Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

Following the past events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, it’s now the 1980s. Things seem to have been reasonably quiet since Magneto’s attack on the President, but that’s all about to change when the world’s first mutant wakes up.

I’ve tried to be vague, but there may be some spoilers within.

Cast and Crew

James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier
Michael Fassbender as Eric Lehnsherr / Magneto
Jennifer Lawrence as Raven / Mystique
Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy / Beast
Oscar Isaac as En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse
Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert
Evan Peters as Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver
Josh Helman as Col. William Stryker
Sophie Turner as Jean Grey
Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers / Cyclops
Lucas Till as Alex Summers / Havok
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler
Ben Hardy as Angel
Alexandra Shipp as Ororo Munroe / Storm
Lana Condor as Jubilee
Olivia Munn as Psylocke

Directed by Bryan Singer
Screenplay by Simon Kinberg
Story by Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris


Years have passed since Magneto’s attack on the President. The world now openly knows about mutants and largely sees Mystique’s actions in saving the President from Magneto as heroic. Magneto has been living in secret ever since, settling down in Poland with a wife and daughter and working in a steel mill. Mystique spends her time rescuing mutants from exploitation and persecution, while Charles and Hank are running a successful school for the gifted.

All this gets disrupted when CIA agent Moira MacTaggert accidentally wakes up En Sabah Nur, the world’s first mutant, whose hobbies are the acquisition of additional mutant powers and the destruction of civilisations. Naturally, he’s not keen on keeping ours around.

High Points

  • Mystique is a folk hero, admired by mutants and humans, probably as much because of the mystery around her since she’s been hiding ever since, but it’s good to see that hatred of mutants is far from universal (or consistent), in a very typical human way.
  • Quicksilver’s mother has developed a far more pragmatic approach to her uncontrollable son since the last film, and clearly they get on a lot better now as well.
  • Scott’s parents take the sensible, loving and practical approach to their son’s developing mutation. Admittedly, having another son who’s already exhibited mutant powers probably helps.

Low Points

  • I have issue with the entire premise. If mutants have been around since long before ancient Egypt, why do they seem to vanish at that time and then only re-emerge during the second world war? The movie makes no attempt to address this at all, and you’d think Xavier would be all over it given his previous interest in the origins of his kind.
  • Apocalypse recruits his four horsepeople, then has them stand around looking ominous while he monologues. None of them get to do anything at all until the final battle.
  • Why not use the world’s nuclear weapons to destroy civilisation? Apocalypse clearly doesn’t want them around, and apparently doesn’t think they’re suitable weapons for him to use for his own purposes, but nobody bothers to explain why, or even consider it.
  • Is every American high school a cesspit of bullying and terrible teachers or is it just like that in movies? Scott’s teacher is utterly oblivious to what’s going on right in front of her, and utterly unsympathetic to him looking quite obviously distressed and having trouble with his eyes. Additionally, the bully who follows him after class is made of pure stereotypes.
  • We keep getting cutaways to the USA’s underground command bunker, but all they do is provide commentary and don’t even attempt to take action. I suspect this was intended to show the helplessness of ordinary humans in the face of this kind of ridiculous mutant power level, but I’d’ve expected at least one futile cruise missile or wing of bombers.
  • Cerebro nearly destroys the world. Again.

The Scores

Originality: I don’t read the X-Men comics, so I don’t know how much of this story is direct adaptation and how much they came up with themselves, but I do know that it feels like a fairly standard coming-of-age story. Giant threat, talented kids who just need to learn to come out of their shells, which they will at the critical moment… you could see a lot of this coming. 3/6.

Effects: It’s a big-budget Hollywood film. The effects are pretty good – lots of detail, nice lighting – but occasionally lack a sense of physicality. Quicksilver’s extensive high speed scene just shows up the weaknesses in the visual concept, but there are some nicely done collapsing buildings. One of the big final scenes featuring Jean and Magneto looks particularly lacking in reality. It is nice to see Cyclops’ eye beams are very much like those seen in the first X-Men films though. 4/6.

The story is full of holes. See the low points. We begin with a premise which makes little sense within the movie X-Men continuity and which is not addressed in any way by anybody, then we continue with a number of events which seem specifically designed to pit the X-Men against Magneto yet again. It’s fairly unclear why Charles continues to insist that there’s good in Eric, given his actions, although I guess being able to see into his head means he can see that Eric’s suffering from some kind of mental illness. He’s never attempted to cure it, but maybe that’s not within his abilities. I thought Magneto becoming the bad guy in the previous film was bad enough, but this time it’s just getting ridiculous. Fundamentally though the problem with the story is the continual desire to raise the stakes each movie. Last time we were going to murder the President on live TV, this time we have to destroy the entirety of human civilisation. Given the setup at the start of the film, I think a more personal story between Eric and Charles would have been far more appropriate as a way to finish off this trilogy and set things up for the better future glimpsed at the end of the previous movie. 3/6.

My emotional response, given the flaws in the story, was pretty weak. I might have felt more sympathy for Magneto, but the scene is so clumsily telegraphed that there was no shock factor left. All you had to wonder about was how it was going to happen, and how it did was even clumsier, destroying any kind of reaction. There was one young man in the cinema who spent most of the climactic battle whooping with joy and excitement, so I guess it worked for someone at least – but everyone else stayed pretty quiet. We enjoyed it, but it didn’t move us. 2/6.

The acting is okay, given what they had to work with. Sophie Turner, sadly, starts out badly. Audiences are likely to be familiar with her from Game of Thrones and may find the contrast here quite disappointing, but she does come into her own later in the film when her character is allowed to be more than the girl Scott thinks is quite pretty. Oscar Isaac is given absolutely no opportunity at all to act – even less than he had in Star Wars – but it’s okay because the audience wouldn’t know it was him if they haven’t read the credits anyway. Michael Fassbender gets some good bits earlier in the film but spends most of the rest of it standing on a mountain looking serious. In fact, there’s a lot of standing around and glowering going on. I can’t blame the actors for most of this, because the script can’t have been easy to work with, but it still comes across as quite bad. 4/6.

Production is fairly decent, if uninspired. The music is more or less as you’d expect, the opening sequence is very much that of an X-Men movie and there are some irritating cuts out of scenes where someone’s just realised something and the camera has to go elsewhere so that the audience can be unnecessarily kept in the dark. The school does look very much like that of the first X-Men film, which is a pleasure, and Cerebro is exhibiting signs of moving from the 1960s version to the more modern one from the first and second films. 4/6.

Overall it’s a pleasant enough film to watch, but the flaws in the premise, plot and execution are many. The curse of the third entry in a superhero trilogy strikes again. 3/6.

In total, X-Men: Apocalypse scores a total of twenty-three out of forty-two.

4 replies on “Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse”

  1. Is every American high school a cesspit of bullying and terrible teachers or is it just like that in movies?

    Every school has some bullying and terrible teachers. The reality’s complex. But if you’re trying to show “experiencing difficulties” and “teen drama,” it’s easier just to make every movie school a cesspool of the worst qualities.

    Submarine‘s a great film, but it basically does the same basic thing with a British school.

  2. To be fair to the film, the first low point (about how En Sabah Nur could be the only mutant for a couple of millennium) is taken directly from the source material. The film just accurately adapted a non-sensical element from the comics. Also, I felt that Magneto’s action revealing who he is shows the good man within: he reflexively saved a life, knowing the personal cost that would follow.

  3. Apocalypse’ history is from the comics as Blaine has mentioned. From what I remember, the Days of Future Past events were what woke him ahead of time. If I remember correctly while he was the first there were a few others who had longer life spans. Nathaniel Essex was from Victorian London. The accelerated mutation, ie why there were so many more mutants now that had been over time was attributed in the atomic experimentation that had occured mid 20th Century. None of this was covered in the film and could have been achieved in a few lines of dialog. Is there a potential Directors Cut?

    My introduction to comics was the 90’s Xmen Age of Apocalypse crossover and the TV show. THere were a bunch of very interesting stories that they could have done with Apocalypse and while they did an origin story I hope that isn’t where it is left.

    I did like the nod to Sinister as the next villain via the Essex Corporation

  4. I figured Apocalypse’s origins came from the comics, but it was a shame that since the films had so consistently stuck to the idea that Magneto was the first (or one of the first) they suddenly introduce this other element that is irritatingly implausible (yes I know I’m worried about plausibility in an X-Men film) and was actually totally unnecessary. But comic properties don’t seem to be able to resist escalating everything.

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