It’s not that X-Men: Apocalypse is itself a quiet film. In some ways, it’s brasher, louder and more cartoonish than any comic-book flick in recent memory. The success of the first X-Men, back in 2000, helped kick off the current craze, and this new one still carries some of those earlier films’ embrace of colorful weirdness, grand
The film even starts off with a nutty, elaborate Egyptian prologue involving human sacrifice, levitating sarcophagi, gravity-defying
Apocalypse nabs X-Men leader Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and seizes his fancy, global mutant-tracking system. The bad guy’s aim is to use Xavier’s technology to transfer his consciousness all over the world, and to control the other mutants – particularly the uniquely powerful Magneto, who as usual is torn between good and evil, between his wounded psyche and desire for justice. A group of Xavier’s students — including shape-shifting Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), teleporting Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), telepath Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and powerful-eye-beam-thingamabob-shooter Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) – join forces to rescue their leader.
On Apocalypse’s side, at least for now, are another cadre of young mutants, including the weather-controlling Storm (Alexandra Shipp), the high-flying Angel (Ben Hardy) and the slicing, dicing Psylocke (Oliva Munn). That’s a lot of individuals and superpowers – there’s even a non-mutant, Xavier’s former flame and now-amnesiac CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), thrown into the mix – but the script’s focus on teamwork and its clear delineation of characters
This makes emotional sense, too: The particular genius of the X-Men films has always been the way they followed their characters’ journeys of self-acceptance. (It’s no great secret that while the original comics were inspired partly by the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, the earlier films have made clear nods to the gay-rights movement.) But here, these young characters, in part because they’ve spent childhoods living in shame and in part because they’re still often unable to control their abilities, are sometimes torn over whether to use their powers. That lends even the most basic action sequence surprising levels of both suspense and (gasp) humanity, so much so that even the film’s dated-looking and occasionally tacky special effects – complete with awkwardly floating dudes and magic-light shows – aren’t particularly distracting. It's further proof that movies like these work better when they’re about people instead of pyrotechnics.
What makes X-Men: Apocalypse so exciting isn’t really any one thing but rather its cohesion, its storytelling verve. Where other recent superhero films have struggled to jam-pack their unwieldy plots with characters and incident and meaning, this film nimbly mixes narrative exuberance and emotional depth, flamboyant displays of power with quietly terrifying exchanges. It zips along, combining the highs and lows of a real comic book – all the feeling, color and wonder, even some of the dopiness – with gloriously cinematic storytelling.