X-Men: Apocalypse Is (Almost) the X-Men Movie We Wanted

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(Photo via Comingsoon.net)

Every year there’s that one movie that captures your imagination: the one that draws out every last painstaking second of anticipation from you.  It’s the one that you stake your entire summer on, the one that — for better or for worse — will be the measure by which you compare every other movie for the year.

Sometimes they’re holiday releases like The Force Awakens.  Sometimes they’re summer blockbusters like The Avengers.  And still other times they’re released quietly, entirely unnoticed by everybody except for you.

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(Photo via Comicbook.com)

It may come as no surprise to you that my most anticipated movie of this year — or at least of this summer — was X-Men: Apocalypse.  Despite having their fair share of franchise troubles in the past, the recent slew of X-films have been unerringly excellent.  The trial and error of movies like X2, The Last Stand and X-Men Origins have taught filmmakers what will and will not work on screen.  And, most importantly, Bryan Singer is no longer the greenhorn indie director who didn’t know how to shoot an action scene when he began work on the first X-Men.

So it seemed, going into the film, that it was the perfect storm for what could potentially turn out to be the perfect X-film.  You had a veteran director who has finally learned how to shoot the movie’s source material, an exceptional cast that has largely exceeded their A-list counterparts and one of the franchise’s most iconic villains.

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(Photo via Screenrant.com)

With so much to live up to, Apocalypse can’t help but feel somewhat disappointing.  It’s not as good as Deadpool, Days of Future Past nor even First Class.  It’s not quite the movie that it could — and in many ways should — have been.  In many ways, it’s an obvious segue into the new status quo: directly setting up what the original X-Men movies wanted to be in the first place.

That’s not to say that the movie was bad, nor even that it suffered from the same problems that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Batman vs Superman were plagued with (setting up their sequels at the expense of the movie that people actually paid to see).  It’s not half so bad as its Rotten Tomato and Meta Critic scores would suggest.

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(Photo via Foxmovies.com)

Apocalypse is a near miss: coming within a hair’s breadth of excellence.  It builds satisfactorily on the movies that came before it while amping things up for the movies that will inevitably succeed it.

While we have the “classic” First Class team accounted for (Xavier, Magneto, Mystique, Beast and Havoc), the focus largely falls on a younger class of mutants that will invariably take center stage in the sequel (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Storm, Quicksilver and Nightcrawler).  Of this latter group of “gifted youngsters,” three were the founding members of the X-Men at the outset of the first film.

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(Photo via Foxmovies.com)

While we’ll have to wait for a future X-film to add Rogue to the roster, the other holdout from the first film — Wolverine — makes a show-stopping appearance in Apocalypse.  In the decade since his capture at the end of Days of Future Past, Stryker has gone to work on Wolverine: scrambling his brain and enhancing his powers.  When Xavier’s latest recruits find themselves trapped in Stryker’s base, they release Wolverine to distract their captors.

The resulting scene is like a best-of clip from a truly R-rated Wolverine movie.  It’s bloody, brutal and is every inch the movie that X-Men Origins wanted to be.  It’s honestly astounding that Apocalypse was able to keep its PG13 rating while including that visceral and unnerving of a scene in it.  But while it is functionally nothing but a ten-minute trailer for the actual R-rated Wolverine solo movie coming out next year, it inserts itself so organically into the narrative that it actually finds itself in that it doesn’t feel like the jarring non-sequitur that Bruce Wayne hacking into Lex Luthor’s meta-human files felt like in Batman vs Superman.

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(Photo via Rollingstone.com)

And then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room: Fox’s obvious second pass at adapting The Dark Phoenix Saga.  While X2‘s tease for that particular plotline was subtle (a vaguely phoenix-shaped shadow coasting across the lake where Jean died), Apocalypse makes it a central plot point.  It makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that Jean is unutterably powerful and barely in control of herself.  It also sets up her romance with Cyclops that is so essential that that particular chapter in X-Men history.

So while X-Men: Apocalypse is intrinsically concerned with entrenching itself in the branching lore of the X-Men franchise — with shoutouts to sequels and spin-offs alike — it is first and foremost about its own narrative, about Apocalypse.  It is very much aware with how we view movies today: not in a vacuum, but in the context of all eight preceding X-films.  It trusts its audience to know (or at least be tangentially aware of) Wolverine’s past from the original timeline.  It trusts its audience to know Jean’s fate from X2 and the Last Stand: recognizing the obvious setup for a Phoenix-focused sequel.

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(Photo via Melty.com)

In fact, there’s a very small list of nitpicks that I’d levy against the movie as outright faults (or at least sorely missed opportunities).  While we did see similar scenes in First Class and even Apocalypse, one of the few things that I really did want to see was Magneto celebrating a passover dinner with his new family.  Apocalypse’s intrusion on Magneto’s revenge at the ironworks trampled on what was promising to be one of the most memorable scenes in the film.  Although Apocalypse’s appearance is perfectly functional in the film, it’s a far cry from what the character could — really, should — have looked like, which is frequently better captured in low-budget cosplays.  And did nobody think to address the fact that a major plot point of the movie is an Egyptian (Apocalypse) forcing a Jew (Magneto) to make a pyramid for him?

Apocalypse is almost the X-Men movie that I was looking forward to seeing.  While it doesn’t quite hit the mark like its immediate forebears, it is vastly superior to any of the pre-First Class movies and promises still better movies to come.  And while I may have expected more from the franchise at this point, that’s still alright by me.

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(Photo via Youtube.com)

Rating: 7.5/10

Buy on BluRay: Yes

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