X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

"The third one is always the worst."  Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) makes this comment after seeing Return of the Jedi and the conversation turns to which Star Wars movie (as of 1983) was the best.  It's also a not-so-subtle swipe at X-Men: Last Stand, the disappointing third chapter that wrapped up the original set of X-Men movies.  I wonder if Bryan Singer knew what he was doling out with X-Men: Apocalypse, or if that line is just a case of unintentional irony.

Not that this movie is as bad as Last Stand.  On the contrary, it is still entertaining, but it caps off a series of films that redeemed the entire franchise.  The DC comic movies have largely been garbage, the main Marvel Universe is stuck in a rut even if some of the films do have quality elements, but X-Men, until this movie, was able to do much more with its material.

En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is worshiped as a god in Egypt, along with his four compatriots.  With the aid of a pyramid using some sort of sun power, he has perfected the means of transferring his conscience into other mutant bodies, gaining their powers along the way, making him almost invincible.  His reign ends when a group of revolutionaries decide to seal him in the pyramid and destroy it.  Nur is saved at the last moment by one of his dying protectors, and sleeps for thousands of years.

It is now 10 years after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Passed.  Humanity and the Mutants have largely come to live with each other in peace, while Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has gone into hiding despite being seen as a hero to young Mutants.  Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) is running his school, which includes newcomer Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey, whom the young man who will become Cyclops becomes quick friends with.  Meanwhile, Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), aka Magneto, is living incognito with a wife and child in Poland, evading international attempts to bring him to justice.

The peace is broken when CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne), while investigating a cult in Egypt, witnesses the resurrection of En Sabah Nur.  The disturbance is felt in mutants around the world, and by humans as a global earthquake.  Grey has visions of the end of the world, and Lehnsherr ends up revealing himself after he saves a co-worker from being crushed.  Before long the police are coming to get him and inadvertently kill Lehnsherr's wife and daughter while trying to arrest him, causing him to come out of hiding to take revenge.

Nur, unhappy with the state of the world, starts recruiting new allies in the disgraced Angel (Ben Hardy), the enforcer Psylocke (Olivia Munn), a young Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and, finally, Magneto himself.  Xavier, concerned about Grey's predictions, particularly after word of Magneto's revenge gets around and Mystique shows up at the school concerned as well, gathers with Havok (Lucas Till) and Beast (Hank McCoy) in Cerebro to find out where Lehnsherr is.  Instead, he has his mind taken over by Nur, who uses the connection to force everyone around the world in charge of the nuclear arsenal to launch the missiles into space.

Havok manages to break the connection, but Nur and the rest teleport in, capture Xavier and blow up the school.  Luckily, Quicksilver (Evan Peters) happens to arrive in time.  Being Lehnsherr's son, he was on his way to the school in his own pursuit of Magneto, and manages to use his powers of extreme speed to save everyone except Havok. However, the victory is short-lived as Col. William Stryker (Josh Helman) shows up in force and incapacitates most of the students, capturing Beast, Mactaggart and Mystique.  Grey manages to use her powers to hide herself, Quicksilver and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and they manage to get aboard the helicopter and into Stryker's base in order to rescue the other mutants - managing to do so by releasing Weapon X (Hugh Jackman), in fact the memory-wiped and militarized version of Wolverine.  Weapon X takes out the soldiers at the base, and Grey manages to return him to some semblance of humanity and set him free.

United once again and led by Grey and Mystique, the group heads to Egypt to rescue Xavier and stop Nur and Magneto from destroying the world.

A good portion of the problems with X-Men: Apocalypse lies in the villain himself.  Magneto has been fleshed out throughout the series, while many of the other threats the X-Men have faced have been from broad military and government organizations.  Here we have a supervillain threat from one central source, and En Sabah Nur (aka Apocalypse) suffers from the same problems of the villains in the regular Marvel films - unbelievable powers combined with fanaticism, but interchangeable with dozens more just like him.  For all the powers he has achieved over the years, the main one he seems to have is being able to turn objects to sand or binding people with the earth.  Why a man with that power would need someone like Magneto to do with magnetic elements what Apocalypse can do with anything is beyond me, other than it gives Michael Fassbender something to do in this movie.  Unfortunately, after his family is killed, Magneto turns into just as bland an adversary as Nur.

As for the other bad guys, they are just largely on the back burner to be pulled out for the final battle.  Psylocke, with her ability to manifest her own laser swords, is certainly the most interesting to watch fight, while Storm gets a bit of a revamped origin story.

On the good side, Sophie Turner's version of Jean Grey is set up for the upcoming next series of X-Men films featuring Phoenix and Dark Phoenix.  She does a pretty good job, even if her accent is pretty much all over the place.  I would say the best thing is that it is the logical younger version of the character Famke Janssen played, and not Sansa Stark cosplaying a super hero. Her and Evan Peters are the main standouts here, and Quicksilver is given what has to be the best scene in the movie as he nonchalantly speeds through the exploding school grabbing everyone, including the dog.  I am happy to see more of Nightcrawler, and Kodi Smit-McPhee does a great job playing the younger version.

James McAvoy still does a decent job as Xavier, even if there really is no replacing Patrick Stewart in the part.  Still, like Magneto, Professor X is largely relegated to going through the motions this time around.  He is more of a plot device than a leader.

On the technical side, the special effects in this, aside from Quicksilver's trip through Xavier's mansion and Magneto dispatching a team of police officers, are cartoonish and unconvincing.  Nice idea to have Magneto shooting off lines of magnetic force, but everything looks like an effect.  Many of the previous X-Men films have tried to ground things much more in reality, but some of what I saw in Apocalypse reminded me of the horrible scenes with Legolas in The Hobbit: The War of  the Five Armies.

As for Bryan Singer, he has made missteps before (his version of Stephen King's Apt Pupil, for instance), but this movie could have been directed by any of the famous and indie directors that have been sent through the Marvel and DC meatgrinder of the last decade and a half.  There is very little here that speaks of his usual style.  He may have meant to make a giant monster film, but instead managed to make another rank and file blockbuster.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Time: 144 minutes
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Sophie Turner, Jennifer Lawrence, Evan Peters

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