X-Men: Apocalypse — the third installment in the rebooted X-Men franchise — won't open in the US until May 27. That's still a few weeks away. But that doesn't mean we have to wait until then to size up how this superhero flick stacks up against what we've seen so far.
The X-Men are taking on one of the most powerful villains in their world — Apocalypse. There are new recruits, new minor villains, new characters, and a brand new threat that promises to wipe out the planet.
It's definitely better than Batman v Superman. But despite all the flash and sizzle, X-Men: Apocalypse isn't as good as this month's other superhero movie, Captain America: Civil War. I don't think it's even in the ballpark.
But it's not a terrible film — a movie featuring Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Oscar Isaac would have to work pretty hard to make those stars seem mediocre.
And it still has a few golden moments in it, including at least one that will make X-Men fans hold their breath.
Vox will have a more complete review closer to the film's official release. But for now, here are five things to know about X-Men: Apocalypse.
1) The movie has good parts, but it isn't a cohesive story
If we're going to compare Apocalypse to other X-Men movies (not including Deadpool or the solo Wolverine films), I should probably inform you of my curve and you can adjust your expectations accordingly. I believe X2 (directed by Bryan Singer) was the best movie, followed by First Class (directed by Matthew Vaughn), Days of Future Past (also directed by Singer), and the original X-Men film (Singer). My brain refuses to accept the festering cinematic abscess known as The Last Stand (directed by Brett Ratner).
On that scale, Apocalypse lags behind Days of Future Past, but its special effects push it past the original X-Men flick.
To be clear, the X-Men movies are generally a good bunch that are often undervalued. While the X-Men can do things like control the weather and shoot laser beams, it's their personal struggles (against society, against themselves, against friends, etc.) and their empathy for one another that make the X-Men my favorite superhero team.
And what X2 and First Class did so well was nail the balance between the dramatic stakes of the plot and the characters' personal stories. Meanwhile, in Days of Future Past, the gigantic stakes — saving the future world — were mitigated by a really intimate story between Professor Xavier (James McAvoy), Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).
Apocalypse loses sight of that a bit, and at times it feels like it's cutting corners in exchange for gigantic action sequences. There's no throughline to underscore the movie's themes. We're often jumping from one scene to the next without much character building, and then there's exposition and narration in excess. The movie is more obsessed with the big fight than addressing why anyone is fighting.
There are a few moments in Apocalypse that rival the best ones in Days of Future Past. But there just isn't the emotional impact in Apocalypse as there are in the very best X-Men films.
2) Michael Fassbender is the star of Apocalypse
Since the franchise's reboot in 2011, the X-Men films have relied heavily on their Big Three: Lawrence, McAvoy, and Fassbender. They've delivered at every opportunity. And I'd argue that First Class belonged to McAvoy, and Day of Future Past belonged to Lawrence. Now, without a doubt, Apocalypse belongs to Fassbender.
Fassbender has the most material to work with. McAvoy's Xavier is a tad less sensitive and damaged than he was in the previous movies, and a bit more smarmy. And Lawrence, at times, looks like she's tired of playing Katniss Everdeen and leading kids into battle — which is essentially what Mystique is asked to do in Apocalypse, a continuation of her heroism in Days of Future Past. Fassbender gets to show us a Magneto who's as happy (and vulnerable) as he's ever been.
It's fascinating to see Magneto take the sidecar seat to Apocalypse and not flash the menacing charisma we're so used to seeing. He's a lost soul in this film, a different Magneto in at times, and Fassbender plays him beautifully.
3) The new kids don't disappoint, and Nightcrawler especially stands out
In most fans' minds, the biggest question mark facing Apocalypse is that it introduces iconic characters like Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Jubilee (Lana Condor), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to the rebooted franchise. Storm and Psylocke are recruited to Apocalypse's side, while the others are enrolled at Xavier's school for the gifted.
Rest assured, they're all pretty good.
The new X-people's powers — well, the ones we get to see, anyway — are impressive. Shipp's young Storm might be the first depiction of the character that fans can get excited about. And Turner's Jean Grey and her American accent are successful for the most part; Grey is a bit of a difficult character to play considering the many complexities (e.g., Dark Phoenix) in her comic book origin story, and Turner does an admirable job in the role.
But the real scene stealer is Smit-McPhee's Nightcrawler. There's an innocence and humor about the character and Smit-McPhee's performance that gives this movie life. And Singer shows, as he first did in X2, that he has a real understanding of what makes this character special.
If I have one gripe with the new characters, it's that most of the ones on Apocalypse's side — especially Munn's Psylocke — don't get to do or say much (aside from a snarl here and there). At their worst, Apocalypse's band of baddies just feel like giant, sexy action figures that Singer is just smashing around.
4) Quicksilver is the brightest spot in this film
This film has a lot of comic book moments that are mired in a mess. It's overlong, the scale is too big, and there isn't enough work put into establishing many of the characters to do them justice. But there are a few spectacular sequences. Two of them belong to Evan Peters's Quicksilver.
Singer truly understands what makes Quicksilver so great. We saw this in Days of Future Past when we experienced Quicksilver's superspeed from his point of view. And there's a scene in Apocalypse that calls back to that moment in Days of Future Past that will make you want to go home and play Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams."
5) As a villain, Apocalypse doesn't really make sense, but Oscar Isaac tries very hard
If you ever wanted to see what Isaac's face might look like at either the point of sexual climax or defecation (or both at the same time, I don't know his life), this movie is definitely for you. I wish I were kidding, but every time Apocalypse uses his powers — of which he has many, and no one ever explains what they all are or what their limitations are — he makes a very strained expression coupled with a grunt that feels like it belongs in a bedroom or a bathroom.
It's just one of the things about the character that doesn't quite make sense or seem right. But Isaac is definitely trying.
Apocalypse wants to kill everyone because mankind has apparently ruined the world, which he literally learns by touching a television. To accomplish this, he goes around and finds the most powerful four mutants on the planet to protect him while he's busy waging his war. He picks Storm because she can control the weather, Magneto because he controls metal, Psylocke because she seems like a good bodyguard, and Angel for reasons unknown.
He could ostensibly choose more or fewer bodyguards, but no one ever bothers to explain why this all-powerful mutant would limit his henchmen to just a quartet (in the comics, the mutants he chooses are turned into embodiments of Death, War, Pestilence, and Famine which makes more thematic sense, but that's not the case here). I'm also not quite sure why anyone would ever pick this iteration of Angel. Apocalypse has a first round pick in the mutant draft and he picks someone because ... wings?
Why not the boy who can shoot laser beams with his eyes? Or the redhead who can move things with her mind? Or maybe that guy who runs around really fast? The new X-Men all seem like more powerful mutants than some of the mutants Apocalypse has chosen.
Of course, Archangel (Angel eventually becomes Archangel in the comic books) is a huge piece of the comic books. But in the comics, we get the backstory. We understand Angel's personality. We understand what Apocalypse sees in him. And it's pivotal that he turns on his friends.
That's largely absent in this film.
And when Apocalypse picks his team, it's unclear why they stick around. We're never told why ruining the world with this weird blue guy seems like their best option. Like, what's in it for Psylocke other than getting to beat people up? It'd be one thing if Apocalypse's mutants — sans Magneto — felt oppressed or if they wanted to change the structure of society and believed that helping Apocalypse would give them a means to an end, but we don't get any hint of their motivations. It's not like they're being mind-controlled, either — Apocalypse's henchmen seem like they could walk away at any time.
While Isaac, Fassbender, and company are great and putting in big efforts, the material they're working with is weak. And that's a shame, because a well-thought-out villain could have made this movie special.
X-Men Apocalypse will hit theaters on May 27.