Review – The 6th Time’s A Charm, Right? (“X-Men: Apocalypse”)

Those good ol’ X-Men have faced some pretty hard times. Magneto’s crazy plans to takes over the world… twice, mutants fighting mutants, a time-travel adventure that nearly failed, and now some guy nicknamed Apocalypse shows up and wants to wipe out all life on Earth. Well, there goes the weekend!
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It’s Tuesday, 1900 B.C., and an ancient immortal mutant worshiped as a god named En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac) has pissed-off his Egyptian followers for the last time. He’s buried under a collapsed pyramid until 1983 when his body is resurrected by Nur worshipers, as witnessed by CIA agent, Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne). But when Nur wakes up and takes a stroll, he doesn’t like this new world; too much war and “super-powers” to suit his taste. He decides he wants to cleanse the world, with him leading the charge… but first he’ll need some righteous mutant followers.

Meanwhile, things aren’t going well since we last saw 1973’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past cast. Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) tried retiring to Poland to live a humble life with a wife and daughter, but that didn’t turn out so well. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is going around the world rescuing enslaved mutants, like teleporter Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Young Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) suddenly got his laser-blasting eyes and is admitted to Xavier’s School run by Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). There, Scott runs into Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), who has dangerous telepathic powers and super-genius Beast (Nicholas Hoult)

Back in Cairo, En Sabah Nur (aka Apocalypse), starts to recruit soldiers. He gets winged Angel (Ben Hardy), weather-controlling Storm (Alexandra Shipp), energy-sword wielding Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and his grand prize, Magneto. But Apocalypse wants Charles because of his unique telepathic abilities and kidnaps him, forcing him to send a message (via Apocalypse) to the entire planet that they will be cleansed. But while Apocalypse has Magneto completely destroying the planet by rebuilding it, the young X-Men team fight back with Raven, Nightcrawler, Alex, Beast, and super-speedy Quicksilver (Evan Peters) going up against Apocalypse and his baddies.

The ending super-fight is like “X-Men: Civil War” with mutants fighting mutants as Charles tries to mentally hold off Apocalypse, who has entered his mind and plans on entering the minds of every person on Earth. Yeah, not a good thing. But if you saw the ending of X-Men: Days Of Future Past, you probably already know the outcome, don’t you?

With Bryan Singer taking back the directing reins from Brett Ratner and returning screenwriter Simon Kinberg, this movie has tasty tidbits everywhere. A sly reference to X-Men: The Last Stand‘s ‘third movie’ disaster, a Hugh Jackman Wolverine cameo, introductions to younger versions of Storm, Jean, Alex, and even how Charles went bald are deftly handled. But there are some glaring oversights as well: Jubilee (Lana Condor) is a ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-her introduction, Olivia Munn (a damn fine actress) has barely any lines of dialoge, there are copious amounts of scene jumping that you get tired of, and Apocalypse isn’t all that menacing as he should be. Plus Stan Lee makes his usual cameo, as per his contract.

The real problem here is, for a 2hr and 23min film, most of it is spent on exposition. A LOT of exposition, not to mention the off-times boring introductions of character after character that make you wish for the real movie to start. With its starts and spurts, you have to wait a very long time for the real rhythm of the film to kick in and get going, which is finally does towards the end. The best bits lie in the truly awesome acting skills of McAvoy and Fassbender who can turn any weak picture into a watchable one. Their time on screen are the best parts, although Evan Peters with his super-speed slo-mo scenes are pure fun.

Well, it’s 2016, so that means it must be time for another X-Men movie! This franchise has a huge following and fan base, not to mention a wide variety of characters (called “mutants”) that are the stuff that cosplayers have a field day with at comic book conventions everywhere. With crazy names like Professor X, Storm, Magneto, Wolverine, Beast, Cyclops, and Mystique, these guys (like the Avengers) don’t show any signs of slowing down. Here’s what we have so far:

X-Men (2000)

This started it all with a killer script by David Hayter, Bryan Singer’s deft direction, and a host of solid actors who weaved a comic book legend into a tried ‘n’ true tale of “us vs them”, and did it with pathos, sentimentality, and great deal of humor. We get the shocking mini-backstories of Erik Lensherr, aka Magneto (Ian McKellen), his metal-controlling abilities, and his long-time love/hate partnership with his old friend, wheelchair-bound Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who can read and manipulate minds.

We are introduced to lone-wolf and adamantium-clawed Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who reluctantly joins the X-Men team because Magneto kidnaps young Rogue (Anna Paquin) in order to change humans into mutants, thus tipping the evolutionary scale in his favor. The world finds out that there are good mutants and bad mutants, but tensions are understandably high. This movie went ballistic at the box office and signaled a new franchise in the making. Move over Avengers, here come the X-Men!

X2: X-Men United (2003)

Bryan Singer returned as director with another solid script by David Hayter, David Harris, and Michael Dougherty. Sequels are always a tricky thing, but this one didn’t disappoint with a returning cast and some new mutants to boot. This time around, the focus is a new threat: a bigoted psycho called Col. William Stryker (Brian Cox), who hates all mutants and plans to eradicate all of them using Professor X as his secret weapon. Stryker, using his mutated son Jason as a catalyst, forces Charles to find and kill all the mutants against his will.

But you need a bad guy to catch a bad guy, right? Magneto gets freed from his plastic prison cell and teams up with his enemies to stop Stryker, but will he and his band of mean mutants have alternate plans later? What do you think!? A new mutant is born when psychic Jean Gray (Famke Janssen) ‘dies’ and is turned into unstable, homicidal Phoenix. Another box office smash that signaled another sequel to follow, but here’s where things got really interesting and sides were divided. Did you become a member of  #teamsinger or #teamratner?

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Critics were mixed. Fanboys went nuts and trashed this movie saying it never existed. Why? Bryan Singer left to do Superman Returns (and look how well THAT turned out!) while the screenplay was up to new guys, Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, both terrific writers. Brett Ratner was brought in as director after Matthew Vaughn left for personal reasons.

The story, centered around a mutant child who’s blood has produced a “cure” for mutants, has been the topic for fanboy anger forever. You have Magneto and Charles vying to get Phoenix on their team, but she ends up killing Professor X! WTH? With the X-Men in disarray and leaderless, Magneto coercers Phoenix (and his new band of mutants) to take out the humans… again. But Wolverine, and what’s left of the X-Men, take on Magneto at a historic, massive fight in San Francisco to the death. Check out the moving Golden Gate Bridge CGI effect. Very cool!

In the end, Magneto is robbed of his mutant powers (or is he??), there’s a nice happy ending of sorts, and the franchise seems like it’s ground to a halt. It made major bank at the box office, showing that not even the critics nor the jibes of the fanboys could stop the money-making movie-goers from flocking to see another X-Men movie. As for me, I may be chastised for saying this, but I loved this one and thought it was as good as the others.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Why go forwards when you can go backwards? In a turn of events, the X-Men franchise decided to head in a different direction and tell the backstories of the major players and how the X-Men came to be. After eleven years, why not?

Set during the very real 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, almost X-Men: The Last Stand director Matthew Vaughn got his chance to show off his skills here (as co-writer as well) and delivered a slam-bang movie with college-aged Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) meeting his soon-to-be-buddy, Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), who is on a serial killing spree of the German concentration camp people that killed his family.

Moira McTaggert (Rose Bryne) is the CIA agent who gets the two men involved with teaming up with brilliant young Dr. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) in finding more mutants to fight for the U.S. But bad guy Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his band of mutant cohorts plan on tilting that Cuban Missile Crisis so that WW3 can start. Sides are drawn at the end, thus starting the war of the good mutants vs the bad mutants and how Charles ended up paralyzed.

You couldn’t ask for a better prequel than this, with a dynamite screenplay, solid acting across the board, and a loose and fun direction that included some clever Easter eggs along the way for the fanboys in the audience. It gave the whole X-Men franchise a much needed shot in the arm and gained so much strength at the box office that a sequel was ordered on the spot. Can you say, “Time for a time-travel trope”?

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

I suppose it was inevitable that a time-travel premise was going to pop-up somewhere in the franchise; it’s as predicable as ants at a picnic. So, it was no surprise that X-Men: Days of Future Past was all about time travel. But what was shocking was the return of director Brett Ratner and screenwriter Simon Kinberg! Whaaaa? The guys that every fanboy hated for “what they did to X-Men:The Last Stand“?! Yup, the same two guys.

In a surprising twist that combined BOTH X-Men casts from previous films, this expertly crafted film had both young and old Professor X’s and Magneto’s battling against each other. Juggling time-lines is not an easy thing to do, but here it worked beautifully. Wolverine must be mentally zapped from the future (where sentient robots have taken over the planet) to 1973 and stop Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) from creating them. But first Wolverine has to get a drunken, dejected Xavier (McAvoy) to reunite with an incarcerated Magneto (Fassbender), with a little help from a super-speedster named Quicksilver (Evan Peters).

Okay, sure, you know that in all time travel films that, in the end, all things come out okay because they have to, but watching the journey there was nothing less than exciting. Ratner and Kinberg redeemed themselves in the eyes of the fans and all was forgiven… until the next time. Naturally, this movie skyrocketed at the box office and made the taste buds water for the next X-Men movie.

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