by Coop Cooper
A despotic, god-like mutant dubbed ‘Apocalypse’ (Oscar Isaac) is betrayed by his ancient Egyptian followers and entombed under a collapsed pyramid before he can execute his plan to conquer the world. In 1983, he is re-awakened and begins to recruit powerful mutants to aid him in resuming his mass destruction. Meanwhile, Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) continues to train young mutants at his Upstate New York institute including new recruits Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has been on the run, helping other mutants in trouble when she discovers that Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has come out of hiding after a tragedy forces him to use his powers. She returns to New York to inform Xavier and in an attempt to find Magneto, they gain the attention of ‘Apocalypse’ who has already recruited Magneto. Apocalypse sees Xavier as a psychic weapon he can use to subjugate mankind and attempts to capture him. After a catastrophic attack on the school by Apocalypse and his ‘Four Horsemen’, the new recruits must step up to help the veteran X-Men save the world.
I’ve been dreading this film ever since I saw the designs for the Apocalypse character and I’m relieved to say that although the character looks like a silly reject from a “Stargate” or “Power Rangers” (Ivan Ooze!) movie, the rest of the film is solid enough to compete with the likes of “Captain America: Civil War”. After the last film shook up the timeline for the first three original “X-Men” films, the 1980’s setting felt inspired because it is when much of the canon of the comics franchise was written. Growing up during this time period, I saw these events take place on the pulp pages and although they had to do some serious rearranging of characters and storylines in the film, director Bryan Singer somehow managed to bring an overstuffed cast and storyline together.
It’s not perfect and the narrative meanders heavily. Plus only four important characters missed out on meaningful character arcs. The first is Angel (Ben Hardy) whose transformation by Apocalypse into ‘Archangel’ was one of the most shocking character arcs in X-Men comics history. Angel was always one of the original X-Men but it seems Singer could never find a non-corny way to fit him in. Instead he is sidelined into a woefully minor part in which the seduction of Apocalypse and the betrayal of Angel’s former teammates never happens. It’s a wasted narrative, especially since the comics turned him from a major hero into a devastating villain with tenfold the power, but in this film there is no backstory or weight to this transformation. Psylocke (Olivia Munn) has a vastly convoluted origin story in the comics but here she is a nobody transformed into a semi-arch villain with no backstory and the silliest looking retro-costume in the film which looks more like a bathing suit than anything Wonder Woman ever slipped into. Caliban (Tomas Lemarquis) who was always a tragic character in this pulp-pages storyline doesn’t get to be one of Apocalypse’s reluctant followers, and is likewise wasted as a minor nuisance. Jubilee (Lana Condor) is one of the most beloved teen X-Men from that era and one of the few Asian members, but was all but written out in the final edit to the chagrin of many fans.
Despite the flaws, the film does capture the look and spirit of the 80’s version of the comics (with a few costume upgrades). Cyclops finally gets the heroic leader character arc Wolverine robbed from him in the first two movies and, even worse, when he was unceremoniously killed off in the third. Speaking of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), he gets an extended cameo in this film which alters some of his history from the first “Wolverine” (2011) movie. Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who stole the best scenes in the last film, thankfully becomes a full-fledge hero and team member in this sequel. However, his parentage gives him an interesting character arc in addition to initiating the best action scenes in the entire movie. Seeing Quicksilver done well is a panacea compared to the awful treatment of him in the second “Avengers” film which not only killed him off, but confused Marvel movie fans everywhere since both Fox and Marvel simultaneously had the rights to the character – the only difference being that the “Avengers” version of Quicksilver was NOT a mutant. Sophie Turner, most famous for her role as Sansa Stark in “Game of Thrones”, fills the role of Jean Grey so well, I swore she resembled Famke Janssen, who previous played the character, in several scenes. Nightcrawler, Professor X, Moria McTaggart, Storm, Beast, Havok and other minor characters had short but pleasing story arcs as well.
Fox Studios has a lot to live up to, owning only the “X-Men”, “Deadpool” and “Fantastic Four” brands while Marvel Studios owns the rest of the original Marvel Comics properties (besides Sony’s Spider-Man which was successfully integrated into the Marvel films with “Captain America: Civil War”). They may never be able to fix “Fantastic Four”, but “Deadpool” was such a hit and this latest “X-Men” delivered more than promised, they may get close to matching Marvel in the long run.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars