As ninth film in the X-Men film franchise, if you include the Wolverine films and Deadpool, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE carries with it the same burden of established fandom as Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. With this latest film, director Bryan Singer delivers his most ambitious entries to date, and on sheer scale alone, it’s one of the most source-accurate and best films in the series to date. Set in 1983, a decade after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, Professor Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) school is in full swing with a group of new recruits, while Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and several others have scattered to various corners of the globe. Following a series of tragedies, the group is drawn back together with the rise of an ancient and powerful mutant, En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), who threatens to wipe out life on the planet.
With the presence of En Sabah Nur, the stakes are immediately higher, and this sheer scope is reflected in every aspect of the film. Simon Kinberg’s script throws multiple kitchen sinks and characters at the narrative, trusting not only in Singer’s grasp of ensemble casts, but that the epic nature of the X-Men mythology can handle it. Which is the real strength of X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, in recognizing that there is a rich world of high-concept characters and stories to draw upon, and in delving deep into that comic territory with scant regard for the consequences. The film breezes through the rapid-fire introductions of boldly recast characters Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp) because it can, summarily introducing misguided “villains” Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Angel (Ben Hardy) without need for a backstory. Their iconic costumes, page-perfect in the case of Munn and the little-seen Jubilee (Lana Condor), are all the explanation that these characters need for existing. Singer has embraced the compressed nature of the source’s storytelling, making these shorthand visual statements to fans, so that when unexpected cameos appear in fully fledged versions of their comic counterparts, reactions will be equal parts knowing and excited.
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE is aware that it is being made for a specific audience, and makes no bones about the fact that it is pulling from deep inside the long-boxes of fandom. As such, uninitiated audiences would be rightfully baffled by some character developments and narrative leaps, but the faithful are rewarded with some magnificent set-pieces and spectacular nods to the history of these characters. Singer stages a one-upmanship on his own Quicksilver (Evan Peters) scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past, allowing himself and the movie some much needed levity from all the Sturm und Drang of city-toppling events. These sequences, like everything else in the film, are larger than life, rendering some of the newer cast members (especially Psylocke) a little perfunctory in the swirling weight of this film. Yet they all ultimately have their part to play in the staggering finale, and what distinguishes X-MEN: APOCALYPSE from the rest of the pack is an unrelenting commitment to exploring every corner of this expanding franchise at every turn.
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE is released in Australia on 19 May 2016 from Fox.
2016 | US | Dir: Bryan Singer | Writers: Simon Kinberg | Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till | Distributor: Fox | Running time: 144 minutes | Rating:★★★★½ (9/10).