*** This review contains superhero world destroying spoilers ***
1983, an ancient mutant awakes to reclaim the Earth. Only a handful of inexperienced mutants can stop him and his newest recruit - the powerful Magneto.
Director Bryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse has the synonymous superhero city-level destruction with amazing effects, yes it feels a worn but the focus remains on the popular characters and their relationships. It magnifies all the best of the genre, serving up a solid story that remains pin sharp clear throughout.
The Valley of the Nile opening is the most interesting of the film, Singer conjures up a Stargate, Gods of Egypt hybrid where we're introduced to the excellent Oscar Isaac in almost unrecognisable make up as the mutant Apocalypse. Notable is Death played memorably by Monique Ganderton, one of The Horsemen who saves Apocalypse allowing him to recruit some familiar mutants later. These include Angel (Ben Hardy channelling the late Heath Ledger) and a young Storm, Alexandra Shipp. Olivia Munn's Psylocke has an edge and a costume in which she steals every scene.
There are several films crammed into one and it works thanks to the central friendship story-line that's heart to the film. After the visually fantastic opening the first hour establishes what the characters have been up to, the latter half is then a face off between the players. World-destroying, operatic mutant, Isaac (who is somewhat a Tom Hardy acting chameleon) makes Apocalypse menacing. Simon Kinberg's script keeps Apocalypse engaging retaining a comic feel even though it is nihilistic at times. Debatably indifferent, Singer and Kinberg never allow Apocalypse reach Nolan & Synder's bleakness or the polish of recent Avengers and it's Marvel movie counterpart outings. There's fun to be had, Quicksilver (American Horror Story) Evan Peters gives X-Men: Apocalypse one of the most memorable scenes where he uses his super-speed to save students and a dog from an exploding mansion to the The Eurythmics' 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)'.
For die-hard X-Men fans Hugh Jackman's Wolverine cameo restarts his original story with a gruesome killing rampage. The acting is what you'd expect for a cast boasting such well known faces. Grappling with the dark side of her abilities Sophie Turner's Jean Grey even though given little to do until the action packed closing is a good addition. Mystique played again by popular actress Jennifer Lawrence never quite matches her older counterpart, Romijn. Likewise Cyclops, Tye Sheridan doesn't meet Marsden's presence. James McAvoy as good actor as he is still can't shrug off Patrick Stewart's Xavier shadow. Whereas Michael Fassbender gives Magneto's story-line the emotional depth it requires especially after his family are murdered. Finally Nightcrawler - Kodi Smit-McPhee learns to hone his powers and is a great addition.
The characters are all interesting but Psylocke and Storm embody the way this entire series has changed its female characters; giving them emotional integrity, swagger and complexity as much as possible in a sea of other characters. In all the special effects, sound design, costumes and amazing sets X-Men: Apocalypse gets close to evoking the friendship nature of the comics. It also reflects a morally grey rather than black and white view of the world without endless rain and gloomy lighting.
Yes, there's a Stan Lee cameo and of course there's a anti climatic post credit scene which follows on from Wolverine's aftermath. Overall, Singer's back to basics story and fast pace in a wash of other recent superhero films offers (by the skin of its teeth) enough new thrills to pass the time with. Worth watching for Issac's troubled Apocalypse and Ganderton's small pivotal role alone.