Being one of those growing up with the X-Men comics (as well as Avengers, Spider-Man, Punisher, Iron Man, and others), I think this is a wonderful time for cinema, at least for those of us who originally read many of these stories in print. This story, about an Egyptian mutant named En Sabah Nur, originally of X-Factor fame, I happen to have in comic book form. However I am not going to compare the comic to the movie, as they are much different vehicles.
(Long and low spoiler) Synopsis – short ones are easy to find
The story begins with a flashback to early Egypt, where the audience is exposed some old school mutants (and consequently the anti-mutant agenda against them – whether or not that is truly a resistance to mutants or a resistance to the current regime is not really expounded upon). Apocalypse is portrayed as an old man, awaiting a transference to a younger unconscious fast healing (a la Wolverine) host played by Oscar Isaac (of Sucker Punch and Star Wars Force Awakens fame). Those who have read Dragonlance will see a very close resemblance to Fistandantilus and his manner of staying young. A secondary reason for the transference beyond youth, is that Apocalypse also absorbs the new host’s powers, while keeping the original powers he had (based on the assumption that’s he’s done this sorta thing before).
As one might expect, the resistance wins out, and appear to kill the mutants before the transference is seemingly complete, buried under tons of the wreckage of the pyramid that was collapsed above them. Apocalypse looks to be spared as one of the mutants spins a force field cocoon around him to protect him.
Fast forward a couple thousand years, and you see Moira Mactaggert undercover in a middle eastern country following a couple would-be bad guys identified by an Egyptian tattoo. Following them below ground in market (after easily taking out the guard) she sees a crew of these men chanting down into a quarry. Ironically, Moria’s entrance into the tomb (leaving the previously covered tunnel open to the sun) permits sunlight into the cave which activates the mystical top brick of the original pyramid which awakens Apocalypse. As he acclimates to his surroundings, he sees (a very young) Storm activate her powers to distract a couple shopkeepers and run off with some wares. They see her ruse and chase her. Apocalypse follows Storm’s assailants, seeing them threatening her with the typical middle eastern punishments for thieves (cutting off the hand that stole the item). He offs these guys pretty easily, and takes interest in Storm. She then takes Apocalypse to her pad, where we see a wall poster of Mystique (now elevated to superhero status after her work in Days of Future Past in stopping Magneto), and Storm fills him on why Mystique is her hero. Apocalypse at this point grabs the TV, and reverses the input waves back to the originating satellites, and “learns” recent history Beyonder style (I’ve always been a big Secret Wars fan from Marvel). At this point he recognizes that humanity is still the same, nothing has changed, but now we use planes, tanks, and (nuclear) missiles rather than spears and stones.
The scene shifts to a cage match (electric no less) between Angel and the backside of the Blob, seeing only the closing frames as the fat man falls. Next up they bring a new challenger, a teenage Kurt Wagner (Nightcrawler) into the ring. When the bell rings, Nightcrawler avoids any contact with Angel, bouncing from location to location, until Angel mentions that if he does not fight they will kill both of them. Nightcrawler then smashes Angel into the fence, burning his left wing. As this interchange is happening, Mystique skims through the crowd, and overloads the generators after dealing with the underestimating henchman charged with guarding the fence. Once the fence lights up like a Christmas tree, Mystique ushers the mutants out, and takes Nightcrawler away from the site. All is not altruism with Mystique, as moments later she takes Kurt to see Caliban, who deals with trafficking mutants in and out of Germany (as well as keep tabs on all of them for “assignments”). She is paid her stipend, and appears disinterested in what happens to Nightcrawler, giving a little insight into this heroine that is on Storm’s bedroom wall.
Meanwhile, Apocalypse’s rising causes a magnetic and seismic disturbance felt all over the earth, flashing to several sites across the globe experiencing the same phenomenon. This awakening (ironic, considering the Oscar Isaac is also Poe Dameron in the Force Awakens) is what triggers Professor X and Beast to visit Moira (who has had her memories erased regarding what happened with X-Men First Class, following this secondary timeline) to get information on what she saw and what information she has on this alliance that has awoken Apocalypse. Xavier’s obvious awkwardness towards Moira provided some comic relief to an otherwise fairly serious movie.
The other major storyline surrounds Magneto (posing as a steel worker in Poland), trying his best to “mainstream” (a term that made me chuckle the first time I heard it in Trueblood relating to vampires trying to blend in with humans). He leads a simple lifestyle with his wife and young daughter (who also is a mutant with druidic capabilities to communicate with animals). He appears committed to this lifestyle, and genuinely appears happy. He sings a family song to his daughter (not sure if it was Polish or another tongue) and tells her that family is very important, and that his parents were taken away, which will never happen to them. He tells her that his parents will always be with him in his heart, and with his daughter (in a metal locket around her neck). Of course, this is shortlived, as during a near fatal accident (caused by the tremor induced by Apocalypse’s awakening), Erik saves a fellow iron worker by moving a pot of molten metal that would have otherwise killed him. A couple workers see this happen, despite his best attempts to hide it, and the next scene shows the city police (not wearing any metal) at Erik’s house, holding his daughter, asking if the picture of Magneto in a newspaper is really him. To prevent anything catastrophic, he tells them that he will go with them if they let his daughter go. As they take Erik into custody and release his daughter, she starts crying (what originally activated Magneto’s powers in the original movie) and the forest animals (mostly birds that swoop down) start acting erratic, seeing the police as a threat. During the interchange, one of the police holding a bow inadvertently fires an arrow that hits Erik’s daughter in the back, and impales his wife who is clutching her. This is a difficult scene, and after Erik sees what is left of his family, one can predict what happens next, utilizing his daughter’s locket.
Apocalypse, with Storm at his side, next goes on a recruiting spree to have his four horsemen by his side (according to the texts that Moira points out to Xavier, which there is some room for interpretation if the four horsemen were borrowed from the Bible, or if the Bible borrowed the story from Apocalypse, who pre-dated Christ). He visits Caliban, and after being threatened by Psylocke, offers to unlock her powers if she would follow him. On her recommendation, they next visit Angel, who despite telling them all to GTFO (while hanging out in an empty ware house listening to heavy metal and drinking vodka from a bottle – very Gopnik), gets an on-the-house upgrade from Apocalypse to some metal wings adamantium style instead of his charred wings from Nightcrawler’s fight. His last visit is to Magneto, who intercepts Erik as he is about to do some retribution to his steelworker crew who turned him in. Erik thinks he is there to stop him and tells him that nothing can stop him from killing these men, so Apocalypse hooks him up by blending them into the floor. He catches Erik at his weakest emotional moment and takes him to Auschwitz to remind him of his own origin story, and here is when he hooks Magneto up with manna that he can control all the metals within the Earth’s crust. Magneto levels up to Epic class here.
Circling back to the good guys, Professor X, Beast, Havoc, Moira, Mystique and crew now try to find this mysterious assailant using Cerebro. Since Moria has no recollection of Cerebro from before, he shows her the first run of all non-mutants in white in the world that he can reach. When he flips to second set, the mutants of the earth which show up in red (which is a surprisingly high density compared to the white peeps) he picks up Apocalypse, however Apocalypse, going tracing the signal back like he did with the TV earlier, connects with Professor X, and is able to use Cerebro to control all of the aforementioned non-mutant variety. He then takes control of all of the governments and launches all of the nuclear missiles from all of the “superpowers” (Apocalypse mentions these countries with a sneer) straight up into space. Originally I thought he might have gone Ultron on us and dropped them all straight down, but he appears to just take their weapons away (perhaps they may have been strong enough to penetrate Apocalypse’s shield). As Professor X (and Cerebro) is under control of Apocalypse, which Beast cannot deactivate, all Charles can do is tell them to wreak havoc (which Havoc obliges by dropping the hammer on Cerebro).
Apocalypse then shows up right outside Cerebro’s door with his horsemen, and here Charles and Erik have a short exchange, and Erik tells him that he tried Charles’s way, and it simply doesn’t work for mutants. At this point Apocalypse takes Charles with him and starts to teleport out, when Havoc tries to blast him. This creates a massive explosion which devastates the entire campus. Fortunately, for everyone’s sake, this is when Quicksilver makes his debut, who comes to see Professor X to find out more about Magneto (no spoiler here) and similar to one of my favorite scenes in First Class when Quicksilver saves Wolverine and Magneto in the kitchen to the tune of Time in a Bottle, Quicksilver helps escort everyone out of the building (in some unique ways) to The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” in magnificent fashion.
With impeccable timing, right after this explosion, what appears to be a government helicopter lands for what would be help, and you see Stryker and his goons come out and knock everyone out with some type of pulse gun who is standing in the field watching the fiery mess of Charles’s school, save for Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, and Cyclops. He ignores the bulk of the children there, however picks up Mystique, Quicksilver, Beast, and Moira (who flashes her CIA badge when he arrives). As the helicopter flies away, Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler teleport into the helicopter, however there is some type of EMF in the chopper that prevents any of them from using their powers (except Jean Grey, who makes them all appear invisible to the army grunts). Once they land into the same base that was originally filmed in X2, the three kids make a run for it while Mystique and crew are taken prisoner for interrogation in a cell that has the same EMF barrier that they cannot use their mutant powers. As the kids try to find the “grown up” X-men, they come across a cage that Jean describes “a man who has had everything taken away except his primitive animal side, nothing but a caged animal.” Taking the ‘an enemy of my enemy is my friend’ tact, they let this beast out (again no spoiler here). He does some damage, effectively killing the bulk of the men inside the complex, initiating a retreat by Stryker. The kids then find the X-men, and hop in a plane and plan to visit Apocalypse and try and save Charles.
As far as what Apocalypse’s final goal, and some elements of the final battle, I’ll leave that to the reader to experience for themselves. There are a couple twists, and couple storylines with predictability (this is of course Hollywood, and these are comic book based, so the good guys have to have an edge here), the ending I thought was fairly well done, save for a twist which I did not agree with.
Things I Liked
Coming of age of several characters – I enjoyed seeing the “kids” make some grown up decisions on their own. You see Cyclops’ back story, and actually never realized that he was related to Havoc (which makes sense considering their energy type). Nightcrawler is a timid teen who just wants to see a mall when everything starts. Jean Grey gets a taste of some of her potential as the movie goes on. Quicksilver’s quest for redemption.
Costumes and CGI – all top notch, as expected with this studio and budget. A very good amount of destruction porn at your fingertips (which I’m a sucker for, movies like 2012, Day After Tomorrow, and San Andreas are guilty pleasures of mine).
Reconciling Charles and Moira – I’m not much of a Romcom guy, but the story line between Charles and Moira, and ultimately the conclusion was well done and moving. Chics will dig it.
Psylocke – Olivia Munn. In limited clothing. Apocalypse made custom armor for the other three and gave her a swimsuit. 100% ok with this.
The “New” Storm – As much as I tried to like Halle Berry’s Storm, I could never quite feel it. And I’m a fan of Halle Berry. I enjoyed Alexandra Shipp’s Storm, and always loved the mohawked Storm better in the comics.
Goverments were powerless – This movie was really about mutants versus mutants. Excluding Stryker, who is not really government, a little more self-serving, the powers that be really were not part of the story, and you never really saw any military or government intervention. I’m sure Michael Bay walked away in disgust (although I do like Michael Bay in the same guilty pleasure way I like my destruction porn).
Deep background on Magneto – Erik Lehnhserr is one of the critical personalities in the Marvel universe, and it’s nice to see his character explored, in particular his softer side. Conversely part of this on the negative side of the wall as well.
Charles Xavier’s faith in Jean Grey – Even though she is portrayed as a teen, she is one of the catalysts in the final battle, and it is Charles who makes her step over the threshold that he was too afraid to in the first timeline.
The Eurythmics scene – This was just spectacular. Even though it was done earlier, it’s just too good. And a great song choice – in my opinion Eurythmics were the birth of EDM.
Things I Thought Should Have Been Done Differently
More development on the four horsemen – There were too may situations were Apocalypse handled the business. I would have liked to have seen Storm, Psylocke, Angel, and Magneto drop the hammer in some situations with their new augmented powers and have Apocalypse nodding in approval in the background, rather than chew the scenery.
Angel was underpowered, as was Storm – I felt as though their roles were somewhat slighted, especially considering the upgrades that they received from Apocalypse (which makes you wonder how strong were they before?)
Psylocke did more posing than kicking ass – Hey, I’m cool with Olivia posing. She can pose whatever way she wants, but outside of saving Storm by cutting a car in half, I would have preferred to see her rip some sh1t up Darth Vader style with her swords.
Magneto’s change of heart – Considering what happened to him, in light of the first two movies, his change of heart at the end was not plausible. I could see someone like Storm, after seeing Apocalypse not come to the aid of Angel, wondering if she chose the wrong side, but not someone like Magneto after what happened to him in this movie, if you take his history into account. He’s like the inverse of the Dan Brown villain. In every book it’s the person of lead authority who turns out being the bad guy. Here, Magneto is always the bad guy who somehow turns good at the end every time.
The arrow that killed Magneto’s family – Come on, this wasn’t Hawkeye, and a wooden arrow with no metal tip. Really? The bow looked half cocked when the arrow flew.
The cage match – This was a recycle of Wolverine in X1. I personally would have preferred more of a Fight Club among mutants. Perhaps financed by Caliban. Apocalypse might have chosen his horsemen here, Mortal Kombat style.
Couldn’t quite buy Mystique as a leader – She done good as Katniss, but for some reason the ra-ra speech at the end didn’t seem quite as moving as I would have hoped. Maybe it’s me.
Deadpool wasn’t in it – OK I know this is unfair, I just really liked the Deadpool movie. Plus I like that I can take my kids to this movie (unlike Deadpool).