Amid all the chaos and bombardment of superhero movies in the theaters these days, it’s often difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Not so long ago if someone asked about your favorite superhero movie you’d probably name it without hesitation. These days? You probably will need to mull it over in light of so many quality films. Of the classic films I would have named Christopher Reeves’ Superman. Of the Marvel Cinematic Universe I once would have named the first Iron Man. Then after many Marvel lookalikes and too many dark Dark Knights, the three that rise to the top are Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Then Bryan Singer created another X-Men entry released this summer and I’m hedging again. X-Men: Apocalypse, still in theaters, is exactly the movie I dreamed of when I was a kid reading comic books.
How often do superhero movies, or any other drama, sci-fi, fantasy, or action franchise movie, threaten stakes as great as the end of the world? How many actually take you through an apocalypse? X-Men: Apocalypse delivers the rampage and destruction I read as a kid inside the pages of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars. I was never an X-Men fan before X-Men: Days of Future Past and Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men monthly series, so I haven’t followed the ins and outs of the team for decades to know whether the movies are “loyal” enough for diehard readers. But I do know what great superhero powers look like on the big screen, and as with X-Men: Days of Future Past, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver remains the best realized superhero on-screen.
As kids we debated over what power would allow you to triumph over your superhero peers, and Singer must have done the same thing and landed with the same answer. Speed. Despite giving us the best superhero TV series of the 1980s and today with its two looks at Barry Allen/The Flash, DC Entertainment has not yet shown us all a speedster could do. Will that happen in Justice League next year? Until then, X-Men: Apocalypse is worth a first or second look for Quicksilver’s big scene. And more.
The film begins in the past, a bit like the origin story from The Fifth Element. A chance encounter that could have spelled the destruction of man long, long ago. While X-Men: Days of Future Past took us to the 1970s for the bulk of the story, the next installment then takes us forward to Earth’s future in the 1980s with superb art direction by Ravi Bansal (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, Guardians of the Galaxy, Terminator Genisys, Independence Day: Resurgence, Suicide Squad) and wardrobe by Louise Mingenbach (The Usual Suspects, prior X-Men films, Superman Returns, Starsky & Hutch, G.I. Joe: Retaliation). The next sequel is expected to be set in the 1990s. The mutants from the last installment are a bit older, including leadership under Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven and Nicholas Hoult’s Hank, and it’s time for new recruits. Powerful performances can be found with Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey, the perfect student of Xavier’s famous school to welcome a new student, Tye Sheridan’s Scott Summers. Supporting roles provide equally good nuances from Kodi Smit-McPhee’s quirky Nightcrawler and Alexandra Shipp’s new take on Storm.
With so many characters the ninth X-Men film in the franchise would have you thinking a coherent plot might not emerge, but as with X-Men: Days of Future Past, Singer knows his Marvel universe so well that it never becomes an issue. We even have plenty of time to re-engage with Professor X (James McAvoy) and see great insight into Magneto (Michael Fassbender), his backstory, and motivation for his history of anger issues.
The villainy is supplied by the actor of the hour, Star Wars: The Force Awakens star Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse, along with Magneto, Storm, Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn).
John Ottman returns with a superb, exciting score to match the end of the world. And to accompany the film’s best scene, again featuring Evan Peters’ Quicksilver doing only the superheroics he could do, is the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.”
Look for an iconic moment for one of the mutants at film’s end as well as a key explanatory story-bridging scene for an uncredited mutant from the past.
Exciting action, strong character development, and compelling storytelling steeped in classic fantasy with themes of confidence and tolerance. Somehow Singer manages to include scenes where we catch up with favorite actors and characters, meet the new recruits, meet the new villain as he recruits his band of baddies, and it’s all as part of an Irwin Allen disaster movie. Is this better or just nearly as good as X-Men: Days of Future Past? Regardless of the answer, it leaves all other team-ups, whether sourced in the Marvel Universe or DC Universe, in its wake, with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy.
X-Men: Apocalypse is still in theaters with a home entertainment release October 4, 2016. Pre-order it now here from Amazon.