Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Bryan Singer has returned to unleash more mutant mayhem with the long-awaited ninth instalment of the saga he began back in 2000. Arriving in the wake of the critically acclaimed Days of Future Past, this latest adventure starring Xavier’s superhuman students had a lot to live up to and it most definitely does not disappoint. X-Men: Apocalypse is a thoroughly entertaining thrill fest that more than meets the high standard set by its superb predecessor.
The story starts in 1983 as immortal mutant En Sabah Nur awakens in Egypt and decides the planet is his for the taking. Drafting four devotees to follow him, he embarks on a quest to cause calamity and chaos on a global scale, leaving only one group of individuals who can stand in his way.
A mindblowing opening altercation means the movie mesmerises before the title even appears on screen. This is just the first in a series of astonishing action sequences that keep the adrenaline pumping as the plot progresses. Some of the most remarkable examples include a death-defying slow-motion spectacle involving a certain silver-haired speedster; a riveting rage-fuelled rampage through a familiar military facility; and maybe the most epic climactic confrontation a superhero film has ever showcased.
Suffice it to say, this movie moves fast, but it never feels rushed. Its plot is well paced, giving rise to a lot of tension and suspense, while the action is backed up by compelling character development. Strong performances by the principal players ensure the proceedings pack an emotional punch so that Apocalypse succeeds in being far more than a string of visually-stunning set-pieces.
James McAvoy is engrossing again as mutant mentor Charles Xavier. The Scottish actor does an exceptional job of showing that the professor is slowly evolving into the astute father figure Patrick Stewart portrayed in the original trilogy. Being confined to a wheelchair doesn’t mean he’s excluded from the action either. McAvoy excels at the forefront of some of the movie’s most unique and absorbing battles.
Michael Fassbender is on fine form as Magneto too, despite still exhibiting a somewhat shaky accent. The haunted holocaust survivor suffers a loss early on in what is arguably the movie’s most powerful moment. It’s a hard-hitting and harrowing scene during which Fassbender brings his A-game and makes you really sympathise with the character.
There’s nothing wrong with Jennifer Lawrence’s work as Mystique, but Lehnsherr’s former right-hand woman feels extremely over-used at this point. That being said, the justification for her playing such a pivotal part and rarely being blue do make sense in terms of the story and her importance has no ill-effect on Apocalypse as a whole.
Of the rest of the returning cast, Nicholas Hoult is likable as Beast, even if he doesn’t outdo Kelsey Grammar; Evan Peters captivates as Quicksilver, who gets to give several jaw-dropping demonstrations of his high-octane talents; Rose Byrne reappears as Moira MacTaggert to engage in some charming exchanges with Xavier; Lucas Till has a small but significant stint as Havok; and Josh Helman wins points for being believable as a younger version of Brian Cox’s Stryker.
As far as the titular antagonist goes, Oscar Isaac exudes an aura of arrogance and self-assuredness that makes Apocalypse come across as a formidable foe. He may not be the best developed adversary the series has ever seen, but Isaac generates a genuine sense of threat and danger by effectively conveying the character’s god complex.
Other newcomers include Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner, both of whom frequently steal the show as Scott Summers and Jean Grey. It’s nice to see Cyclops appear prominently after such a long absence and Sheridan shines whenever he’s in the spotlight. He has great chemistry with Turner, who is outstanding as a troubled teen trying to cope with her unprecedented power.
Kodi Smit-McPhee also impresses by perfectly channelling Alan Cumming’s take on Nightcrawler, while Alexandra Shipp displays plenty of potential as fan favourite Ororo Munroe. The up and coming actress doesn’t receive as much attention as some of her peers, but Storm certainly seems safe in her hands.
Inevitably, a few mutants are relegated to the background, with Olivia Munn, Ben Hardy and Lana Condor not being particularly crucial as Psylocke, Angel and Jubilee, respectively. For the most part though, Singer does keep the core cast well balanced, especially during the fantastic final act.
In doing so, the director has delivered a story that serves as a satisfying conclusion to all that preceded it, as well as a vibrant new beginning. X-Men: Apocalypse brings the franchise full circle in fascinating ways while offering up plenty of pulse-pounding action and affecting performances in the process.
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