Review by C.J. Bunce
Superheroes in movies and television. It’s the entertainment explosion of the past ten years, beginning with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in 2008. Yet after only ten years, after so many Marvel lookalikes and too many dark Dark Knights, what superhero shows rise above the rest? All fanboys and fangirls have an opinion. The best part is that there truly is something for everyone. Maybe you like Netflix’s cool and gritty Luke Cage. Or maybe the CW parade of DC series is your thing. If you’re like us, you love Ant Man and Guardians of the Galaxy over all the Marvel and DC team-up movies. Maybe you like it all. Director Bryan Singer created another X-Men entry that was released last summer, overlooked by many, but a solid entry in the X-Men cinema archive: X-Men: Apocalypse. It’s streaming now on Amazon Prime, and it’s not to be missed, especially for Logan fans collecting all of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine appearances and everyone looking for a great superhero assemblage.
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 you read about as a kid inside the pages of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars. If you enjoy seeing great superhero powers on the big screen, as with X-Men: Days of Future Past, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver remains the defending champion. He gets even more character development and screen time in X-Men: Apocalypse.
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 this year? Any speedster work will be compared to Quicksilver. Until that film hits theaters, X-Men: Apocalypse is worth a second look for Quicksilver’s big scene alone. But there’s 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 mankind long, long ago. While X-Men: Days of Future Past took us to the 1970s for the bulk of the story, the next installment 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 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 Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi 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.”
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 intertwined into an Irwin Allen-esque disaster movie.
Now streaming free for HBO subscribers on Amazon Prime (and with a fee for non-HBO subscribers), X-Men: Apocalypse is also available on Netflix (DVD only), and on Blu-ray and DVD here from Amazon.