The X-Men movie franchise continues to raise the stakes in this latest installment.
With a compelling villain, huge global stakes, and some emotionally hard-hitting scenes, X-Men: Apocalypse is an exciting addition to the ever expansive X-Men cinematic universe. It's easily one of the most ambitious films in the entire series, if a little overstuffed thanks to the sheer number of characters being used.
X-Men: Apocalypse is the sixth X-Men film in the franchise (ninth if you include the spin-offs). Since the first movie in 2000, we've been introduced to a lot of characters and have seen several mutants come and go. Each installment increases the action and danger for the X-Men. But how can the films top the continually escalating series of cataclysmic threats? By bringing in an ancient mutant determined to destroy the world.
The movie's main villain, Apocalypse (also known as En Sabah Nur), has a deep and convoluted history in the comics, but that's been simplified somewhat for the film. His origin is condensed down to: he's the first mutant who was worshipped in ancient Egypt as a god. Apocalypse is higher-level threat than anything the X-Men have ever dealt with in the past, and the way he's presented in the film as being extremely powerful as well as being a master psychological manipulator makes him a unique and compelling villain. At his side are his powerful Four Horsemen, mutants he has helped reach their full potential who serve as his protectors.
Apocalypse threatens the world 10 years after the events of Days of Future Past (1983 in the X-Men film universe), and the big question is: is there a team of X-Men capable of taking him down? The encounter is one audiences will gobble up. But Apocalypse's threat isn't just directed at the X-Men; he's targeting the entire planet. The results are battles spanning the globe with more severe consequences that go beyond the X-Men’s inner circle.
X-Men: Apocalypse is an extremely convoluted movie, and its attempt to juggle such a large number of characters is where the movie falters. The past films featured a large roster of mutants, but X-Men: Apocalypse introduces new versions of characters we've seen in past films (as well as the previous wide-ranging mutant roster). Because Days of Future Past changed the events from the first three films, some classic characters have changed. With such a large number of characters fighting for attention, they just aren't all properly fleshed out.
This is especially the case for three of Apocalypse's four henchmen--Storm, Psylocke, and Angel. While we see Apocalypse individually recruit his new Horsemen, we ever only get a hint of who they are and what their motivations might be. The result is a lot of cool-looking characters who lack backstory and depth. Characters like Psylocke and Angel are introduced, but they never seem to reach their full, narrative potential. Where did they come from and why did they join Apocalypse so readily?
Some scenes, too, feel like they were tacked on rather than being integral to the plot. There are moments, including a sequence with a very popular mutant, that felt more like fan service than something necessary. That's not exactly a bad thing, but these occasional flashy elements distracted from scenes that were more crucial to the overarching story.
Like previous X-Men films, Apocalypse again tackles the much explored themes of power, friendship, and family, primarily through the complex relationships of the three main returning characters of Charles Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique. In the 10 years since the events of the last movie, they've all moved on to start new lives. Their different outlooks on mutants, and life in general, add to the tension that unfolds within the plot of the movie. They serve as the current pillars for the franchise, and they give the film an emotional center despite sometimes convoluted introduction of so many other characters.
The story has different layers and there's a lot going on to keep audiences entertained. We get to see the personal lives of the characters beyond their roles at Xavier’s school. Different corners of the world are introduced, and we get a sense of how mutants are perceived by others. We see the human side of some characters along with plenty of high-octane action and destruction. Magneto's own arc, for example, is tragic and touching, while Quicksilver gets some deep emotional resonance outside of his requisite cool high-speed sequences. The overall tone is serious and somber, but we do get some humor added in from time to time. The timing isn't always perfect; the jokes can interrupt the atmosphere and mood of a scene, but they're executed well.
X-Men: Apocalypse contains enough action, suspense, heartbreak, and excitement to keep you hooked. The movie juggles a lot of characters, and many don't get the time to be fully explored or utilized, but the movie never fails to keep you entertained for its entire running time thanks to the action and heart of the protagonists. Apocalypse is a great character in the comics and as a movie villain, the stakes are raised to such a level, you can't help but wonder how they'll top this in the next one.