“Everything they built will fall; and from the ashes of their world we will build a better one.” — En Saben Nuh
So, what did we all learn from the newest installment of the 20th Century Fox X-Men franchise (the eighth to be exact, or sixth if we eliminate the two Wolverine offshoots, or ninth if “Deadpool” gets a count)? Well, we find out the origin of Professor Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy, “Filth”) hairstyle, that super heroes (or super mutants) will also fight amongst themselves before coming together at the conclusion, that Peter Dinklage is not a necessary ingredient for an X-Men sequel, that Quicksilver is probably one of the more interesting characters in the lexicon and that no matter how powerful a villain can be, his (or her) henchmen will always be the cause of a downfall — eventually.
Moving up a decade (1973 to 1983) from “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” X-Men: Apocalypse introduces us to the very first — or one of the first — mutations, En Saben Nuh (or just Apocalypse, for short, Oscar Isaac, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), a godlike figure with powers beyond anything that has ever existed and has been around since the Dawn of Man. Well, except for the fact that he has been stuck under a pyramid since 3,000 BC (so much for godlike powers . . .).
Nevertheless, he is resurrected by faithful minions and learns enough from 1983 television to catch up after his 5,000-year slumber to begin plans for world domination — what a novel idea. Evidently, he is known by many names throughout history, Rah, Baal, etc. and has always had four horsemen (or assistants) to aid his cause (even though he has been out of commission for most of modern man’s tenure).
To accomplish things this time around, he calls up a quartet of mutants, including Storm (sans Halle Berry and now played by Alexandra Shipp, “Straight Outta Compton”), an alcoholic cage-fighting Angel (Ben Hardy, British TV series “EastEnders”), the laser-armed Psylocke (Olivia Munn, “Ride Along 2”) and, of course Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs”). Before you ask, apparently, Eric moved off to Poland and started a family in 1973 and it’s the subsequent loss of them that causes him to turn to the Dark Side . . . again. Even a side trip to the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz (where Eric saw his parents killed), seems kind of a throwaway. He even asks Apocalypse why he did not stop his mother and father from dying. “Oh, I was asleep,” the god casually replies.
Now fully awake, the god wants to cleanse the earth with fire and brimstone to bring about a new world and in doing so, causes localized destruction in Cairo, Egypt with impressive displays of special effects pyrotechnics (thanks to hundreds of FX personnel, led by Cara E. Anderson, “The Revenant”) that are amazing on the surface. And while impressive, I noticed the absence of the millions of victims such a cataclysm would create (but, then again, we don’t want our disaster scenes too real now, do we?).
Soon, however, other X-Men form to stop this nonsense, including Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, “Entertainment”), Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult, “Mad Max: Fury Road”), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, “Game of Thrones” TV series), Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till, “The Curse of Downers Grove”), Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) and Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters, “The Lazarus Effect”), all led by Charles Xavier and his ability to get inside people’s thoughts and convince them to change their minds, or something like that.
Still, this villain he is battling isn’t that terrifying considering Isaac is completely unrecognizable under the 100 pounds of make-up and prosthetics AND needs other people to help him in his godlike quest (like Captain America needed in his first movie) . . .
His power does, however, give Xavier some pause, causing him to turn to the likes of CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne, “Spy”), who has had her memory of the last film erased, and a certain “Weapon X” more than a few fans should recognize. Complications arise when Colonel William Stryker (Josh Helman, “Jack Reacher”) appears, but it’s all a minor bump in the road.
X-Men: Apocalypse is not a bad addition to the franchise, and with the best scenes going to Quicksilver (he tries to rescue the Xavier School students during a vicious bombing and then has a little parental news for one of the characters), it keeps things light during another battle to keep someone from taking over the world . . . again. Director Bryan Singer (“X-Men,” “X-Men 2” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) cut his filmcraft teeth on 1995’s excellent “The Usual Suspects,” which won Kevin Spacey his first Oscar, so he knows how to make an above-average (super hero) movie. Plus, his X-Men installments have been populated with some of the finest actors to appear in pictures like these, Oscar winners and/or nominees McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and others.
The world domination plans of X-Men: Apocalypse are second to the real point, which is to just get the gang back together as quickly as possible because the strength of this series is how each mutation not only spotlights their own special talent (or power, if you will), but also how they interact as a group. As Raven/Mystique says at the end, “You’re no longer students, you’re X-Men!”
We know that, and that’s why we keep coming back to see these films — good, bad or ugly.