Superhero films, like comic books, can be philosophical. The action can often disguise a more profound subtext. X-Men: Apocalypse, for instance, addresses a very basic human crisis. Once you have amassed some power, do you rule the world or do you try and save it? The question is a simple one, but it has defined the history of man and his politics. It has always been ‘with us or against us.’
So the thing about tyrants and dictators is that they want to conquer death with mayhem. X-Men’s En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) has an advantage. He already is immortal. He may look kitsch. His speech is all staccato. He can also be ridiculously condescending – “You are all my children, and you’re lost because you follow blind leaders. No more false gods. I’m here now.” This paternal instinct is disturbing, but you have to give it to En. The man is heralding an apocalypse. Destroying the world can be difficult business, but Isaac’s monotonous hostility only makes it look all too easy.
For director Bryan Singer, the X-Men are familiar faces and in Apocalypse, he makes them tread familiar territory. The world is not just divided on the lines of good and evil. The line that separates the X-Men universe is a more deterministic one. There are us mere mortals and then there are mutants. They can read minds (Charles Xavier/Professor X), they can control magnetic fields (Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto) and some can alter their shapes to become whosoever they want (Raven/Mystique). Unlike other superhero counterparts, though, mutants struggle with these powers. They want to co-exist, be human, but there is always an En Sabah type spoiling the party.
The sheer proliferation of superhero films has meant that they have all begun to seem too predictable. Though Apocalypse doesn’t preclude the usual tropes, it gives you performances that are stellar. Reprising the role of Magneto, Michael Fassbender brings to his initial scenes a sombre sobriety that is always a treat to watch. James McAvoy is again brilliant as Professor X, and Jennifer Lawrence makes a feisty Mystique. The rest of the cast supports this talent with great ability, but there is one niggling problem. The world needs saving again, and happy endings are sadly inevitable.
As En Sabah puts his plan in place to “cleanse the world”, the film’s action is visually stunning. There are enough laughs in there for you to feel respite. The characters all have a back story that helps you cheer harder in both, their fight and flight moments. The film, in many ways, is a trip down history’s lane. En Sabah is entombed in the pyramids. Magneto is taken back to Auschwitz. So, the canvas of the film is undoubtedly large, but there’s still something missing. Apart from Wolverine’s sudden appearance, there is no other moment of surprise. Apocalypse sadly ticks too many usual boxes.
Put your trust in the X-Men. Just don’t expect access to a brave new world. Good beats evil. Again.
Rating: 3 stars