Although it isn’t coining the box office receipts that “Captain America: Civil War” commanded, “X-Men: Apocalypse” (**** OUT OF ****) surpasses “Captain America” with lavish spectacle, brinkmanship suspense, and fertile fantasy. Part of the reason is that Twentieth Century Fox produces the “X-Men” movies, while Walt Disney Studios handles the “Captain America” franchise. The “X-Men” franchise displays greater edge and paranoia than the formulaic, facetious, Disney Marvel franchises. For example, the body count in “The Usual Suspects” director Bryan Singer’s latest Marvel Comics adventure “X-Men: Apocalypse” is double, perhaps even triple that of “Captain America.” “Sherlock Holmes” scenarist Simon Kinberg and Singer have no problem with liquidating some X-Men characters. Meantime, Disney produces Marvel sagas where few super-heroes suffer permanent injury. The divide and take sides “Captain America: Civil War” concluded in a stalemate with Cap and Iron Man playing patty-cake. The inescapable problem that Singer and Kinberg face in the ninth “X-Men” franchise entry is predictability. The original “X-Men” trilogy charted the story of Xavier’s mutant super-heroes along chronological lines. The second “X-Men” trilogy, starting with “X-Men: First Class” (2011), then “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014), and finally “X-Men: Apocalypse” ventures backward in time, examining the origins of various characters. “X-Men: First Class” dealt with the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” unfolded at the end of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, and “X-Men: Apocalypse” transpires in the 1980s. “X-Men: Apocalypse” makes several allusions to “X-Men: First Class” about Professor Xavier’s romance with CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert. Since the second “X-Men” trilogy occurs before the original trilogy, we know the principal characters are in little danger of annihilation. Nevertheless, Simon Kinberg’s screenplays for those three films have all been imaginative, audacious, with the X-Men taking things to the brink. Clocking in at an extensive 144 minutes, “X-Men: Apocalypse” doesn’t wear out its welcome, and Singer doesn’t short-change his packed ensemble cast. Furthermore, the malevolent Apocalypse in his first full-blown cinematic incarnation proves to be a challenging opponent. “X-Men: Apocalypse” qualifies as a larger-than-life but slam-bang, sci-fi supernatural saga staged with considerable intellect, wit, and panache.
“X-Men: Apocalypse” opens during a pharaoh’s burial ceremony in ancient Egypt in 3,600 B.C. Naturally, Singer relies on spectacular CGI special effects galore to conjure up this vast, sprawling, ceremony as the first mutant, Apocalypse, finds himself betrayed by a duplicitous cabal. They trap Apocalypse in a pyramid, and the structure vanishes into the earth for 5,600 years until the 1980s when CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne of “Bridesmaids”) stumbles onto it. She finds a passage that leads to Apocalypse’s burial chamber. A cult has been struggling to resurrect the notorious lord, and Apocalypse emerges from captivity to find the world greatly altered from his day. Dark and sinister, with tubes curving out of the back of his head, Apocalypse emerges as an ominous figure in a bizarre outfit. He saves a Cairo street thief, Ororo Munroe (Alexandra Shipp of “Straight Outta Compton”), from two vigilantes. Eventually, Ororo will become Storm. He recruits a fallen angel, Angel (newcomer Ben Hardy), and Apocalypse transforms Angel’s wings into steel so he has the ability to hurl razor-sharp metal feathers which are comparable to machetes. The most important recruit that Apocalypse attracts is Magneto, Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender of “Prometheus”), who is in no mood to love mankind. Erik has suffered another great personal tragedy. During the intervening ten years since the events in “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” Erik has maintained a low profile as a factory worker in Poland. Sadly, he is forced to reveal his mutant ability to manipulate metal when he saves a fellow factory worker from certain death. Unfortunately, the local authorities descend on him with bows & arrows. Magneto flees and joins Apocalypse. Apocalypse is appalled at everything that has transpired during his protracted absence, and he decides to change everything with the help of Erik, Storm, Angel, and a “Wonder Woman” lookalike warrior Psylocke (Olivia Munn of “Ride Along 2”), who boasts both telepathic and telekinetic abilities and dresses like a dominatrix. The collateral damage that Apocalypse and his henchmen create overwhelms the entire Disney Marvel Universe. Impudently, Apocalypse prompts all of the superpowers to launch their nuclear warheads into space where the ordinance will be useless and civilization will depend on the intervention of Professor Xavier (James McAvoy of “Wanted”) and the X-Men that are a lot younger than their predecessors. Happily, Jennifer Lawrence reprises her role as Raven, and Nicholas Hoult returns as Hank McCoy aka Beast.
As exemplary as “X-Men: Apocalypse” is, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” still tops it, but the two movies differ in terms of scope. Director Bryan Singer isn’t as enamored with the 1980s in “X-Men: Apocalypse” as he was with the 1970s in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” He cuts back and forth between the heroes and the villains as they clash. This extravaganza serves up one good scene after another. Two of the best occur when Peter Maximoff (Evan Peters of “Kick Ass”) aka Quicksilver and Wolverine demonstrate their respective skills. Quicksilver embarks on a rescue mission at Xavier’s School for Gifted Children after the building comes under attack. Quicksilver darts about like a wraith snatching somebody here and seizing somebody there, before the house collapses in a pile of smoking rubble. This scene provides some genuine levity in the middle of Apocalypse’s devastating plans to renovate planet Earth. Without divulging too much information, Wolverine’s solitary scene is as savage as it is sensational. The grand finale between Charles and Apocalypse is a drawn-out, but exciting exercise that drums up white-knuckled suspense. The evil first mutant intends to freight his consciousness into Xavier’s body and then appropriate Xavier’s gift to connect with everybody’s mind on the planet. While Charles and Apocalypse tangle like maniacs, the X-Men have their hands full with Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen.
If you haven’t kept up with the “X-Men” cinematic universe, you may find its plot difficult to follow.
“Your imagination can take you where nothing else can.” Van Roberts