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X-Men: Apocalypse
Genre Sci-Fi
 
Review:

X-Men: Apocalypse is the latest installation from director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg. X-Men: First Class introduced us to the next generation of X-Men, enabling the filmmakers to go back in time and extrapolate the complex story between Professor X and Magneto, and the rise of the X-Men. Singer returned to the franchise, after something of a hiatus, with X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The superhero balancing act turned out to be one of the year's best films, with Singer essentially splicing the old with the new in a seamless hybrid using Wolverine to stitch both worlds together. Time travel films are problematic on a good day and X-Men: Days of Future Past garnered critical acclaim and solid box office figures despite the pressure.

X-Men: Apocalypse tried to eclipse or match the success of X-Men: Days of Future Past, but as most sequels go, turns out overambitious and overblown. We pick up the story in the '80s as Apocalypse is resurrected after being enshrined by a collapsed pyramid in Egypt. Bent on cleansing the world of humans, the world's first and most powerful mutant sets about recruiting a team of jilted mutants to carry out his extinction level plan as the X-Men scramble to thwart him.

The superhero sequel suffers from some similar issues to the reboot of Fantastic Four. While both films start off with much promise, on the back of great source material and previous adaptations with a stellar cast and some strong production values, they ultimately undo themselves with a fairly joyless atmosphere, shaky plotting, over-reliance on CGI and scattershot ambition.

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult reprise their roles as series regulars, while Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan add more clout. As Professor X, James McAvoy has a key role in X-Men: Apocalypse, almost assuming a lead and delivering the most empathetic and relatable performance. Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence are relegated to supporting performances, which doesn't seem to sit well with either of them as established award season regulars, making their contribution seem more business-orientated than wholehearted.

The new villain on the block is Oscar Isaac as the titular Apocalypse, who steals most of the scenes with a brooding character and foreboding presence. As the world's first mutant, Apocalypse seems to hold all the cards and while he recruits and powers up his "four horsemen", you get the impression they are just keepsakes for the all-powerful, former Egyptian god. It's almost as though the story has been loosely modelled on the rise and fall of an 80s heavy metal band, complete with photo shoot opportunities and mountainside music videos.

The movie trailer had an inherent evil, which while masked slightly by Egyptian mythology, translates into a much darker spiritual tone for the X-Men. There's always an undercurrent of peril, however with such an evil and invincible villain, who is able to "persuade" many over to the dark side, you start to miss the moments of comic relief that broke the relentless action. As the prime evil and unstoppable force, Apocalypse makes an incredible and intimidating adversary, as if they were over-correcting where Fantastic Four went wrong with Dr Doom.

The production values are typically strong, progressing from the '70s to the '80s, as we are immersed into the style and culture of the time. Moving from America to Europe and Africa, the film covers an expanse of land and a multitude of characters. Trying to keep the intercontinental show on the road, while paying dues to the chronological trajectory of characters and tying up loose ends is a massive undertaking.

Unfortunately, the slack is taken up by CGI, which is so entrenched that it would come as little surprise to find a minute of footage without a frame of computer-generated imagery. Much like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Fantastic Four, the film whips itself into a frenzy as we move from a sense of reality to complete unreality, where we may as well be on Mars. Days of Future Past moved between this spheres with one foot on the ground, whereas X-Men: Apocalypse trips into another paradigm.

There are some amazing action set pieces and incredibly surreal sequences, which show great imagination and a fascinating exploration of power, psyche and ability. While these stick out like nails, there are very welcome and raise the bar for X-Men: Apocalypse as it continues to juggle subplots. For the most part, you're able to coast on the franchise's solid foundations, which are mostly responsible for making this overblown sequel seem disappointing and underwhelming by contrast. It's the kind of film that will probably develop a cult following in its earnest yet cataclysmic attempt to go one step further than X-Men: Days of Future Past.

It's not nearly as abysmal as the misfire that is Fantastic Four and lands somewhere in the region of X-Men Origins: Wolverine in terms of overall entertainment and enjoyment value. It's an entertaining popcorn superhero blockbuster with some great ideas, despite staggering in at two and a half hours that is best enjoyed if you place your tongue firmly in your cheek and allow the spectacle and pageantry to wash over you.

The bottom line: Enjoyable


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