In a season of mega-budgeted hero contention, it's refreshing to find a more traditional approach of dissension: the type that comes from within, but in the end aims exclusively to thwart villainy. Such characterizes Director Bryan Singer's "X-Men: Apocalypse", which isn't much different than previous chapters, except that it presents its expected turmoil in spades, with our young, mutant favorites confronting the conniving first of their kind.
This founding father is the brain-battering, matter-altering En Sabah Nur, otherwise known as Apocalypse, portrayed by rising, imagi-movie man, Oscar Issac. He desires to destroy the world in order refashion it to his own insidious image, but his dictatorial presence forces the variables against him, uniting the mutants for a new common cause.
En Sabah Nur, we learn, ruled ancient Egypt, but was betrayed and entombed by those he dared rule. Centuries later, he's sprung from his prison by a wayward sect and immediately proceeds to assemble a new group of henchmen, or more precisely, Horsemen, to help him regain command. The participants are Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke/"Pestilence" (Olivia Munn); Warren Worthington/Archangel/"Death" (Ben Hardy); and (as a surprise to many film fans) Ororo Munroe/Storm/"Famine" (Alexandra Shipp). All the while, "War"-prone Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael "Prometheus" Fassbender) waits in the revenge-ridden wings, embittered for having lost his family due to human bigotry, while the fickle, mutant-tracking Caliban (Thomas Lemarquis) offers his shifty services.
Our virtuous favorites are at least quick to oppose the devil and consist of old and new: Charles Xavier/Professor X (James "Victor Frankenstein" McAvoy); Raven Darkholme/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence); Jean Grey/Phoenix (Sophie "Game of Thrones" Turner); Jubilation Lee/Jubilee (Lana Condor); Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan "American Horror Story" Peters); Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne); Hank McCoy/the Beast (Nicholas "Jack the Giant Slayer" Hoult); Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till); Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan); and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
Mystique, having redeemed herself in the alternate-reality/saving-Nixon "Days of Future Past" is now a mutant liberator, who pulls her fellow breed from trapped and tortured circumstances, whereas Storm, whom we've always associated with compassionate pursuits, is reintroduced as a young, misguided puppet, but the question is, for how long will such last in a world wracked by infinite danger? There are wrongs committed well beyond those of her spiteful "god", proving he's not the only zealot aboard this tumultuous ride.
There's also the militaristic William Stryker (Josh Helman), who in respect to his mythology, has a knack for kidnapping and experimenting on mutants, including Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who we find in the agonizing throes of Weapon X alteration. To flee Stryker's lair is as important as breaking Professor X from out Apocalypse's grasp (a significant plot component in its own delightful right), but before the epic battle can be fought, terrestrial torments must first be squashed, giving the film a dynamic duality: not necessarily making this two movies in one, but thematically, close to such.
There comes a point in Simon Kinberg's latest X-Men script when the complications settle, particularly after Magneto's mass magnetic disruption, and the focus falls upon the title villain. From there the movie makes a smooth, if not predictable, turn, but its unpretentious shift is refreshing, not oh-hum. Through the garish destruction, the fable instructs us never to let our desires grow so strong that they impede upon those of others: a fundamental concept that En Sabah Nur and his entourage, for all their uncanny knowledge and skills, fail to accept, at least at first. Revelation isn't far away within this war, even among those inclined to embrace evil.
The cumulative effect is all quite Biblical, in a redemptive, fall-from-grace way, with disguised angels and demons battling for and against human salvation. However, "Apocalypse" is also a freewheeling, nostalgic piece, with the reality-altering "Days of Future Past" acting as its catalyst.While the previous film tripped us back to the '70s, "Apocalypse" escorts us into the Reagan-era '80s, accompanied by its pop-cultural garnish, which ranges from the synthpop sounds of the Eurythmics to "Return of the Jedi'"s stellar premiere.
As fun as it is to travel down this pseudo memory lane, the rich character interaction is what makes the voyage worth while.
Scene-stealing Peters again harnesses the fast finesse of Quicksilver: Marvel's answer to DC's Flash. His casual gait contrasts well against his sublime jaunts, and his inevitable need to unite with his estranged father (guess who?) is quirky and poignant, thanks to the thespian's versatility.
McAvoy and Fassbender are once more convincing, clashing as both friends and foes, spiritually joined at the hip, with one trying to control (or suppress) the other, in a Jekyll/Hyde play for power: an X-Men staple that never grows strained, and in this instance, perhaps hits its sterling summit.
As for Mystique, Lawrence remains alluring in her good-girl mode, redirecting her character toward an ethical plane, even if her persona is more human than what she (or Rebecca Romijn) have previously projected: an arguable shame, considering the rebellious charm of the character's bold, naked blue.
Helman and Issac, on the other hand, are brilliantly cruel as the philosophically opposed villains, with the former getting more screen time, and Issac spreading his Kinski-esque devilry accordingly, while adding another fantasy-film character to his expanding line, which includes "Ex Machina" and "Force Awakens". (It's also nice to see his mutated scowl rendered through traditional make-up effects and not hollow computerization.)
Alas, we get shortchanged on Wolverine. Though there's much more of Jackman here than in "First Class", why must we wait until "Wolverine 3" to see him seize the day?
Despite the latter misstep, and the fact that this chapter may not be as innovative as some prior (let alone as irreverent as "Deadpool"), "Apocalypse" is still the best sort of reboot, acknowledging its past, while keeping a keen eye on its future. Some may say that's not enough to make this sequel great, but in delivering the tried-and-true goods (and isn't that what any true fan fancies?), "Apocalypse" more than covers the required bases.