Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse is far and away the lynchpin for the franchise. Its immediate predecessor, Days of Future Past, was more focused on getting its muddled timeline back on track, and thus bridging the two trilogies by recasting a “school for gifted youngsters” with more age-appropriate actors. In all fairness, the original three films served basically as a springboard to establish Hugh Jackman as Marvel’s most visible character, though once he bows out of the role, Antony Starr (Banshee) is his perfect replacement.
With X-Men: First Class set in the ‘60s to mirror its comic book origins, and X-Men: Days of Future Past set in the ‘70s, X-Men: Apocalypse firmly rides the current ‘80s nostalgia, from its soundtrack with Eurythmics songs to Olivia Munn wearing aerobic togs for Psylocke’s costume. There’s even a guest appearance by Ally Sheedy as Scott Sumner’s teacher. Every villain, it seemed, from that era, whether Alan Rickman in Die Hard or Wings Hauser as Ramrod the pimp in Vice Squad, had an aura of eternal damnation, as does Apocalypse.
An interrupted ritualistic reboot results in the world’s “first” mutant buried beneath a collapsed pyramid for centuries, until Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), who we last saw on the Cuban beach at the end of First Class, witnesses his excavation. Naturally she is contacted by Charles Xavier!
As this golem-like god amasses a team of his own with his objective being the destruction of life as we know it, the response to this genocidal plan falls to Professor X and Hank McCoy (aka the Beast) to prepare recent mutant graduates to pull together, including Havok (Lucas Till), his modest brother Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey, whose telepathic abilities have yet to be fully developed. This is the stuff of Greek myth where young, gifted outcasts are locked in battle against some insurmountable threat while at the same time wrestling with what they perceive as their own cursed nature – unsure of their powers, their place in the scheme of things and, especially, unsure of their allegiances. There might be some overwhelmingly confusing characters for the casual moviegoer, such as William Stryker who was last seen in Days of Future Past, a paramilitary biologist who conducted the Weapon X program, or Caliban, who is one of the sewer-dwelling Morlocks in the comics.
But what sets this X-Men movie apart is twofold. First, it’s not the Avengers or Fantastic Four, but the initial mission for an inexperienced band of misfits where the world hangs in the balance. Plus, En Sabah Nur, or Apocalypse, is almost an elemental able to siphon off the abilities of any mutant he transforms bodies with, similar to Rogue who is able to steal an adversary’s powers through sexual encounters. It’s one thing to stop a bank robber who can leap and kick or spin like a top; it’s quite another to confront a god able to shatter all matter! Loki, in the first Avengers film, came close, but he was a god of mischief. Apocalypse is on a much larger scale.
X-Men: Apocalypse is war to extermination; Captain America: Civil War is a skirmish between friends. Originally conceived as a Marvel bad guy with the potential of a Thanos or Galactus, Apocalypse is certainly worthy of a team effort, the purpose of which is to set in motion power that, once released, rivals those three adversaries combined for the next movie!
I keep hearing fandom suggest that “things will be better once Marvel Studios regains the lost properties of X-Men and Deadpool.” Really? All that means to suggest is there’ll be more of the never-ending saga that decides to reinvent Spider-Man whenever he appears onscreen! Or that Wolverine will then be able to turn up in every single Marvel movie!
I reiterate: comic books, or graphic novels if you must, are modern day literature, our Ivanhoe and Three Muskateers. What was once relegated to old westerns and sword & sandal Italian epics now has many film critics complaining that comic book movies have reached overkill.
Yet with Marvel celebrating 75 years of creating mutants, mayhem and mystery men, X-Men: Apocalypse stands as proof that we’ve barely scratched the surface, because it’s in the way the myth is being built.
Characters such as James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan have yet to reach their saturation point but instead have managed to recycle and reimagine key elements for new generations, and so will comic book movies.
The legend of the Serpent Crown or the Kree-Skrull War have yet to be told. Secret Wars and Infinite Earths beckon. And I can’t wait!