At some point in the 1990s, readers of the X-Men comics (I was one) just stopped trying to figure out the hows and whys of what was going on, and just went with the flow.
As long as the storylines were engaging and exciting, it really didn’t pay to ask too many questions. Trying to figure out the convoluted continuity put too much of a strain on brain cells that we needed for other things (like earning enough money to afford comics in the first place).
So this is now the case with the X-Men movies too, especially after the last movie rebooted everything and X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn’t even care about little things like consistency and continuity: it will make your head hurt to wonder how it all fits together, so just get swept along on this wild, messy, enjoyable ride.
Set in the same timeline as First Class (set in the 1960s) and Days Of Future Past (1970s), Apocalypse takes us into the 1980s, a world where mutants are now not openly feared but sort of accepted.
Some crimes just cannot be forgiven, however, which is why international fugitive Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is now living under a false identity as a family guy in Poland.
Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) School for Gifted Youngsters is still in operation, only instead of training the X-Men, he is more concerned with ensuring that his students get a good education and learn how to get a proper handle on their abilities.
Only Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), hailed as a hero after saving US President Richard Nixon in the last movie, remains “active” in a manner of speaking, helping her exploited brethren – like liberating a young Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from an underground fight club in East Germany.
Into this seemingly hopeful picture comes En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), the world’s oldest and most powerful mutant, freed from 5,000 years of slumber and ready to, uh, reboot the world according to his design.
He’s better known as the notorious and feared baddie Apocalypse from the comics, and to help accomplish his plan, he assembles a cadre of elite servants – the Four Horsemen.
They are: the high-flying Angel (Ben Hardy), mistress of the elements Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), psychic/warrior Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and good old Magneto, whom Apocalypse approaches at a particularly vulnerable point in the Master of Magnetism’s life.
Over at the X-Mansion, the new timeline established at the end of Days Of Future Past is continuing to develop at a leisurely, non-conflict-driven pace. Charles reunites with Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), new kid Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) arrives at the school and befriends powerful psychic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Beast/Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) is adjusting to life as a teacher, and Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters) decides to use that business card he was given in the previous movie and pay the school a visit.
Then it all goes to heck pretty quickly, as Apocalypse and his Horsemen make their first move, and people both mutant and mundane realise it’s a lot worse than a few rogue robots this time.
There’s a lot of fan service going on in this movie with iconic looks being recreated and some wrongs put right.
For me, what really worked are the bits that correct the casting choices which always bugged me from the very first X-Men film.
So it’s great to see Storm made over in a much more bad-ass form than when she was played by She Who Almost Ruined The Character Forever; Cyclops/Scott being a lot less smarmy; and Jean Grey a little more accessible as a person.
As for Psylocke … well, at least she’s not a throwaway character like she was in The Last Stand, even if she isn’t used at anything close to a satisfying level here (I could just watch that infamous car-slashing GIF all day).
Like ’em or loathe ’em, the triangle of Charles, Mystique and Magneto remains the dramatic centre of this run of X-Men films, and Apocalypse continues to rely on this dynamic for its tension and character conflicts.
While Apocalypse is there to add another angle to the film’s metaphors for the different forms of (and agendas behind) empowerment, the villain himself doesn’t come across as fully realised.
He just seems like a less wrinkled Emperor Palpatine: full of dramatic pronouncements and surprises gleefully delivered by a scenery-chewing actor, but ultimately, we are left guessing about what’s going on inside him that drives all this ambition. (Plus his armour/costume simply isn’t as bonkers as it should have been.)
Like we said earlier, this is best appreciated as a fun ride – not quite up to the best in the franchise, and repeat viewings might even evoke a less generous assessment.
But it’s a nice progression of the main characters’ journey that we’ve followed since First Class, and a pleasant reintroduction to familiar characters that I hope will be done right this go-around. Who says you don’t get second chances?
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Sophie Turner, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Olivia Munn