When Bryan Singer returned to this franchise with 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, the series he helped create back in 2000, he crafted the most intriguing superhero film that year. Given that this will be 2016’s fourth superhero film in as many months, his competition is a little steeper this time.
But the Cold War’s over …
One thing in Singer’s favour is the formidable cast this series has accrued over the years. This 1980s-set entry adds Oscar Isaac to the ensemble, barely recognisable here as an Egyptian god, worshipped since the dawn of civilization and known only as the immortal Apocalypse.
For those not in the know, X-Men revolves around a school for gifted young ‘mutants’ who possess various powers – from telekinesis to weather manipulation and everything in-between – and are trained by Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy) to use those powers against the forces of evil in all its manifestations.
Apocalypse is introduced here as the Earth’s first and most powerful mutant. Awakening after thousands of years, he recruits the disillusioned Magneto (an ex-X-man and perpetual trouble-maker played by Fassbender) and other mutants to create a new world order. Naturally, the fate of mankind hangs in the balance …
The first hour plays very nicely as we settle back into Singer’s vision, always refreshingly different and more complex than many other superhero franchises.
The X-Men franchise benefits from being an altogether different beast from Superman, Spiderman or Batman. If there is a superhero fatigue setting in for cinema-goers, it surely has to do with how many times we can watch the same characters endure the loss of loved ones and put on underwear over their tights for the good of humanity.
X-Men has always offered something more intriguing, with its fictional tapestry woven into real-world events and political undertones, all the time emphasising the strength of family over the individual.
Fassbender scene-stealing again
Being both a sequel to First Class and Days of Future Past – and a prequel to Singer’s original X-Men trilogy – most of the fanboy pleasure to be derived from this outing comes from witnessing the origins of many beloved characters for the first time: for example how Cyclops discovers the awesome destructive power of his eyeballs in a toilet cubicle and how Professor X lost that luxurious head of hair.
But predictably it’s Magneto who steals the show. Following the events of Days of Future Past, he has gone into hiding, shunning his mutant side to live a humble, inconspicuous life in rural Russia. He has a wife and daughter now. Of course, his past soon catches up with him and Fassbender gives, as he is wont to, a winning performance lending more weight to these proceedings than they probably deserve.
Singer’s suspect ending
There’s much to enjoy here: the meticulous 80s styling (Nightcrawler’s red Thriller jacket is particularly joyful); another hilarious and breathtakingly inventive Quicksilver sequence (set to Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’) to shame the character’s underwhelming use in Avengers: Age Of Ultron; and a wonderful surprise cameo that comes midway through.
Unfortunate then, that while Singer spends the time making certain we care about his characters, by the end he’s painted himself into somewhat of a corner. The climatic showdown is structurally amorphous, employing a deus ex-machina that proves too tough to swallow.