Film Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

by Carlin Doyle

Rated M. Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence. Directed by Brian Singer.

We’re starting to see a bit of a pattern in Hollywood. Within the space of a few months, we’ve had Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, and now X-Men: Apocalypse. We love our heroes. We love it when they fight, then make up. We love the special effects, the action, the drama, the colours, the lights, and leaving the cinema feeling entertained and satisfied.

X-Men: Apocalypse brings the X-Men Universe back to life, although, along a new timeline. In other words, because the past was changed in the previous film, Days of Future Past, it means most of the events in the original X-Men trilogy never actually happened.

I love superhero movies, and I don’t discriminate. I am a huge fan of the genre. Since I was a kid, they have had a special place in my heart. I love DC, Marvel, and I love X-Men.

But recent DC and Marvel movies aside, after five X-Men movies over fifteen years (not including Wolverine’s two films), I can’t help but feel that we’ve been here before. Xavier and Magneto’s love-hate relationship has played out for a long time. There’s been lots of discussion about the relationship between mutants and humans, lots of questions; lots of cataclysmic, world-shattering events.

But repetitiveness aside, X-Men: Apocalypse does give us a solid addition to the X-Men Universe. It’s great seeing the teenage versions of the adult X-Men, complete with 80s clothes, emo fringes and disco beats. I love Nightcrawler as an angsty teen, and Quicksilver’s slow-mo scene is hilarious – if you’ve seen Days of Future Past, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The trouble with the new trend of having hero ensembles in a movie together is that it can get overwhelming – there are so many characters, so many competing stories and personalities, they run the risk of failing to explore any one character with some substance.

Apocalypse does struggle with this, but the big exception is Magneto. Fassbender is superb as the tortured anti-hero, and his ongoing internal struggle between bitterness and hope is very compelling. This plays out well with James McAvoy as Professor Xavier, who believes in the potential of humans and mutants coexisting.

The spanner in the works is the villain, Apocalypse – a predictable, garden variety dictator. Supposedly the first mutant from Ancient Egypt, Apocalypse was conveniently asleep for thousands of years until being awoken at just the right time for a new X-Men movie. Our villain is always accompanied by four mutant sidekicks, or “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. As the point is raised, “He got that from the Bible”, the reply is given, “Or, the Bible got it from him”.

In other words, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse talked about in the Book of Revelation are apparently just mutants that got put in the Bible. I know it’s a throwaway line, but it irked me. It plays on people’s ignorance of the Bible and history. People will hear this and just assume that the Bible is mythology, without actually knowing anything about the Bible at all. It’s a big claim and I doubt anyone is going to challenge it. This might be a good topic to talk about with a friend.

I think the main problem with big, blockbuster superhero movies right now is that they lack substance. The budget increases, and in many ways the films are made bigger and better, but they lack depth. Batman vs Superman raised a lot of questions about God, about good and evil, about science and religion, yet didn’t even attempt to take a stab at any of them – the problems were whisked away with big fights and special effects, and that’s the trap that this movie falls into as well.

The X-Men series raises some excellent questions: About Social Darwinism and what it means to be human, about where the value of human life comes from, who defines good and evil, about servant leadership over dictatorship, and the main one, I think, is whether or not peace is achievable between divided social groups in our world. Problems are solved, and then raised again. Just when you think we’ve had a happy ending, the next movie is set up.

I really enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse because I went in with the right expectations. But when I started asking questions and making challenges, it wasn’t as satisfying.

I have a huge respect for the tremendous time, energy and money that goes into these movies, and I can see the quality in them. But a part of me longs for more. A part of me wants to know if big budget superhero movies can push beyond the glass ceiling that now exists, take a few creative risks, and make a really great work of art that lasts beyond box office.

If you get a chance, have a chat with a friend about this. For big budget movies like this, what is the difference between a decent movie and a great movie? What does this genre need to go beyond good, to great?

The Verdict: As a superhero movie and as an X-Men film, Apocalypse ticks all the boxes. I really like the new cast, as well as the additions to the team. 3.25/5

X-Men: Apocalypse is screening now in Australia and releases in the US this Friday 27th May.

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