X-Men: Apocalypse came out this holiday weekend, and it’s already been met with a myriad of negative reviews. A quick Google search will reveal a 48% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a host of articles all bemoaning the lackluster character portrayals, the flimsy storyline, uneven pacing, and “been-there-done-that-itis.” It seems that everyone wants to take a turn crapping on this latest X-Men film, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.
But before we dive in, let’s look at the breakdown of Fox’s Marvelverse on Rotten Tomatoes:
- X-Men – 81%
- X2: X-Men United – 86%
- X-Men: The Last Stand – 58%
- X-Men Origins – Wolverine – 38%
- X-Men: First Class – 87%
- The Wolverine – 70%
- X-Men: Days of Future Past – 91%
- Deadpool – 83%
- X-Men: Apocalypse – 48%
Just look at those scores. Are we supposed to believe Apocalypse is a worse movie than The Last Stand? That it’s only marginally better than the first Wolverine movie? I cry foul – foul, I cry! Apocalypse is not a perfect movie by any stretch, but it’s not a shit-show. It’s far better than Batman v Superman, and I’ll be honest in saying that I enjoyed it more than Captain America: Civil War. Hell, I enjoyed it more than Deadpool, which I’m probably going to get dragged for, but hey – can’t win’em all.
Seriously, though, I cannot wrap my head around the flack this film is getting. I thought the story was a perfect follow-up to Days of Future Past. It picks up a decade after Magneto tried (and failed) to kill President Nixon, revealing to the world the power (and terror) of mutants. Mystique is heralded as a hero by all of mutant-kind, Charles has started the school he always wanted, and Magneto is in hiding, living a normal, peaceful life. That is, until Apocalypse enters the scene and decides to reboot humanity and recreate it in his own image.
What follows is one of the most action-packed, comic-booky X-Men films to date, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy every damn second of it. It’s a serious film, yes, but it’s not grim-dark like BvS, nor is it campy fun like the first Avengers film. It strikes a healthy balance between the two, delivering equal parts comedy and tragedy. I found myself laughing out loud in the theatre one moment, holding back tears the next, and gasping in shock repeatedly throughout the film.
What makes this movie so different than Batman v Superman and Civil War is that we’re not watching our heroes destroy each other (as satisfying as that might be for some). Yeah, there’s some interpersonal tension and bit of dissention among the ranks, but it’s ultimately a classic tale of good versus evil – the X-Men vs. Apocalypse. However, even while everything is going to hell in a hand basket, the stories of Xavier, Magneto, and Raven are propelled and brought to a fairly satisfying conclusion.
If we strip it all down, these three characters have been the anchor holding this modern X-Men trilogy together. Yeah, we got Wolverine as the protagonist in the last film, but, at their core, First Class, Days of Future Past, and Apocalypse revolve around the relational and ideological dynamics between Magneto, Charles, and Mystique. Can mutants really survive in a world ruled by non-mutants? Will society be able to accept humans with extraordinary powers? Should mutants hide themselves behind closed doors and adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, or should they stand firm and embrace a “mutant and proud” rhetoric?
The original X-Men trilogy wrestled with these questions too, but those movies feel like a glorified Wolverine and the X-Men series more than anything. Not that I’m complaining about that. I adore Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and I can’t wait to see how his next (and allegedly last) Wolverine movie pans out. But First Class blazed a different trail, diving into the relationship between the beloved characters Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan brought to life on the big screen.
McAvoy and Fassbender are ace actors accordingly, and they each stepped up their game for these movies, breathing new life and vitality into these characters – and, in turn, the franchise. And lest we forget about J-Law, she actually made me care about Mystique. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rebecca Romijn as much as the next person, and I got a huge kick out of her cameo in First Class, but Lawrence brought a certain level of vulnerability that wasn’t written into the character before, while retaining the badassery that made Mystique so mystifying in the first place.
But back to Apocalypse – as I said above, this film is a perfect follow-up to Days of Future Past, but it’s really more of a sequel to First Class than anything. Days of Future Past was Singer’s way of apologizing to the fans for The Last Stand (which is probably the reason why it’s the highest rated film on Rotten Tomatoes). Apocalypse, on the other hand, is a film that picks up the story right where First Class left off.
We’re met with a Magneto trying to live the life Xavier wanted for him, trying to suppress his own power in the name of peace. We see that Mystique has chosen to hide her true color, because she doesn’t want the responsibility of being a hero. And Charles, sweet Charles, is trying to fulfill his dream of mutants and humans living together, in harmony. These themes were somewhat lost in the last film, and I was thrilled to see them return in Apocalypse.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper review without commending the new cast of characters! Sophie Turner and Tye Seridan are absolutely incredible as Jean Grey and Cyclops. Right from the start, I empathized and connected with these characters, and I’m excited to see them return in future entries of the franchise. It was also entertaining to see Kodi Smit-McPhee jump into the skin of Nightcrawler, complete with scars and Catholicism.
Olivia Munn, Ben Hardy, and Alexandra Shipp are also welcome additions to the cast, even if they were somewhat underutilized. But that’s always been a problem with the X-Men films in general. You can only focus on so many characters. Thankfully, the characters Apocalypse does focus on are fleshed out and fully-realized – including the villain himself! Despite the much-bemoaned makeup, Oscar Isaac fully embodied the menace and destruction of En Sabah Nur, and the more I saw him on screen, the less I was bothered by his makeup/costume.
Also, Evan Peters should take a cue from Hugh Jackman and never, ever stop playing Quicksilver.
Oh, and the music! The film score for X-Men: Apocalypse is easily John Ottman’s finest work to date. Even though I just rewatched Days of Future Past in preparation for the new movie, I still can’t recall anything special from that score, but I haven’t been able to stop listening to the Apocalypse soundtrack since I walked out of the theatre. From the choir to the callbacks, every single track is just so good. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen, even if you haven’t seen the movie. I promise you won’t regret it.
Now, I mentioned before, Apocalypse is not a perfect movie. There are a few plotlines that don’t quite add up, some characters could have been given more screen time (*cough*Jubilee*cough*) and I didn’t like some of the design choices, but the movie isn’t as broken as the critics would have you believe.
Honestly, I think the marketing leading up the film’s release is more to blame than anything. The trailers just don’t do the movie justice, and all of the photos of Isaac’s Apocalypse (who is truly terrifying to behold) made the character look absurd. Fox made similar missteps with Days of Future Past (anyone remember the outrage over Quicksilver’s costumes?), but I was hoping they’d learned the lesson with the marketing genius behind Deadpool.
It will be interesting to see how long the legs of this movie are at the box office. If the critics had their way, the movie would already be out of theatres and banished to home release, but I think they’re being too critical with this movie. There is no justice in the movie world when Age of Ultron can have a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and this movie can’t even break 50%. I’m not sure where the break down is happening with movie reviewers, but part of me is inclined to believe audiences/critics are becoming increasingly biased toward Marvel Studios. That’s not to say Marvel Studios makes bad films, but they have made bad films (case in point, Age of Ultron), yet people continue to praise anything and everything released by the studio.
Yes, there are exceptions to this rule, Deadpool being chief among them. But that movie exists from the sheer will of the fans and an incredible marketing campaign. It’s also only as popular as it is because it dared to be different. When you take Reynolds out of the picture (who absolutely killed it as Deadpool), you’re left with a throwaway plot, a two-dimensional villain, a forgettable supporting cast, and a terrible musical score. You know I’m not wrong.
But maybe it’s more than that. Maybe the critics are tired of Singer’s vision for the X-Men. Maybe Wolverine is the only thing that will sell tickets to X-Men movies. Maybe audiences are finally hitting comic book movie fatigue. Or maybe the X-Men will forever be Hollywood’s most underappreciated heroes. Whatever the case, it saddens me that X-Men: Apocalypse is being met with such apathy and derision, because it is legitimately one of the best comic book films I’ve seen in a while.
You really would be doing yourself a disservice by not watching this film.