination in the characters of Magneto and Quicksilver.
The main antagonist of this movie, shockingly, isn’t Magneto like normally, but it is Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse. This is the element of the movie I was most concerned about, because the portrayal and handling of this character could so very easily go sideways in the most colossal way. However, I will say that Apocalypse was probably the best one-shot main villain in the X-Men movies since Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw in X Men: First Class. He was portrayed in all the right ways to be ancient and extremely powerful mutant who wants to restore the world to what he perceives as perfection, believing that mutants today have devolved completely from what they once were in his time. The biggest element of his character that could go on was his powers, because to not portray him as a blue Superman would be really hard, especially when you have to pit him against the other mutants who appear in this movie. Oscar Isaac is great as Apocalypse, and brings a terrific presence to the character, giving him depth, gravity, the appearance and mannerisms of a compelling and believable villain, and a genuine place in the X-Men universe.
I only ever saw the trailer for this movie once, so I was overwhelmed when Wolverine, played once again by the one and only Hugh Jackman, appears in this movie. He isn’t quite a cameo, but he does make a really pivotal and powerful appearance in this movie – and he doesn’t even say anything. When he smashed out of that box, I was left speechless because I wasn’t expecting it. He comes out of that box, and suddenly utter and complete mayhem ensues, and he is just ripping every soldier and guard that comes his way to pieces, howling and screaming like an animal, right up until the point where he meets the X-Men. There’s this hugely important part of his appearance in this movie where Jean walks up to him and calms him down by entering his mind and removing the machinery attached to him. They look into one another and you’re reminded that, in the original film trilogy, Jean has a pivotal role in Wolverine’s life, but that hasn’t happened yet. And when one of them suddenly says, in the background, that this’ll be the last time they see him, I was rolling around on the floor inside, that was one of the most ironic things I’ve ever heard in a film.
One of my favourite things about these movies is the musical score, especially the title music. That theme song is so damn riveting, I had chills down my spine the whole time, even though I’ve heard the theme song so many times in the previous films, and hum it to myself from time to time. The final battle at the end of the movie is some of the best comic-book battle sequences I’ve ever seen – every single individual contributes in stupendous ways, and we get this sensational telepathic battle between Charles and Apocalypse inside the Xavier Mansion, and this is the first time that Charles properly gets into a full-on battle with a mortal enemies (Although, the small fist-fight against Magneto in First Class can count as another one). However, one of the all-time best scenes in this awesome battle is the scene where Jean explodes on to the scene against Apocalypse, and huge flames burst behind her as she does it – we are given just a hint of the Phoenix Force that will soon possess Jean Grey and turn her into the Phoenix.
Also, the closing scene where Charles and Magneto part ways once again, and we get to see the new X-Men in the Danger Room of Xavier’s Mansion, just like they are in the comics and TV-show and we see the Sentinels marching into the room for the X-Men to fight, and the final shot in the film is of the doors of the Danger Room closing with Charles Xavier glancing through them, proudly, at his new students and future team of superheroes – that shot was just spectacular!
This film is fantastic, easily the best film in the X-Men franchise, and that’s definitely saying something impressive.
Rating: 10/10BEST QUOTES