X-Men: Apocalypse is a solidly entertaining film that doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of Captain America: Civil War. Some parts are excellent, truly magnificent to see, while others fall prey to convention and formula. Director Bryan Singer and three-time X-Men screenwriter Simon Kinberg do a fantastic job weaving together all of the films into a cohesive storyline. There's a mountain of history on screen for these characters. Even though we're introduced to the core X-Men as teenagers, they are supremely familiar to us. Everyone has a favorite walking in, but just as he did in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Quicksilver (Evan Peters) runs away with this film. That's it for spoilers.
The story picks up ten years later in 1983. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has become an icon to disaffected mutants. She crusades to save her kind from the worst exploitation, while Charles Xavier's (James McAvoy) school for mutants has flourished. The detente is shattered when the first mutant, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), awakens after thousands of years. His disgust for man's arrogance leads to one conclusion. Humanity must be cleansed. Leaving a world of only the strongest mutant survivors. His plan requires four agents of destruction, the mythical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. As Armageddon becomes a stark reality, Xavier's students are the only mutants powerful enough to face the threat.
Simon Kinberg's script draws heavily from the previous films. We're taken to familiar settings and discover them anew with the characters. As a fan boy with a stickler for continuity, this was great to see. But there is a point in the film where things get a bit too familiar. Much like the Bond franchise, convention creeps in and takes the sheen off the gloss. Elements that we've seen before resurface in similar ways. Deadpool hilariously joked about this, particularly in regard to the school and the costumes.
The teenage versions of Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Storm (Alexandra Shipp) play well enough to their characters known dynamics. It's the adults (McAvoy, Lawrence, and Michael Fassbender's Magneto) that really do the emotional heavy lifting. Since their introduction in X-Men: First Class, they have elevated the dramatic tension and established a palpable significance to their plight. The audience feels Magneto's pain, as well as the brotherly bond with Xavier. It's stirring stuff, bringing back the story when it becomes muddled by formula.
The biggest disappointment is Oscar Isaac's portrayal of Apocalypse. Isaac is such a gifted actor. This interpretation must have been scripted and coached by Bryan Singer. I expected a vibrant, villainous megalomaniac. Apocalypse is exactly the opposite. He's immensely powerful, but wields it in a mundane way. His powers are effects driven and decidedly staid. In fact, Isaac looks physically weighed down by his mountain of prosthetics and make-up. His slow demeanor and muted responses must have been exacerbated by it.
The special effects in the film swing from melt your eyeballs awesome to surprisingly mediocre. The Quicksilver scenes, especially the climactic one, are stupefying to see. It's the cutting edge of visual effects. So you're blown out of your chair one minute, then kind of yawning for the big showdown. It's always a mistake to have the best part of the film in the middle. Everything after that is downhill by default. Note to Fox and Marvel, we need a Quicksilver standalone film. Evan Peters, much like Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool, has that perfect mix of smarmy and badass.
A huge positive for X-Men: Apocalypse is that it isn't a gigantic set-up for other stories. It stands alone without too direct a nod to future films. Yes, there is a well placed cameo, but it does not overtake the plot. I loved Days of Future Past and would rank that film just a hair better than this one. First Class is still the best of the new X-Men, but they're all pretty damn good. Summer audiences are in for a great Memorial Day with this film and Civil War in theaters.