Movie Review – X-Men: Apocalypse
This is the eighth film that is based or is an adaptation of the Marvel comics about the mutant super-heroes under the supervision of Charles Xavier aka Professor X. It’s the sixth in the series, if you discount the stand-alone Wolverine movies. It’s the fourth directed by Bryan Singer and it’s the third starring James McAvoy as Charles Xavier. It’s the second to be set mainly in the past, and it’s the first to be more of a mess than the much derided X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). Yet, it’s still vastly more entertaining and fun than that derided film.
Unfortunately, what weighs down the movie is the persistence of what I call “the Magneto problem.” Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto is the second, most power mutant on Earth after Professor X. He can control and manipulate metal. Because metal or metallic elements are everywhere, he realizes he’s more powerful than he thought. In the first three movies, Magneto is portrayed as an old man by Sir Ian McKellan. The last three movies in which Magneto appeared, he’s portrayed as a young man, played by Michael Fassbender (pictured below). The problem is that where McKellan’s version consistently made sense in terms of motivation, Fassbender’s version doesn’t.
In my review of X-Men: First Class, the initial appearance of Fassbender’s version, I pointed out that Magneto was a Holocaust survivor whose family was lost to the Nazis, which was firmly established with McKellan’s version. However, Fassbender’s version changed things, so that Magneto’s mom isn’t killed by Nazis. She’s killed by another mutant, Sebastian Show, played by Kevin Bacon. This confuses Magneto’s motivations with his actions because his actions at the end are to destroy humanity, but why when it was a mutant who killed his mom?
In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Magneto’s motivations again made no sense. The filmmakers seem to love the fact that they had Fassbender who had a lot of Oscar buzz and whose stardom was fast rising that they jammed him into it, even if it had no real logic. His presence isn’t even needed, which is a sentiment carried into this film. Magneto isn’t needed. Again, because it’s Fassbender, the makers want to jam him into it.
The writers had to give Magneto something to do and a reason for doing it, but instead of thinking up something new or different. They basically give Magneto the same thing to do as in X-Men: First Class. He’s again a Holocaust survivor whose family is killed and he goes off on a kind of revenge, which makes him want to destroy all of humanity. Instead of his parents, this time Magneto is given a wife and child to lose, so he’s doing the same thing all over again. Yet, it’s supposed to be more of an impact because this time it’s a child that dies, but instead it’s boring because the beat is just a carbon copy. Magneto’s reaction immediately after and then later in the film makes him seem stupid because he questions nothing that happens.
The Magneto problem could have been solved. The potential is there. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, it’s revealed that Magneto had a son that he never knew existed. His nickname is Quicksilver and he’s played by Evan Peters (American Horror Story and Invasion). The film feels like it’s going to use that fact to affect Magneto. Yet, it’s only teased again. Magneto goes yet another film without knowing he has a now adult son. This movie takes place in 1984, ten years after Days of Future Past when Quicksilver was only a teenager. Having Magneto deal with family he never knew he had would have been a far better path than having him do the exact same thing as in the previous movie.
It’s also difficult to redeem Magneto when he commits violent acts that results in the deaths of tons of people. It would have been one thing if by the end he’s reprimanded in some way, but, Professor X basically cheers him off and his now adult son just lets him walk away. It’s inane.
It’s not that having a character do a similar if not same thing in a sequel is something that’s wholly objectionable. It can be fine, if at the end the character has some advancement or if he’s in a new or different place as a result. For example, Quicksilver does a very similar thing here as he did in Days of Future Past. He performs a super high-speed rescue amid a super slow-motion environment, set to “Sweet Dreams” by The Eurythmics. It was the funnest and most inventive scene in the previous film as it is here, but, at the end, Quicksilver doesn’t retreat back into his shell aka his mother’s basement. He’s instead drawn out and into being part of the team. On the other hand, Magneto lands in the exact same place as before, alone and on the run.
I would have preferred Magneto be cut all together. It could have allowed more time to devote to explaining or exploring the titular character or even the younger versions of characters introduced in previous films. Tye Sheridan (Mud and The Tree of Life) plays Scott Summers aka Cyclops. Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) plays Jean Grey and Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road and Let Me In) plays Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler. Aside from seeing demonstrations of their powers, we get no insight into who these younger versions are. Scott can shoot lasers from his eyes. Jean is telepathic and telekinetic. Kurt can teleport himself. Scott’s from Ohio and has a mutant brother, Alex, who went to Professor X’s school in X-Men: First Class and Kurt is from Germany and was forced to perform in a cage match. Other than that, we get nothing of substance about these characters.
Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens) co-stars as Apocalypse, except that’s not his real name. We never know what his real name is. His origins are a bit sketchy and not as set in stone as the opening scene with him. The opening scene is in Ancient Egypt, 3600 BCE along the Nile Valley.
Isaac’s gorgeous, naked body is lying unconscious on a slab of rock inside a pyramid. It’s demonstrated that he has the same power as Wolverine, that of super-healing or rapid regeneration, so seeming immortality. Yet, he’s not Apocalypse at first. He becomes Apocalypse through a ritual where the consciousness of Apocalypse is transferred into the body of a mutant. He carries over the powers of all the mutants he’s inhabited. Where this ritual started and why he’s doing it are never made clear. One assumes he’s just a psychotic and power-hungry villain as any other.
Apocalypse considers himself a god or perhaps the God. However, he doesn’t seem to want worship or devotion. He wants puppetry, to control people. For what purpose isn’t disclosed. Within the film, there is a reference to a 1967 episode of Star Trek, titled “Who Mourns for Adonais?” where actor Michael Forest played Apollo, a being with super powers who wanted to be worshiped as a God. The Greek God of legend was literally an acting role for magical entities. That one episode better explained and explored the ideas, which are only referenced here.
Apocalypse converts a few mutants into his “horsemen,” or his disciples. Ben Hardy (EastEnders) plays Angel. Olivia Munn (The Newsroom) plays Psylocke, and Alexandra Shipp (Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B) plays Storm. Again, besides showcasing their powers, we get practically nothing of substance about these characters. Why they decide to follow Apocalypse isn’t clear. Do they fear him? Do they respect him? It’s not firmly conveyed.
Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and suggestive images.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 24 mins.