X-Men: Apocalypse

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Release date: 18th May 2016/Watch the trailer here

‘At least we can all agree, the third one is always the worst,’ says Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), as she and her fellow mutants leave the cinema after watching Return of the Jedi. It’s a barb that’s most likely aimed at 2006’s The Last Stand, the third in the original X-Men trilogy, but unfortunately, it’s a sentiment that applies here, too.

X-Men: Apocalypse is the final film in the latest X-Men trilogy, rebooted in 2011 with a younger generation of mutants in First Class. Set ten years after the events of Days of Future Past (although, inexplicably, none of the characters seem to have aged a day – shouldn’t James McAvoy be looking a little more like Patrick Stewart by now?), Apocalypse sees the emergence of En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), believed to be the world’s first mutant, who’s awakened from a few thousand years slumber determined to wipe out the world’s weak and feeble with the help of his four horsemen sidekicks.

If it all sounds a little bit ridiculous, that’s probably because it is. Apocalypse opens with an effects-heavy Ancient Egypt sequence that sets the tone for the two long hours that are to follow – but all it takes is that familiar X-Men fanfare and some stellar opening credits for an X-Men fan to know that they’re about to witness something great.

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And Apocalypse certainly does have its moments of greatness. Much like Captain America: Civil War, its biggest struggle is the burden of a large ensemble cast and introducing a host of new characters and actors. Although it doesn’t manage to balance its characters and their stories as successfully as Civil War did, many of those great moments come from the character-driven scenes that make up the first half of the film. Much of the buzz surrounding Apocalypse stemmed from the recasting of iconic characters such as Jean Grey and Scott Summers/Cyclops. While the entire new, younger cast is impressive – Kodi Smit-McPhee makes a fantastic Nightcrawler – it is Sophie Turner as Jean Grey who shines the most.

As well as heroes, X-Men: Apocalypse introduces its fair share of new villains. Oscar Isaac, hidden beneath a mountain of make-up and prosthetics, does the best that he can as Apocalypse – and he’s not the worst villain we’ve seen in a Marvel film – an ancient, all-powerful being who has been taking on the powers of other mutants throughout his lifetime. Disappointed in what the world has become, and with a hefty God complex, he recruits four followers – Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and newcomers Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Angel (Ben Hardy) – and imbues them with even greater powers than they already possess:

Angel is weak and boring, Psylocke is interesting enough but sorely underdeveloped, but at least Alexandra Shipp puts a new, impressive spin on an iconic character.

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The problem is, with so many new characters to introduce and old ones to catch up on (Magneto, for example, has found himself a wife and a daughter since we last saw him), the first hour of Apocalypse ends up feeling like one very long introduction. Then, when things finally start getting underway – cue lots of CGI scenes of major cities being destroyed and a scene that’s only purpose is to make room for a (admittedly, cool) Wolverine cameo – it all gets so silly that you wish it hadn’t bothered. It’s entertaining enough, and Professor Xavier (James McAvoy), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) et al. do an admirable job amongst all of the CGI, but it’s a climax that lacks the excitement, the urgency and the emotional depth of some of its finer predecessors.

Still, despite all of my complaining, I did immensely enjoy Apocalypse – honestly. It may not have had all of the fun or the charm of First Class or Days of Future Past, but it was still unreservedly an X-Men film. For all its flaws, it still dared to be big and bold and tell its tale with conviction.

The problem is, that the apocalyptic scale doesn’t leave room for much else. These are complex characters, fighting for complex beliefs, but they end up battling for screen time instead.

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★★★

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