The X-Men was one of the first comic book franchises to really break big in terms of public popularity. Oh, sure, Superman and Batman had their followings in the 70’s and the 90’s, but that was largely the fan-boy response and not indicative of the general movie-going public. But with Marvel selling the rights to Spider-man and the X-men, the comic book movie really came into its own. The X-men has been so hugely successful as a franchise that despite a lack of continuity between the titles and different actors being cast in the same roles across titles, people still follow it. It was even parodied in the Spring’s big hero surprise hit Deadpool, who commented on James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart both playing Professor X.
This weekend’s X-Men Apocalypse is the best of the X-Men series thus far. Brian Singer brings the best of all the previous X-Men titles together for what amounts to a reboot of the franchise; bringing the characters from the first movie and the first class while setting up for a continuation of the story beyond this title. The only actor that remains the same from the first X-Men movie is Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, who really has only a cameo in this movie. The characters of Jean Grey and Scott Summers, Phoenix and Cyclops, are recast as younger versions of themselves with Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones) as Jean and Tye Sheridan as Scott. Nightcrawler, Jubilee, Storm, and Angel are back with new actors while Charles, Magneto, Beast, Havoc, Mystique, and Quicksilver all make reappearances. One new mutant to the party is Psy-lock, played by Olivia Munn, one of the older mutants in the story.
Speaking of old mutants, what could very well be the first mutant in existence makes his appearance as the film’s titular character: Apocalypse, played by Oscar Isaac. Inadvertently awakened from a multi-millennial sleep by the overzealous CIA agent Moira McTaggart, Apocalypse sets about reclaiming his rightful place as the world’s ruler by finding the four most powerful mutants and augmenting their powers to help him enslave humanity. He finds Storm, Angel, Psylock and Magneto as his four horsemen. When Mystique learns of his existence and Magneto’s involvement, she enlists the X-Men to help foil the plan. The problem is that there are no X-Men. Charles has avoided training mutants to use their powers for combat ever since the assassination attempt on the President in “Days of Future Past.” Now Charles and Mystique must gather a bunch of young mutants with tenuous control over their abilities, and defeat five of the most powerful beings on the planet.
The film follows the industry trend of being precipitously long. As with the other superhero movies this year, it clocks in at two and a half hours long. It also tries to cram several sub plots in among the three main plots, and it can get confusing for the uninitiated. With so many characters interacting and integral to the plot, it is a challenge to weave a story that is not too complicated to follow. Fortunately, Singer manages the feat, if only just barely. There are one or two scenes where the viewer might be left wondering, “why did she do that?”
Game of Thrones alum Sophie Turner, better known as Sansa Stark, was cast as the younger Jean Grey. While many fan boys may think that Famke Janssen will always be THE Jean grey, Turner turns in a respectable performance, though she struggled with losing her English accent in a few scenes. While Jennifer Lawrence is probably the strong female hero in this story, Turner holds her own all through the film culminating the final conflict. She offers a different take on the character making Jean the pretty girl next door mutant, rather than Janssen’s exotically beautiful and worldly mutant.
Of all of the sub plots, one that has stuck around since “First Class” is Magneto’s flip flopping good and bad guy. In First Class, he is one of the first team of mutants to work with Charles, in fact it is the foundation of their lifelong relationship. His anger at the disparity in the treatment of mutants at the hands of humans always gets in the way of him doing the right thing. This film is no exception. After suffering a tragedy, Magneto is all about making humans pay, despite the pleas from Mystique and Charles. In this, Magneto is following his comic book origins of fighting against the X-Men as often as he fights alongside them.
We also finally get to see Professor Xavier bald again. It was looking for a while that only Patrick Stewart’s Xavier was going to be follicularly challenged as James McAvoy has a full head of think hair. McAvoy’s Xavier has always been more emotional and reactive than Stewart’s more mature Xavier, but now we see the effect of years of fighting and learning beginning to show up as McAvoy’s Xavier grows into the Xavier we know from Stewart. In the final scenes, it could be either actor playing the role as the more mature Xavier is finally realized.
One of the aspects of movie versions of comic book is that film designers tend to avoid the costumes depicted in the print comics. This could be for many reasons, not the least of which is that comic artists tend to draw over-sexualized costumes, particularly for the female heroes, also, spandex looks cheesy in real life and it is difficult to picture anyone taking a hero seriously while wearing skin-tight spandex in day-glo colors. Most of the comic stars have had their costumes re-imagined in a tactical ballistic nylon or Kevlar mesh and sporting darker colors. In many cases, they have no costume at all, they just wear street clothes. In this film, however, we get a nod to the comic costumes. In the final scene, the new team of X-Men enters the “danger room” to train and finally wear costumes that more closely reflect the comic book.
While this is no “Captain America: Civil War”—the best comic book movie yet—this is easily the best X-men movie thus far and while I would love to see it integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe alongside the Avengers and Spiderman, it seems that 20th Century Fox is finally getting the X-Men right.