After seeing the 49 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes for “X-Men: Apocalypse,” I walked into the theater with significantly lower expectations than I had originally. Critics have called it an overstuffed, “middling” chapter in the X-Men franchise, and I was afraid it would become what “Age of Ultron” was to “The Avengers.” However, while I do think the previous two films in the X-Men prequel trilogy — “First Class” and “Days of Future Past” — were stronger, I found I really enjoyed “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Despite a few weaknesses, the film has some strong performances and a number of great moments.
“Apocalypse” continues the X-Men prequel franchise that started back in 2011 with Magneto and Professor X’s origin story, “First Class,” and continued with the flashback-filled, time-altering “Days of Future Past.” The new film starts off with a great opening sequence in ancient Egypt, where a powerful mutant named Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has convinced the people he is a god. A band of rebels try to expose the truth about him, and while they do succeed in toppling a giant pyramid and burying Apocalypse in the rubble, they don’t actually kill him. He awakens thousands of years later and recruits a group of renegade mutants — Storm, Psylocke, Angel, and Magneto — to help him destroy and remake the world.
My favorite part of these X-Men prequel films has been watching Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy take on the roles of the younger Magneto and Professor X. These characters were originally played by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart — definitely not an easy act to follow. Yet Fassbender and McAvoy do an excellent job of fleshing out these characters’ backstories and portraying the friendship and conflict between them.
***Warning: Spoilers ahead!***
Magneto is one of my favorite X-Men because he’s such a complex character; his methods are wrong, but you can sympathize with his reluctance to trust non-mutants. His life is, sadly, a story of pain and loss, beginning with the horrors of the Holocaust. In “Apocalypse,” he’s tried to build a peaceful life for himself, like Professor X advised him to, but after an accident exposes his powers, his wife and daughter are murdered. He allows Apocalypse to recruit him simply because he’s so broken and sees no other path but destruction.
Although Fassbender and McAvoy were my favorite part, Quicksilver (Evan Peters) once again very nearly steals the show. He provided some great comic relief in “Days of Future Past” with a trippy, slow-mo prison break, and I wondered how they would top that sequence. Thankfully, Quicksilver gets another standout scene in this movie: he rescues all the young mutants from Professor X’s school right before it explodes, set to the tune of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” I also liked that Quicksilver got to be more than just comic relief in this film; he has a few moments of more serious character development where he struggles with the fact that Magneto is his father.
In addition to Quicksilver, we get to see some younger versions of familiar faces from the original X-Men films. Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Alexandra Shipp all do an excellent job as the young Cyclops, Phoenix, Nightcrawler, and Storm, respectively. It’s cool to watch them developing their powers and move closer to becoming the characters we know and love.
I wasn’t sure the film would have a happy ending or not, but I like how all the mutants came together to bring down Apocalypse. It took everyone using their powers — including a repentant Storm and Magneto — to defeat him, and we also get to witness the birth of the Phoenix, as Jean Gray fully unleashes her powers for the first time.
The film does have a couple weaknesses, and one of those is the fact it might be a little tricky for more casual viewers to follow. The film jumps back and forth between scenes and characters, and if you’re not familiar with all the previous films, it could be more challenging to keep up with what’s happening. I also thought Apocalypse’s prosthetic make-up was just a little too heavy, and almost buried Oscar Isaac.
I’m curious to see where the franchise heads in the future, after that relatively happy ending. Since “Days of Future Past” has reset the timeline, I’d like to see the characters take a different path than the one we’re familiar with from the original X-Men trilogy. Maybe this time Jean doesn’t have to be overcome by her dark side, and Magneto doesn’t have to be a villain. I’m also excited to see the younger mutants like Quicksilver and Storm in action.
In short, if you’re a fan of the X-Men movie franchise, don’t let the “meh” critical reviews put you off. “X-Men: Apocalypse” is still worth a trip to the theater.