When Fox launched the X-Men franchise back in 2000, Bryan Singer’s belief was that superhero films needed to be ‘grounded’ – as realistic as possible, firmly embedded in the real world, and with the campier elements of comic books dropped. The first film even lampshaded that with a joke about spandex costumes.
In 2008, the game changed. The MCU proved that traditional superhero capers can work just as well on the big screen as dark, serious flicks. Finally, with X-Men: Apocalypse, Fox have embraced the new mainstream.
As a lifelong X-Men fan, I can honestly say that this is the first of Fox’s X-Men movies to have really captured the style and tone of the comics I grew up on. The plot switches from place to place with dizzying speed, and takes the time to show characters relaxing in order to let us get to know them. It meanders a little – just as the Chris Claremont era’s plots tended to – before coming to a climax. All in all, it’s a fun superhero adventure with high stakes.
Unfortunately, the film also proves that comics sometimes need to be adapted. The whole diversion to Alkali Lake is unnecessary, and Hugh Jackman’s Weapon X just doesn’t quite work. There’s something almost tame about Jackman’s performance, as though he’s having fun but just isn’t taking it all that seriously. Meanwhile, where Claremont was well-known for carefully placing every character and concept, this film tends to bring cool elements up – such as the Blackbird – and then forget all about them. Never more so than poor Lana Condor’s Jubilee, who’s basically a nonentity.
Jubilee isn’t the only one who suffers. Aside from Magneto, whose character-journey is quite complex and intriguing, the rest of the Horsemen are pretty one-dimensional. Sure, visually they’re awesome, not least Olivia Munn’s tremendous Psylocke, but their characters have no depth. I know more about their motivations from throwaway comments in interviews than I do from the film.
The plot is fascinating. Some elements are clearly so carefully thought-out; the film’s title becomes a functional one, with Jean Grey’s powers manifesting and a subtle hint that En Sabah Nur is not the one Jean’s visions were warning her about. Rather, she was glimpsing her own future. An ‘apocalypse’ is a revelation, an unveiling of something that was hidden, and that’s exactly what happens in this film. Jean is the one whose power was hidden, and the movies have no choice but to travel down the Dark Phoenix road. That said, I’m left feeling as though this is going to be a version I enjoy.
All in all, X-Men: Apocalypse is far from perfect. It is, however, the most enjoyable X-Men movie to date. I’m glad I saw it.