X-Men story lines all pretty much revolve around the same theme: Humans fearing mutants and acting upon it irrationally, causing bad mutants to revolt and good mutants to attempt peace.
We start off in 3600 B.C., with set pieces that showcase ancient Egypt as good as any we’ve seen since maybe The Mummy in 1999. Here, the first mutant known to man, En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse (though his name doesn’t seem to really be important), gets betrayed and trapped underground for centuries. This dude would’ve given me nightmares if I saw him as a child.
Then we wind up in the 1980s, with some cool zeitgeists of the era. But not too much so that it becomes a nostalgia flick–though that wouldn’t be too bad either. We catch up with our X-Men stars ten years after the events in X-Men: First Class. We’re introduced to a few new mutants and get most of our favorites back. Apocalypse gets awoken from his long sleep and decides to assemble a team to kill off humans–along with any mutant who stands in his way.
The film does a great job of balancing a cornucopia of character’s story lines. Everyone is accounted for, but wisely, most of the villains aren’t touched upon that much–including Apocalypse. Some may argue that he lacks a unique incentive, but when you’re the most powerful mutant ever and thirst for omnipotence, what other incentive do you need? But it does go beyond that. His philosophy is Hitler-esque in that he wants to destroy who he believes to be inferior beings. And he’s given a sort of false-charisma that makes the fact that he has followers believable.
The only other villain for which we get sufficient depth established is Magneto–perhaps the most compelling story in the whole X-Men saga–with only Wolverine’s giving it a run for its money. Magneto walks the line between good and evil at times in the series, with his fantastic dynamic/friendship with Professor Xavier furthered upon even more in this film.
The action doesn’t feel empty and neither does the plot. The characters are enjoyable and we don’t feel cheated out of anyone’s backstory. But we don’t feel forced into one either. The good thing about having multiple movies and prequels is that we trust that, in time, we will know each character’s origin.
X-Men: Apocalypse may not have the most radical of premises within the X-Men universe, but its a subject that is still treated with much realism and ongoingness–something other franchises don’t do quite as well. The civil war battle thing has been a common theme among superhero movies this year, and X-Men does it best. Something of the grandest proportions is actually at stake. Heroes and civilization as a whole may actually be destroyed.
It all makes this a solid installment in the series and maybe the best superhero movie this year (so far). Plus, its plethora of characters and a creepy antagonist make the movie engaging and not feel quite as long as it is. We needed some redemption after the slap-in-the-face time travel entry, Days of Future Past, nullified the stories in a franchise we’ve grown to appreciate. That was more of a cool idea in the moment, while this movie is an important idea.
Oh, and we also get an esoteric post-credits scene, whose meaning will most likely be forgotten by the time the next film comes out anyway.