'X-Men: Apocalypse' isn't an end or a beginning (spoiler-free review)

Indulging in comic-book movie mayhem, the latest X-Men film is easily director Bryan Singer's biggest. But it's also going to be his most divisive.

Luke Lancaster Associate Editor / Australia
Luke Lancaster is an Associate Editor with CNET, based out of Australia. He spends his time with games (both board and video) and comics (both reading and writing).
Luke Lancaster
4 min read

Bryan Singer shaped the DNA of the modern comic book movie. Don't let anyone tell you different. "X-Men", released in 2000, and "X2", the 2003 sequel, became the blueprint for the "realistic" superhero. You can trace the lines directly to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and Marvel's Cinematic Universe.

It was clear Singer knew what he was doing at the helm of the X-Men franchise. Between those two movies and the criminally underrated "Superman Returns", the dude understood superheroes.

"X-Men: Apocalypse" is his latest spin behind the X-wheel. Like his return to the franchise with 2014's "Days of Future Past", Singer has set his sights on one of the most famous comic book story lines in the X-Men canon.

If you're an X-men die-hard, there's a feast of fan service for the entire two-and-a-half-hour running time. If you're not, you'll still find a few standout moments peppered throughout. The only problem is that we've had over a decade of superhero movies between "X2" and "Apocalypse", and good enough might not be good enough anymore.


Oscar Isaac plays Apocalypse himself, but he's just another forgettable antagonist.

20th Century Fox

That's not to say "Apocalypse" isn't entertaining. On paper, it flirts with the same problems that plagued the derided "X-Men 3: The Last Stand", but it still manages to pull together all the cameos, nods to previous films, ever-expanding cast, multiple character threads and apocalyptic stakes into something coherent. And "Apocalypse" can't be faulted for ambition. It's the biggest X-Men movie put on screen.

It's all done in true comic book style, too. You dive in and keep up. You won't get any origin stories and all the fights are big, four-colour hero pose stuff. Characters make cameo appearances just because they can. The dialogue is patchy, but you can practically see the speech bubbles. There's also a lot of time spent bridging the gap between his original movies and the rebooted "X-Men: First Class". This is Singer's X-Men again, and if there's one problem, it's that he is building his universe at the expense of this movie.


Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark to "Game of Thrones" fans) is the standout from the new crop as Jean Grey.

20th Century Fox

Torches are passed to a new generation of actors playing the principal X-Men. Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark to all you "Game of Thrones" fans) is the standout from the new crop as Jean Grey, the team's resident telekinetic. Evan Peters reprises his breakout role as Quicksilver, and his extended action sequence stands head and shoulders above any other fight scene in the film, even if it is just a longer version of his scene in "Days of Future Past".

The flip side of this is so many characters are crammed into "Apocalypse" that some of them are bound to get short-changed. Olivia Munn as a picture-perfect Psylocke doesn't get nearly enough screen time, and Lana Condor's Jubilee makes an appearance in her yellow trench coat and that's about it. Oscar Isaac plays Apocalypse himself, but he's just another forgettable antagonist in the modern onslaught of Big Purple Villains. (See also: Thanos, Darkseid.)

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As it opens, the movie flits between half a dozen rapid-fire scenes to introduce the host of fresh meat and get you caught up on where the returning characters are after 10 years. Coupled with a similar number of characters very significantly exiting the film, "Apocalypse" doesn't feel like an ending or a beginning. It feels more like a firm middle point, a call back to Singer's originals and a promise of more things hitting a cineplex near you.

The climactic final battle takes place in -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- the ruins of a deserted cityscape. It's not even the 2.5-hour running time, the oversized soda I drank or "Dragon Ball Z" fight choreography (lots of standing still, grimacing, and shooting energy beams) that had me fidgeting in my chair by that point. It was the fact that it felt like I'd seen this same scene so many times before. If this was released in 2006 as a chaser to "X2", it'd be heralded as the best superhero movie ever made. As it stands, it's not doing anything new.


Evan Peters (Quicksilver) has an extended action sequence that stands head and shoulders above any other fight scene in the film.

20th Century Fox

The deliberate and distinct storytelling in "Apocalypse" is the epitome of varied mileage. The slavish devotion to adaptation, world-building in favour of pacing and too-familiar action beats didn't work for me. But you might think that same expansive X-men cast and comic-style fights are exactly what Professor X ordered.

"Apocalypse" has designs on comic book magnificence, and to its credit, it comes very close. The sheer scope means that it's worth seeing for the good bits. But the short fallings mean it's really not worth seeing again.

"X-Men: Apocalypse" is out May 18 in the UK and Australia and May 27 in the US.

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