X-Men: Apocalypse Review: A Trilogy Ends With Only Partial Success

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X-Men: Apocalypse is a mess. There are too many characters doing too many things, or too few in some cases, making for one of the most inconsistent, erratic superhero movies to date. Yet there’s still something different and startlingly successful about the X-films, even when they don’t click as well as their predecessors and competitors.

Apocalypse is meant to bring with it the end of a trilogy that started with X-Men: First Class. It’s also meant to usher in an era of younger mutants ready for primetime once all is said and done. Director Bryan Singer is once again tasked with developing Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), all of whom appeared in the other films in this series he directed. Though he also has to find some semblance of conclusion for the path he and Matthew Vaughn started on just a few years ago by putting some closure to the stories of Xavier (a joyful, movie-saving James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). The result puts Apocalypse’s first two acts at war with itself.

Interjected between these two sides, and eventually bringing them together, is the titular Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac under lots and lots of blue makeup), who is the first mutant hailing all the way back from ancient Egypt. He, like Magneto in past films, hopes to eradicate humanity from this world so the “superior” mutant race can rule and build a new one. Whatever. You’ve seen this villain before, and you likely will again, perhaps even before the year is out. Isaac does what he can, but there appears to be a miscommunication between the film’s villain and the film’s tone. This super serious foe is sometimes laughable, but then manages to work incredibly well when coercing Magneto and Xavier to his will. One of the best early moments in the film has the former rip apart Aushwitz while Singer displays images of his better X-films to put Magneto’s arc back on track. The scene is all thanks to Apocalypse in a way, so I can’t say he’s entirely terrible, just not entirely watchable either.

The film picks up once it’s done darting between characters and Apocalypse not only has his henchmen, including Magneto and Storm, but also Xavier as his prisoner. From there, you’re just one awkward, though incredibly rousing and even rewarding, Wolverine cameo away from the showstopper of a climax. The X-Men battle Apocalypse and his recruits as the world starts ending around them. But when every player in the film has their role revealed in this battle, the film does something extraordinary. Somehow, this mess manages to tie six films together, putting a definitive period on Singer’s work on this franchise seemingly on his terms. Apocalypse is best when it’s two warring sides join together to fight the villain. There are great moments for everyone here, but especially for one character who’s path was previously ruined in X-Men: The Last Stand. It’s an emotional moment for the series that fans won’t forget.

For that, I have to praise X-Men: Apocalypse. Unlike the Disney Marvel films that leave their promises unfulfilled for several films until they’re ready, the X-Men go for broke every single time. It’s what makes the X-movies a series of films rather than the TV show the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become. Make no mistake, Captain America: Civil War is a much better film than Apocalypse. But Disney can learn something from Fox here in truly rewarding their viewers. This trilogy closer may be messy, but the third act doesn’t forget how the X-Men started the cinematic superhero revolution to begin with. And even when this remarkable series has faltered before, far worse than it does here, it always rose from its ashes, just like a Phoenix. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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