It cannot be denied that Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse comes at a time when the movie market is saturated with comic book adaptations, the latest of which, Captain America: Civil War, was released only earlier this month. Indeed, despite being just six years into the 2010’s, I think it’s already safe to say that they have pretty much defined the entire decade. We need more of these movies about as much as we each need a hole in the head. Nevertheless, it also cannot be denied that the film is a success.
I don’t know or care how faithful it is to any of the Marvel comics on which it’s based; all I do know or care about is that it tells an engaging story, it has a decent cast that delivers competent performances, and it’s overall great entertainment.
Of course, it has all the hallmarks of the comic book movie – stunts, special effects, fight sequences, explosions, destruction, displays of super powers, heroes, villains, and a climactic final battle. But the film isn’t really about any of these things. It actually has something to say. Granted, we’ve heard the message more than once, but it’s good to hear nonetheless; the entire X-Men universe is allegorical, the struggle for coexistence between human beings and mutants representing the same struggle between ruling classes and oppressed minorities. In all these films, this new one included, we get both parallels and overt references to real-life periods of social and political upheaval, most notably the Holocaust and the Civil Rights movement.
The Holocaust in particular is especially relevant, since the character of Magneto, who began life as Erik Lehnsherr, is a German Jew whose family fell victim to the Nazi regime at Auschwitz. In the case of this new film, there’s the main villain, Apocalypse, played unrecognizably by Oscar Isaac under layers of prosthetic makeup and behind an electronically altered voice. Apocalypse, a centuries-old mutant who originally reigned as a god in Ancient Egypt, is nothing if not Hitler-esque; he believes mutants are superior, so much so that he has devised a plan to exterminate all the world’s human beings in what he calls a “cleansing.” Furthermore, he uses rhetoric and manipulation to draw other like-minded mutants to his cause, including Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who harbors new emotional scars.
The plot, which takes place in 1983, involves the X-Men trying to stop Apocalypse and his recruits before it’s too late. Just about all the familiar characters are there: A now wheelchair-bound Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy); Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who remains emotionally torn; Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult); Jean Grey/Phoenix (Sophie Turner); Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan); Summers’ brother Alex/Havok (Lucas Till); Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), reimagined as an Egyptian street urchin; the supersonic Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters); and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). We’re even reintroduced to CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), who had her memory erased at the end of X-Men: First Class.
Additionally, there are appearances by Olivia Munn, Lana Condor, Ben Hardy, and Josh Wellman. And yes, there’s a cameo appearance by Stan Lee, which, given the history of the Marvel film adaptations, kind of goes without saying. This time, he’s joined by his wife, Joanie Lee, and refreshingly, the circumstances under which they’re shown don’t necessitate or even encourage a spontaneous outburst of applause. I will refrain from revealing whether or not Hugh Jackman makes an appearance as Wolverine, even though it really isn’t all that integral. I will say that further X-Men films are on the way, including another Wolverine sequel, and that the character is an indispensable part of the franchise.
Though X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t perfect – especially in regards to the final act, which is allowed to run on a bit too long, and its presentation in 3D, which is disappointingly not immersive and undeserving of paying extra for – it never loses sight of what a comic book movie is supposed to be, namely entertaining. It helped that I found the story easy to follow along with, despite it being a sequel. This is more than I can say for many of the more recent entries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has become too intertwined and self-referential for me to keep track of. Nevertheless, I’m had my fill of comic book movies. It’s time for another genre to dominate the cinematic landscape.