It's been 16 years since FOX released its first X-Men movie......and it took that long for them to finally get it right.
After stumbling here and there in the first four X-Men movies from 2000 to 2009, the franchise took a big turn in 2011 with X-Men First Class and "rebooted" the X-Men cinematic universe without fully rebooting it, keeping it connected to the previous actors and cast and making a series of movies that were considered prequels and alternate realities to what we had already seen. This whole revamping effort reached a zenith in the last movie, Days of Future Past, which provided an ending that retconned almost everything that happened from X2 on, making the universe established from First Class on the "true" X-Men Cinematic Universe.
X-Men Apocalypse is the ultimate culmination of that revamp effort and is pretty much the X-Men movie we have been waiting for since the first one in 2000, but it couldn't have been made if not for FOX's stumbles and learning along the way.
Watching Apocalypse, that was the biggest thing that was clear to me. FOX has actually learned from what it did before and is applying that experience to what they are doing now with the franchise to finally tell the story of these characters as vibrantly and colorfully as they were meant to be told.
Nothing makes this more clear than the final shot of the movie, which I won't reveal here, but when you see it, think about how in the very first X-Men movie FOX did what they could to not imitate the look of the comic or the cartoon exactly and made it clear that they did not want to do that, and then look closely at everyone at the end of this movie, especially James McAvoy's Professor X and realize the complete 180 the studio has taken since then.
Make no mistake, X-Men Apocalypse is made for the fans of the comic and cartoon and was obviously helped greatly by the recent wave of comic book movies and franchises that have shown FOX how closely you can resemble the look and feel of characters and a universe and still tell an epic, grand cinematic tale that doesn't just feel like a cheap regurgitation of the comic book or cartoon. It serves them very well here in the final chapter of a trilogy that started with Matthew Vaughn's First Class in 2011 and continued with Bryan Singer's Days of Future Past in 2014.
I have been a fan of this rebooted X-Men cast since First Class and they are on point with this movie in the best way. McAvoy gives his strongest Charles Xavier yet, moving ever so closer to Patrick Stewart's perfectly cast performance. Michael Fassbender is still my favorite Magneto, with all due respect to Sir Ian McKellen. From the beginning, this Magneto has been dominant, powerful and a force to be reckoned with, evoking the same emotions from McKellen's performance, but actually cutting loose and displaying those emotions physically on screen. He has yet to be the true villain of these movies as McKellen's version was in X-Men and X-Men the Last Stand, but the conflicted nature of his relationship with Xavier and Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique make Fassbender's turn as Magneto all the more complex and dynamic.
Of course, Oscar Isaac's En Sabah Nur (Apocalypse) is the true villain of this movie and while he mostly plays extreme puppet master to the other mutants for the duration of it, he does provide the next level of storytelling and grand scale that this franchise needed to reach and did it in such a way that lays waste to Brett Ratner's attempt to do the same thing in X-Men the Last Stand. It was time for us as fans, after seeing a myriad of personal struggles and stories among these characters, to see one where they all put their powers and abilities on display in one direction toward an external enemy or force that truly threatened the entire world instead of merely presenting the threat that it could happen.
Apocalypse, fittingly is that threat and he displays the same intensity and relentlessness that a true comic book villain would display and may be the first X-Men villain to truly do so onscreen. It works well for the most part, even if he does it mostly through others.
As with so many other superhero ensemble pieces, everyone gets their time to shine in this movie and it really is a solid balance for this principle cast. The only one whose powers are slightly less featured than others is Mystique, and considering the great focus on her character in First Class and Days of Future Past, that can be understood, along with the other important role that her character plays in the movie to the other mutants in particular.
Evan Peters is still the best Quicksilver(sorry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson), providing yet another spectacular speed sequence for his character in the middle of the movie, and Nicholas Hoult is again solid as Beast. The newcomers though, almost all of whom are playing characters that have been featured in the franchise before, are the standouts this time, the biggest one being Sophie Turner's Jean Grey, who gives a more emotionally charged, nuanced version of the character than we have seen before. She is far more uncertain of herself in this movie than Famke Janssen's version in previous movies, but she is also more intuitive to situations that happen within the movie, knowing what to do and when to do it when it is needed. She's also more authoritative and seems to already have a stronger relationship with Xavier at this point than we have seen before.
Tye Sheridan gives us a younger, unbalanced Scott Summers who has lot of growing up to do before he becomes the James Marsden version of the character, but it is fun to see him in a learning process with his powers and abilities for once. Kodi Smit-McPhee is solid as Nightcrawler, providing a great display of his abilities and childlike innocence to the world changing around him.
But I have to single out Alexandra Shipp as Storm for a second. I have had a tortured relationship with that character from the beginning. I wanted Angela Bassett to play her in 2000 as I felt she embodied the ferocity and controlled grace of the character more. That's not to say that I dislike Halle Berry as an actress at all, but I never liked how they wrote her as Storm in the earlier movies. She barely had her African accent and she was far more contained than she should have been, in my opinion.
Shipp on the other hand in this movie, plays Ororo Munroe with the ferocity and confidence that I have wanted to see in that character from the beginning, and while she still may be more reserved in this movie similar to the previous ones, I still like her portrayal of the character a lot more than I have at any other point. Maybe it's just because she does the accent well, I don't know. I hope she continues in that role with this cast.
There wasn't much to see from Olivia Munn's Psylocke, Ben Hardy's Angel or Lana Condor's all-too brief turn as Jubilee who didn't even get to use her powers, but with all of the characters in this movie vying for time, there were going to be some left out in the cold, which is a shame for Munn because she is a very solid actress and could have used some more substance and dialogue to her role.
On the other hand, the actor that was on screen for a total of five minutes and made the absolute most of it was Hugh Jackman in his seventh total appearance as Wolverine......and it might have been his best one yet. You've just got to see it to behold it. It truly is the most glorious five minutes of the movie, without question.
X-Men Apocalypse is getting mixed reviews so far from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes at 47% rotten through 223 total reviews, while the audience is 73% fresh through more than 96,000 user ratings. Metacritic is around the same for critical response at the time of this posting, with a 52 score from 47 critics, most of them giving it mixed reviews; almost the same as the user score at a 6.9 through 93 ratings. Those scores are much lower than First Class and Days of Future Past which have a 65 and 74 Metacritic score respectively, as well as 87% and 91% certified fresh scores on RT respectively. While I would put First Class and Days of Future Past ahead of Apocalypse, I wouldn't put Apocalypse so far behind them at all. It builds off of the other two movies very well and raises the stakes accordingly, in my opinion.
The bottom line for me is that with Deadpool and now this movie, FOX is clearly showing that they have learned from their past issues with X-Men and are now building stronger, more visceral movies for this franchise. It's amazing what they have been able to do in launching X-Men in 2000, producing four movies with a principle cast behind it and then deciding to actively reboot it with a new cast while still connecting it to the prior one. As long as FOX continues on the path they started with First Class, X-Men is finally in good hands cinematically.