Those who only know comic books through their (somehow) still-increasingly popular cinematic adaptations don’t know the dirty secret about the source material: Most story lines are messy and contradict past events. Dude, the actual devil once showed up in a Spider-Man comic to erase his marriage because the writers wanted him single again…
X-Men: Apocalypse is getting savaged by critics, fairly and unfairly, for faithfully presenting a particular type of confusing, cross-over mashup, the kind that happens all the time in actual comics. Heroes pop up, do cool fighting crap, bud romance, spout clichés and save the world from villains who want to destroy the world because that’s what villains do. Director Bryan Singer’s five millionth X-movie — please let someone else have a turn — is easily my favorite, even if it may have the biggest flaws.
Despite featuring a billion characters, the plot is pretty damn simple: The first mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), reawakens after thousands of years trapped in a collapsed pyramid, and he’s got a slight case of the “pissed offs.” His plan is to literally kill every human and let the “strong survive,” meaning the superpowered mutants. He gathers up “Four Horsemen,” consisting of Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy) and, eventually, Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who agrees to go full bad guy after a dick with a bow and arrow kills his wife and kid with one shot.
The good guys must stop Apocalypse’s apocalypsing. So Professor X (James McAvoy) joins with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) to beat the bad guys through diplomacy. Just kidding, through lots of violence. It’s pretty much just, “Everybody fight everybody all the time.”
There are some issues, even forgiving a loose plot that doesn’t do much character work. I mean, I’ve read the comics, and I still don’t understand what Apocalypse’s powers are. He can… dissolve stuff? Make people get swallowed into walls? Who knows? I just know it looks cool. And that’s all the movie cares about. For the first time in all the X-movies, and I think we’re at eleventy billion now, characters use their powers in unique and visually exciting ways. From Jean Grey and Magneto using combined telekinesis and control of metal to quickly rebuild things to Quicksilver continuing to be the high point of Singer’s X-Men tenure, it’s all style without substance, spectacle without meaning.
Does Apocalypse reach the character-driven, story-rich density of Captain America: Civil War? Oh dear God no. But it also rejects the grimdark idiocy of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in favor of a bombastic, visually resplendent bit of fluffy fighting nonsense. It may boast the lowest collective critical rating, but I’m willing to bet Apocalypse will prove the most rewatchable of the bunch. And the stage is set with Sheridan, Peters, Turner and Smit-McPhee for what could be a great little run moving forward. But, for the love of God, can someone besides Bryan Singer hum the next X-tune? Please?
This review first appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Nebraska.