Many fans will agree with me when I say that the very first series of X-men films will always hold a special place in mankind’s history and culture—the original trilogy is often spoken of by the fandom in hushed and reverent tones. Indeed, there is something universal about the appeal of watching a wheelchair-bound Patrick Stewart – in all his bald glory – rallying a plucky band of misfits to square off against Ian McKellen and his goons. When I watched X-men: The Last Stand, I did so with a heavy heart, because it signalled the end of the franchise for the foreseeable future. So, when 20th Century Fox decided to reboot the X-men franchise, releasing X-men: First Class and X-men: Days of Future Past over the last few years, the news came to me like rare and refreshing fruit.
X-men: Apocalypse has the privilege of being something that has never before been achieved in the history of comic-book film reboots: it is a sequel to two films – both X-men: Days of Future Past and X-men: The Last Stand – simultaneously. Thanks to the time-travelling shenanigans in X-men: Days of Future Past, both versions of X-men, old and new have been made officially canon. Living up to its hype, X-men: Apocalypse is a thoroughly enjoyable film. I was initially worried that the sheer amount of characters would lead to messy action scenes and an underdeveloped cast, but it seems like my fears were largely unfounded. Each character had their own part to play over the entire course of the movie, and members of the newly-introduced cast, such as Scott, Jean and Nightcrawler, exhibit surprisingly good chemistry with each other.
Make no mistake though: the film is still largely carried by the main characters of the previous films. You get a healthy dose of Jennifer Lawrence, whose unique take on the mutant Mystique lends a complex and in-depth portrayal of the aforementioned character. Evan Peters, cast as Quicksilver, has been thrust into the spotlight, stealing the show with his usual high-speed, time-slowing antics. The film’s final trump card is their not-so-secret ingredient behind the success of the rebooted X-men franchise: the enduring bromance between Charles and Erik (played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively) that has formed the backbone of all three films.
Longtime fans of the series will appreciate the lengths the film goes to tie together elements of all the X-men films; and I do mean all of the X-men films. Astute viewers will catch Charles reciting this particular phrase to his students: “Let us now start fresh without remembrance, rather than live forward and backward at the same time.”
This phrase is taken from “The Once and Future King”, an Arthurian Fantasy novel written by T.H White which Magneto is seen reading when he is incarcerated in X2. A neat little easter egg that showcases the amount of attention to detail that has gone into making the film.
Interestingly, religion is a key theme in X-men: Apocalypse. Throughout the film, there are constant references to a saviour; a particular religious figure who was well known for performing miraculous feats such as walking on water and transmuting fluids into wine. The film spares no effort in presenting to us two contrasting types of saviour figures: One is Apocalypse, mutant god in the flesh, whose favourite pastimes include calling everyone he sees “my son” within the first few seconds of meeting them, as well as bellowing out a constant stream of balderdash about swords, slings, and the tower of Babel. The other is Professor X, who sports a last name that sounds suspiciously like “saviour”, and preaches messages of friendship, love and hope to his entourage of young, impressionable mutants. With speeches about angels, blind leaders and false gods thrown into the mix, one can only conclude that these biblical allusions are made with all the delicate subtlety of a sledgehammer.
The only gripe I have with X-men: Apocalypse, is the hammy and predictable ending. I won’t spoil the details, but you can probably guess how the movie will end once you cross the one-hour mark. The final, climatic scene itself involves a lot of grunting, screaming, anguished cries and dramatic name-calling. It is a majestic, awe-inspiring, CGI-intense spectacle; in fact, if you are looking for an action-packed blockbuster to wind down after a hard day’s work, it might be just what the doctor ordered. Personally, it feels like a step down from the emotional depth and nuance that made First Class and Days of Future Past so enjoyable to watch. Regardless of its flaws, X-men: Apocalypse is a must-see for fans—if you found yourself enthralled by the previous two X-men films, this year’s installment will definitely not disappoint.
If X-men: Days of Future Past was the bridge between the two generations of X-men films, then X-men: Apocalypse marks the end of an era—the era of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and the old guard of the original trilogy. In their place stand the newly-minted stars of the modern age: Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence and so on. A new era has begun, and we can only wonder what fantastic new adventures the X-men crew will embark on.