The first act of 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse is so palpably dissimilar to the rest of the movie, that it should be considered a different film.
The first 30 minutes of Apocalypse are not a good movie. It’s passable at best, and clearly aimed at millennials almost exclusively. From the clearly tacked-on-by-a-script-doctor narration at the very beginning (about human flaws in superhuman beings), to the relentless barrage of blurry 60 fps frames, the third installment in the First Class trilogy starts with disappointment. Initiating with a confusing sub-plot full of already-developed characters that are consequentially inconsequential to the viewer, the film shoves En Sabah Nur’s transference ceremony to the audience amid a grand Egyptian setting that tells us in medias res that Apocalypse spent most of his story buried underground while “wreaking havoc throughout human history”, only to be awoken by the magnanimous power of daily sunlight.
Meanwhile, Magneto has adjusted to society, leaving his tragic past behind, using no mutant powers and no mutant name, while operating low key as a construction worker in Poland. Because this is an X-Men film, there has to be nostalgia, so naturally, it’s set 10 years apart from its prequel, as that prequel before it did. And because Magneto is Michael Fassbender ,and it’d be a sin not to overuse him as an actor, we need to see Magneto cry indignant tears of rage against an unjust universe. From a combo death that’s pathetic in every way, the Villain of the movie reloads in full form, portrayed by Oscar Isaac, whose only acting fault is that he can’t act what the script and direction don’t give to him.
Overall, though, X-Men: Apocalypse is a good movie, and the line can be sort of crossed around the first genuine line of dialogue between Moira and Charles regarding how the CIA would kill for Cerebro.
Following this quality of film-making, Singer raises his Apocalypse from the ashes until it soars as fan-favorite Jubilee remains yet un-showcased, but most other characters develop as quickly as teenagers. Some essence of First Class and a considerable essence from Days of Future Past permeates through this work, which combines Fassbender’s and McAvoy’s classic style of elegant theater school with a touch of the hip, the fast and the Quicksilver-paced. The movie isn’t tone-deaf as much as clearly stitched together by many different teams, minds, and cooks. This results in a work that’s polarized within itself yet ultimately redeemed by veteran filmmaking.
Also following Days of Future Past’s thematic relic, the fate of the Mutants can be determined by what the news media say about them. Guided by news media, Raven Mystique asks Prof. Xavier for help in rescuing her only other true ally: Erik Magneto (meaning both had left mutant life behind but were forced back into it). Thankfully, this touching character interaction is mirrored adeptly through Cyclops and Jean Grey, two characters who are much younger but who could also destroy the whole world by themselves. Starting from the death of Xavier’s favorite tree by his newest rising star, coursing through a sibling legacy to avenge, and ending as sloppily as Angel appeared, became Archangel and then ???, the film sort of just ends. It’s a tribute to entropy’s rapid decline. But the movie finishes with a strong portrayal of both Charles Xavier and Magneto, probably the most important constant in the trilogy. To be fair, this relationship never faltered in the movie, and its pace was appropriate and suspenseful enough for its source material.
Something to condemn was how relentlessly aggressive its marketing campaign ended up being, slapping YouTube ads with lines barely present in the movie (Apocalypse could control literally none of the Mutants). But its punches were so deservedly epic that Weapon X’s appearance wasn’t even gratuitous. Phoenix’s tease wasn’t even cryptic, and Charles Xavier was made of admirable star dust, challenging the Mutant epitome of Natural Selection itself.
From a first act of mismatched editing, poor writing and bland cinematography, to a second act of superb improvement, the film touts that only the strong will survive. Surely so, the film stands up from its crippled position in order to place the man who “wanted students, not soldiers” in its altar to transfer all power to him. Being defiant by nature, he challenges this notion, urging all citizens of Earth to use their power for helping those who have none.
The third act in filmed in an IMAX-size format, and the tension is managed accordingly well. Only one horseman out of four goes full circle from hero, to villain, to redemption. Another one becomes one of the good guys out of admiration for Mystique, but the other two become brand fodder as they disappear into the sunset. I do think this is just one of many X-Men films to come, but certainly the last with the First Class cast. Film perfection is rare, and it should be preserved in memories, like when Charles asked Erik to find power between anger and serenity. He reminds him that through all the loss and tragedy, there is still good in the world. And if anyone dares take it away, there is only pity for the poor soul who tries.
Ultimately, the X-Men series is all about hope for a better future. Walking out of the movie, it’s easier to yearn for a world that returns to its natural roots, free from weapons and war, from discrimination and inequality, and from Fox vs. Marvel.