“Everything they’ve built will fall! And from the ashes of their world, we’ll build a better one!” Director Bryan Singer helms his fourth superhero X-Men film (ninth in the film series), which also concludes the latest trilogy set that began with 2011’s X-Men: First Class as this power struggle becomes a question of weakness or strength on all fronts.
Set in 1983, the new X-Men movie contains mass destruction, impressive action sequences and several showdowns within a plot filled with familiar mutant characters, religious/cultural overtones, historical/pop culture references, and familiar flashbacks/dialogue.
Power becomes the controlling element here. Filmmakers are dealing with obvious high stakes (evident in the title), so they concentrate on each character as their true motives translate into defining actions at the film’s climax.
These emotional choices within each character’s heart may not be apparent at first and the decent acting helps the audience identify with their struggles as mutants grow their already massive presence on the world stage. Obviously each character’s loyalties and abilities play a key role, so filmmakers wisely develop as much as they can while furthering the X-Men universe.
Fans are treated to several inside references (Ultimate X-Men, The Danger Room, etc.), surprises and other satisfying elements while filmmakers explain enough so new audiences can follow the plot even if they’ve never seen an X-Men movie. More creative content would have accentuated this rich universe as some notable characters are literally reduced to spectators of the mutant group before they determine how to take action themselves.
Filmmakers set the stage with important fantasy sequences based within real world history then continue storylines within the X-men universe (Xavier’s School for Gifted Children, etc.). Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is surrounded by mutants of great potential as his loyal partner Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) has been at work creating advanced technological wonders. “Hope for the best and plan for the worst,” says McCoy.
Raven is seen much more than Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in this installment. She maneuvers in the human world with good intentions of protecting her fellow mutants while her chameleon-like abilities are always in the back of the audience’s minds.
Audiences note these abilities that add some needed emotional weight to the plot, but thankfully filmmakers do not overuse any potentially devious motives she might have.
Her cause and emotional state focused her mind, but callused her heart. “It’s your home. I just lived here,” she bluntly says to a welcoming Xavier. “I’m the face of a world that does not exist,” she adds as she wants him to understand her current stance.
She also still cares for Magneto/Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), who struggles with his rage and pain (“all I have ever known”). “Is this what I am?” he shouts to the sky as tragedy amplifies his wrath as humans plead with him for their lives. “I try to be like them. It always ends the same.”
Humanity constantly rips away Erik’s loved ones, which audiences can easily understand though the flashbacks help audiences new to this film series. The ultimate conflict originates with the world’s first mutant named En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) who depends on transference and assistance for survival.
This main antagonist strategically shares power, emotes constant arrogance and deceives with love-filled promises. He considers himself a God (seen historically as Ra, Yahweh and Krishna) and he’s certainly a jealous one (the opening sequence reflects that). “You are all my children, and you’re lost because you follow blind leaders. No more false gods. I’m here now,” he says.
Quicksilver/Peter Maximoff (Evan Peters) returns in yet another amazing sequence that features his lightning fast skills. This sequence was captured on 3-D Phantom cameras shooting at 3100 frames per second and moving at 50 miles per hour.
Rose Byrne also returns as U.S. special agent Moira Mactaggert who continues a previous relationship with one of the main mutant characters while Josh Helman also returns as Col. William Stryker, a prominent mutant antagonist. Filmmakers do not show much from the human characters’ side and mainly use news media excerpts where the epic events and victories are reported. The media also plays a key role as a knowledge base for a specially powered character.
In this outing, Xavier’s younger students are more like soldiers as their considerable powers unleash among the battles. Jean Grey (Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) plays a large role due to her considerable powers while her fears of being “trapped inside your own head” influence her motives, she still manages to play a key assisting role including another character’s visceral appearance. “One day I’m going to hurt someone,” she foresees.
The Summers brothers Scott (rising star Tye Sheridan) and Alex (Lucas Till) also make an appearance. Scott, a.k.a. Cyclops reveals his origins beginning with a classroom sequence featuring 80s star Ally Sheedy as the teacher. Origin storylines also occur for Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and the sword-wielding Psylocke/Betsy Braddock (Olivia Munn) who also had a minor role in 2006’s X-Men” The Last Stand.
Jubilee (Lana Condor) and Angel (Ben Hardy) also have prominent supporting roles. Stan Lee makes his fourth cameo in the X-Men film series accompanied by his wife.
The vivid imagery and set pieces provide the ‘shock and awe’ emotional assault in the visual department while filmmakers develop character and relay actions well. Only one sequence involving Quicksilver needs a ‘less is more’ touch where the first short dialogue line works fine, but is unfortunately ruined by an additional, unnecessary explanation.
Filmmakers connect this character-rich universe pretty well and set the stage for more future developments and hopefully more surprises. Since characters are mainly focused on Apocalypse they are almost all pushed out of their comfort zones, which helps develop the plot beyond simple origin storylines or changing hairstyles.
A frequent Singer crew member, the talented John Ottman again takes on multiple filmmaking roles as editor, music composer and co-producer. A solidly recommended 144-minute film (*** out of four stars) that’s rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images. Also showing in 3D theaters.
Stay after the credits for an additional sequence that foreshadows upcoming X-Men movie(s) including the next one (still unannounced) that’s set in the 1990s. This recommended film releases 30 years after Apocalypse’s X-Men comic book debut.