This time around, our mutant heroes are faced with planetary annihilation at the hands of the first and possibly most powerful mutant of them all: Apocalypse.
Set in 1983, the first 45 minutes are very much a case of the X-Men assembling. The disparate group has been scattered to various corners of the world. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is operating machinery in a smelting works somewhere in the sphincter of Poland. Living the simple communist life with a wife, daughter and Lada, he appears to have abandoned his vendetta against the anti-mutant establishment. That is until the charismatic Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), who has recently been awoken from centuries of slumber, invites him to be one of his four horsemen.
The film does a great deal of globe trotting. We go from ancient Cairo, to East Berlin, then Poland and back to Westchester New York, where we find the slightly smarmy Professor X has borrowed Don Johnson’s entire wardrobe from Miami Vice.
Returning director Brian Singer has continued the re-invention of the X-Men series that he initiated with 2014’s Days Of Future Past, which was a major return to form after the underwhelming Jack The Giant Slayer. This is his fourth X-Men film after he opted out of The Last Stand and First Class. It could be argued that his X-Men films were the original template for the Avengers films. There are at least fifteen mutant characters to focus on in this film and he gives each one plenty of moments to shine. It is a delicate juggling act that Singer handles admirably.
Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) returns for the first time since The Last Stand. Other newcomers include Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and even Ian Beale’s son from Eastenders – Ben Hardy – turns up as Angel. The ensemble cast are uniformly impressive. Standouts include Michael Fassbender and the excellent Sophie Turner, in what is her first major role outside of Game Of Thrones’ Sansa Stark.
The picture begins in ancient Egypt where the purple skinned Apocalypse is due to perform a ceremony to transfer his consciousness into a suitable donor. The ensuing set-piece inside a pyramid is exciting and the action comes thick and fast. The picture is comprised of five excellent set-pieces: the absolute standout being Quickilver’s rescue of the inhabitants of Xavier’s repeatedly destroyed school for gifted mutants/people, to the strains of Eurythmics sweet dreams. James MacAvoy provides much of the comic relief and looks like he is having a great time.
The 80’s period detail is outstanding. Magneto drives a Lada and there are many Trabants dotted around the East Berlin scenery to add to the authenticity. Nightcrawler wears the red leather jacket that Michael Jackson made famous in Thriller. The big hair and shoulder pads are correct and present. The cinematography is tinted with a purple hue that does make it feel very 80’s. Prince would no doubt have enjoyed this movie.
Following on from the 60’s set First Class and 70’s set Days Of Future Past, it feels appropriate to set this in the 80’s. Singer even manages to include a dig at X-Men: The Last Stand, after a group of mutants emerge from a screening of Return Of The Jedi and announce that ‘Part three is always the worst.’ No sour grapes there then Brian. Interestingly, the writer of part three is Simon Kinberg – the writer of this instalment too.
Two thirds of the way into the film I found myself thoroughly entertained. Then the picture falls into the usual overlong formulaic finale, that seems to go on just a tad longer than is welcome. Still, at 144 minutes, the director probably needed the extensive time to give all of the large ensemble cast something to do. Except maybe Rose Byrne.
There is nothing really new in this film. At times it comprises most of the usual tropes that have been flogged to death in the previous five pictures. It is formulaic, but it is a formula that works. We do care what happens to these characters because they are so well drawn. Apocalypse is quite a sympathetic character and not played as a cackling Pantomime villain or caricature like he could have been. Oscar Isaac even manages to make him somewhat sympathetic under all those prosthetics. The special effects are top notch and the action has much more of an edge to it than Captain America: Civil War.
As X-Men films go, this is an intoxicating cocktail of old and new ideas, shaken together and generously poured out by a director who knows exactly what the audience wants to drink up. Oh, and Mr. Logan drops in for a wordless, yet welcome cameo.