Continuing our X-Men retrospective, we take a look at the last time the X-Men teamed up before Dark Phoenix, with 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse.
After the rousing success of X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse had a high mountain to climb. Future Past was a testament to how well everything could go with a superhero franchise, and how a series could use even it’s worse parts to build up to a satisfying conclusion. But Days of Future Past wasn’t a conclusion, it was a way of moving forward into a better future for the franchise. So, how do you follow up one of the best superhero films ever created? And how do you make sure that it means something, when the previous film meant literally everything to everyone involved?
Apocalypse had an impossible task ahead of it, and it’s one major failure is in its use of the titular villain, Apocalypse. The entire film Apocalypse is barely used beyond marching towards the final climactic battle with the X-Men. We get scenes of him collecting his four horsemen together, and then him trying to take Xavier. But there’s very little more there. Apocalypse has always been a major villain in the comics, and this is one of the few times where the films have seen the X-Men go directly against a mutant that isn’t Magneto. It’s frustrating that we don’t get more time with him, and the film doesn’t expand his character, but it doesn’t completely destroy the film.
The biggest highlight to the film is the questions it poses about being a hero and how we deal with heartbreak. The film uses Mystique to explore the idea of what it means to be a hero to some when you’re still considered a threat by others. It’s about the importance at times to be the guiding light amidst those who have no one to follow in times of darkness. Mystique doesn’t want to be the hero for all mutant kind, she just wants to be able to live peacefully; but because of the events of Days of Future Past, all mutants now look to her as their savior. She has to decide throughout the film how she wants to play that part and if she’s even willing to accept that role in any way. It’s a great way to wrap up the arc of her character through this franchise, and take her to a place we haven’t seen before.
One often overshadowed element of the film is the way in which it completely closes the arc of Magneto, and in doing so helps wrap up the entire franchise. The film calls back to the rest of the franchise and the entire journey of this character so far to show the utter heartbreak he’s been through. The path that led him from the young boy discovering his powers as his parents are taken away at a concentration camp to one of the world’s most powerful mutants. By beginning with him finally finding peace, and living a simple life, we see a side of him that has never been displayed before. This is a man who saves a regular human, despite the risk it could bring to him and his family.
When Magneto takes that risk, and it leads to the death of his family, our heart breaks for him. He has had the most difficult path of any character in this franchise, and we want to see him happy. The trilogy that began with X-Men: First Class, helped us love this character not just as an amazing villain, but as a complex and layered character. He’s someone who doesn’t know how to work past his pain, and is only able to do so at times thanks to the kinship he shares with Charles Xavier. It’s that relationship that saves him by the end of the film. It’s the hope that Charles brings, that helps redeem Erik Lehnsherr, and lets him finally walk off into the sunset on a high note.
Apocalypse isn’t a perfect film, but it could have been a fitting end to the nine film franchise. The film brings everything together and closes out with the X-Men finally being a true team, something that had been building since First Class. It has some great call backs to every other film in the franchise, and in the end helps show us where things have changed after the events of Days of Future Past. But the superhero game is never over given that it essentially prints money for studios, and because of that the franchise as a whole would keep going.
Be sure to check out the final installment of the X-Men Franchise, Dark Phoenix, when it hits theaters this weekend. You can check out the previous installments of our X-Men Retrospective at the links below.
X-Men Review: The Superhero Revolution Begins
X2: X-Men United – The X-Men Return To Save All Mutants
X-Men 3: The Last Stand – Thank God This Got Erased By The Prequels
X-Men Origins: Wolverine – Why God, Why?
X-Men: First Class – Mutants Are Groovy Baby
The Wolverine – The Solo Adventures of Wolverine Get Better
X-Men: Days of Future Past – The X-Men’s “Endgame”