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X-Men: Apocalypse Review

xmen-apocalypse-review
RATING:
(3 STARS)

X-Men: Apocalypse works in spite of itself. Here’s a film that takes arguably the best actor working today and turns him into a purple version of Imhotep from The Mummy. There are too many characters, not enough genuine excitement, and it runs at least 30 minutes too long.

All that said, it’s hard to not at least appreciate a superhero movie that isn’t trying to build toward something enormous. Apocalypse more or less stands on its own. (In fact, the more you try to connect it to what’s come before and after chronologically, the more likely you are to leave with a migraine.) I liked this movie for the same reasons I liked 2011’s Green Lantern movie with Ryan Reynolds. It is clunky has hell, but also incredibly earnest and has just the right amount of good-natured humor.

The film opens 5,600 years ago in ancient Egypt. A group of mutants enters a pyramid to perform a ritual on another aging mutant who appears to be a God of sorts to them. We later find out this character is the first mutant. He goes by the name of En Sabah Nur, also known as Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), and he’s transferring his consciousness to the body of another in order to continue living and amassing mutant powers. He and his crew are betrayed by their guards, and the pyramid collapses in on itself. But Apocalypse is protected — buried under seemingly miles of rubble but waiting to be discovered one day.

That day comes, of course. It’s 1983 — ten years after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is running his school for gifted children. Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is living in the Polish wilderness alongside his wife and daughter. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is in Germany, doing her part to empower younger mutants to stand up for themselves. There are dozens of other characters with their own subplots, but they all converge when Apocalpyse is uncovered in Egypt and decides the next best power for him to acquire is that of Professor Xavier, which would give him the ability to control every human and mutant on Earth.

You ought to know if X-Men: Apocalypse will work for you within its first 15 minutes. The Egypt prologue is weird and wild with elaborate mythology, vivid colors, and a supernatural visualization of mutant (and other) powers. Like I said above, the superhero movie this most closely recalled was Green Lantern, but it’s also very reminiscent of The Mummy in that an extremely dark and powerful creature is essentially resurrected after thousands of years to claim the entire world as his dominion.

That film had a lot of fun with its setting in the early 1900s, and so it is with X-Men: Apocalypse and the 1980s. There is one major clunker in its many jokes about 80s kitsch, but that’s more a problem with self-satisfaction than anything else. Overall, this winky-face attitude is one of Apocalypse’s greatest assets, even if it clashes a bit with the seriousness of its characters’ collective plight. It also contributes to the film’s standout scene — hey, Quicksilver! — one of the most enjoyable single scenes in superhero movie history.

The film’s biggest problem is a second-third diversion to a familiar locale for many characters. It’s the source of two major cameos and the film’s only world-building material, but for a 150-minute comic-book movie that works because it’s trying to stand alone, this extended sequence feels like a major error.

Thankfully, it’s not one that ruins the overall experience. X-Men: Apocalypse is easily the best major blockbuster of 2016 so far, but man, if that sentence isn’t damning with faint praise. It’s been a dreadful year for movies of this sort, and while Apocalypse is currently the gold standard, it’s still just barely passable. This isn’t the best X-Men movie, nor is it the worst. It tells a silly story in the most sincere way possible — not an easy feat — and it feels like Bryan Singer and his crew genuinely care about what they’ve put onscreen — not always the case.

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