It’s 3,600 B.C. In the Nile valley, a god-man of sorts commands the worship of the masses. (He’s actually a really powerful mutant, but his supplicants haven’t read enough comic books to figure that out.) They’re gathered for a ritual that occurs every lifetime or so, one that involves transferring his mutant-powered consciousness from an aging body to a more youthful model. But when a band of resistance fighters disrupts the process, well, the god-man’s transferral to a new body will just have to wait. And wait. And wait.
Fast-forward to 1983 (10 years after the mind-bending, time-travelling events in X-Men: Days of Future Past). The world remains wary about mutants, though technically at peace with them. Professor Charles Xavier is recruiting many of these outcasts to his School for Gifted Youngsters in Westchester, New York.
Meanwhile, in East Berlin, Raven (also known as the blue-skinned, clothing-averse shapeshifter Mystique), is determined to help unfortunate mutants there escape the cruel, enslaving, battle-to-the-death conditions in which they often wind up.
Then there’s the magnetic maestro Magneto, Erik Lehnsherr, who’s trying to live a normal life in Poland with his second wife and their young daughter. Alas, when Erik uses his magnetism to save a co-worker at a steel mill from certain death, well, let’s just say not everyone’s thrilled to have a mutant revealed in their midst … a discovery that doesn’t bode well for Erik’s family.
Now, remember that 5,000-year-old god-man hibernating beneath a pile of rubble under modern-day Cairo? Right. Well, he’s about to awaken from his multi-century slumber, this time with a new name: Apocalypse. And what good is Armageddon without the Four Horsemen of destruction?
Magneto’s ripe for recruiting, of course. As are several other powerful, disaffected mutants he encounters.
Not that Charles Xavier and his charges are going to be sitting back and doing nothing while Apocalypse prepares to usher in the end of the world. Then again, with Col. William Stryker still hunting mutants almost as zealously as Xavier and Apocalypse are recruiting them to their rival teams, well …
… nobody ever said it’s easy being blue (or telepathic or fast or clawed or whatever).
Teamwork, trust and optimism are the foundation of Prof. Xavier’s leadership ethos. He doesn’t believe a massive conflict between humans and mutants is fated to happen, and he’s determined to stave off such an outcome.
Xavier (with aid from Hank McCoy) helps his students come to terms with their powers. When he tells Scott Summers that his abilities are a gift, Summers scoffs, “It doesn’t exactly feel like a gift.” Xavier replies, “It never does at first.” Similarly, Jean Grey is deeply fearful of the mutant energies she feels churning within her. She tells her mentor, “I’m afraid someday I’m going to hurt someone.” Xavier replies, “Everyone fears that which they do not understand. You will learn to control your powers.” For his part, Hank is more pragmatic than Xavier, saying, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”
Erik Lehnsherr loves his wife and daughter, and he seeks to protect them by trying to blend in as a normal person. Their tragic demise leaves him deeply embittered, but Xavier remains convinced that there’s still a spark of moral goodness in his long-time friend.
As mentioned, Raven seeks to emancipate mutants in East Berlin who’ve been captured and forced to fight in gladiatorial-style mortal combat. And there’s an “underground railroad” of sorts to help those with special powers get out of Eastern Europe. Of course, all these mutant heroes go to great lengths to rescue and save one another—not to mention the rest of humanity—from harm and death.
Though Apocalypse obviously isn’t a god, he’s so powerful that he comports himself as one—as the One. He says he was the mythic figure behind the Egyptian god Ra and the Hebrew God Elohim. He claims to have played a role in humankind’s creation.
An elaborate opening sequence involves ancient Egyptians worshiping Apocalypse. Several members of his entourage chant what seem to be spells which, when combined with the sun’s light, provide the magical/mystical/mutant energy necessary to complete the transference of consciousness from a wasting body to a new one. Apocalypse says he’s lived thousands of lifetimes in this manner, and that many of those times he’s annihilated humanity at the end of his reign. He sneeringly dubs those who would resist him “false gods.”
Nightcrawler, conversely, has traditionally been depicted as a devout Catholic, and so it is here as well. He crosses himself and prays several times, asking for God’s help and protection. A historical montage in the opening credits includes a picture of Jesus carrying His cross. A military leader says a conflict’s positive ending represents “the grace of God,” while another leader adds, “I think our prayers were answered.”
The mayhem is intense and quite often fatal. Apocalypse sports many destructive powers, but favours using sand to engulf people and, in one instance, decapitate three of them. After an officer unintentionally kills Erik’s young daughter and wife with an arrow that pierces both, the magnetism-minded mutant uses a locket to pierce the necks of an entire troop of men, killing all of them instantly. Wolverine is literally feral when he’s released, and he uses those claws to hack and slash dozens of security officers—stabbing attacks that are significantly bloodier than the vast majority of superhero melees.
On a more epically apocalyptic scale, Apocalypse manipulates Magneto into unleashing his full power on the earth—and the boss baddie magnifies that power as well—which threatens to destroy virtually everything on the planet. We see an NYC skyscraper collapse, and the Brooklyn Bridge is shaken, stirred and just about wiped out, too. As for Cairo, well, the entire city is pretty much obliterated as Apocalypse sets up “shop” there.
Scenes in the present and in flashback take place at Auschwitz, and we learn that Erik’s Jewish parents were victims of the Holocaust. As Magneto, he unleashes all his emotional rage on the deserted buildings of the concentration camp. Things don’t go well for Xavier’s elegant mansion, either, which ends up on the receiving end of an explosion that levels it.
Other Negative Elements
In a training session, Mystique tells team members, “Forget whatever you think you know,” including what they learned in school and “whatever your parents taught you.”
No matter how many of them the hero mutants manage to vanquish (or turn to their righteous cause, in some cases), well, there’s always another growly voiced über-nefarious villain lurking somewhere, just waiting to be awakened by fate and itching to subjugate (or just flat-out destroy) the whole world.
If all that sounds pretty familiar after seven other core theatrical entries in this franchise … it is. There are few surprises in this very intricate, very violent story. Charles Xavier remains doggedly optimistic regarding peaceful integration between genetically mundane humans and the mutants he’s called to shepherd. Erik Lehnsherr continues to alternate between his desire to be a good guy and his darker impulse to unleash a magnetic maelstrom upon those who cross him.
Apocalypse? He’s an impervious, unstoppable nasty who the intrepid X-Men nevertheless figure out a way to stop.
After multiple reboots of the Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and the X-Men franchises—not to mention the multitude of cities and worlds their movies have increasingly laid waste to, this one being no exception—there’s very little here that we haven’t already seen and heard before.
By Focus on the Family Singapore. This review was adapted from Plugged In: the entertainment guide your family needs to make family appropriate decisions through movie reviews, book reviews, TV reviews, and more.