To be honest, I can’t decide what I enjoyed the most about X-Men Apocalypse. Sure, there are plenty of enjoyable moments that have stayed with me since I first saw the film – the endless gems of 80’s nostalgia, Quicksilver’s sweet rescue operation, Wolverine’s ferocious cameo, and the final bout between Charles and Apocalypse, to name a few – but I can’t pick just one and declare it more enjoyable than all the rest. I do know one thing, though: that I will most likely be seeing it again before it leaves the theaters.
But I have to wonder whether I’d be seeing it again for the allure of the intrinsic narrative or for the repeat of a series of beautifully fleeting subjective experiences. This film, after all, has to safely cross a tightrope of a story suspended over a vast ocean of spectacle and more often than not topples over into that ocean with no safety net and the occasional lifesaver.
The film seemed too focused on creating within the audience the sensational frisson associated with cleverly implemented intertextuality. I mean, nostalgia can only go so far before it starts undermining the strength (or lack thereof) of the story proper, right? Then again, not everyone goes to a movie as big and as widely anticipated as X-Men Apocalypse for the purpose of critically analyzing it; most people just want to sit back and enjoy it…which you will do when you see this film.
Please don’t get me wrong, though: plenty of classical filmmaking elements are here, even if in a somewhat diluted and/or overexaggerated form. Some performances from both the recurring cast and the newcomers were spot on (like X-Universe newcomer Oscar Isaac as the film’s titular villain). On the other hand, some performances were cheapened because they either did not meet the anticipated screen time or the actors just did not want to be there at all (trust me, you’ll know it).
The film’s primary directive comes through at the onset of the third act. Apocalypse, via Charles mental power, is psychically broadcasting a final warning to humanity (mutants and non-mutants alike). And Charles, mustering up what free will can he, briefly breaks Apocalypse’s spell and interrupts with his own message; Apocalypse begins the thought with “And those with power…” while Charles redirects it by saying “…should protect those without.” It’s one of the several powerful moments of depth and nuance that has stayed with me since viewing the film three days ago.
And that’s really what X-Men Apocalypse is all about – banding together to take down a villain instead of trying to take him down alone – unfortunately, that controlling idea has plenty of spectacle through which to wade. Haunting amounts of action sequences spread the story too thin at times, and while seeing the mutant powers come alive is always cool, it gets in the way of the deeper things that draw us into this cinematic world…deeper things like family issues and longing for identity and the problem of evil that hardly get enough wiggle room nowadays.
Furthermore, X-Men Apocalypse delves into the God question. By having a mutant claim to be a god, other characters are forced to answer what that means to them. To Erik, it means finding a leader that can finally enhance the world beyond what humans alone could do and thwart any plans that are directed otherwise. For Charles, however, it means uniting with and encouraging as many friends as he can in order to keep the roaring lion from devouring the world. Like I’ve said, that dramatic tension is there, even if under more layers of spectacle than one may care to peel back in one sitting.
So if you like going to the movies and being “those” people – who like to laugh out loud and interact with those on the screen as well as those with you in the theater because of rich moments and references and jokes – you will be thoroughly entertained (provided that 1, you have your filters up, and 2, you are caught up with the other X-Men films) and will probably end up seeing it again before it leaves the movie house. But if you only come to the movies to brood over the art (or, again, the lack thereof) you won’t have much to do but twiddle your thumbs and maybe nod along to the retro soundtrack.