Don’t be put off by the slew of lukewarm reviews that have greeted the release of this latest instalment in the super-powered mutant franchise.
Bryan Singer’s fourth X-Men extravaganza certainly has its fair share of flaws, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun, thanks to some terrific new additions to the cast and a plethora of exciting action sequences.
Taking place in 1983, roughly a decade after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the film pits Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and his school of super-powered mutants – including new recruits eyebeam-firing Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), telepath Jean Grey (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner) and teleporting, tail-sporting Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) – against the powerful, blue-skinned menace of Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), reportedly the Earth’s first mutant, who has emerged from his Egyptian tomb and is intent on destroying and re-building the world.
Things get complicated for Xavier when Apocalypse persuades Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to join his cause, alongside fellow disenchanted mutants Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy, aka EastEnders’ Peter Beale) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn).
Playing characters familiar from the first three X-Men films, Sheridan, Turner and Smit-McPhee do a superb job of making the roles their own, and there’s a strong sense of them coming to terms with their powers (Sheridan gets an especially amusing sequence where his eye-beams are tested on the school grounds).
Similarly, the more seasoned returning cast members (McAvoy, Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique) bring engaging emotional depth to their characters, while Evan Peters (as Quicksilver) once again steals the film with an entertaining sequence that riffs on his show-stopping set-piece from Days of Future Past.
Singer does a decent job of parceling out fun character moments among his admittedly sprawling cast, though inevitably certain characters (most notably Munn’s skimpily-attired Psylocke) get short shrift. Crucially, Singer ensures that you’re never too far away from a super-powered action sequence (a de facto prison break is a particular highlight), and there are a number of fan-pleasing nods to the previous films, the comics and even the 1990s cartoon.
As for the flaws, the key issue is that Apocalypse is rather underwhelming as a villain, which isn’t helped by Isaac’s dodgy Smurf-like make-up job and less-than-imposing costume (they should have at least made him taller than everyone else), while the finale succumbs to the familiar problem of CGI overload, with lots of destruction happening for no clearly-explained reason.
Though it doesn’t quite reach the heights of X-Men: First Class, this is still an entertaining entry in the franchise, delivering super-powered spectacle and engaging character moments.
Review by Matthew Turner