I have a confession to make.

I’m a big X-Men fan.

To make this clear, I’m not an X-Men fan because of the movies. I’m a fan of the comics. They were part of my childhood before comics became mainstream and an established art form.

For the past 43 years, the X-Men comics have been like a mirror held to our society, covering issues such as racial discrimination, religion, diversity and the awkwardness everyone feels at some point in their lives.

The movies on the other hand, are a diluted version of the X-Men. But that is understandable. How can you cover such a rich history in 6 movies team movies?

You can’t.

It’s true that Marvel Studios seem to get the perfect balance of staying true enough to the source material – in terms of look and tone – but that’s no easy feat. And some liberties must be taken.

But, with all respect for Mr. Singer and his work (and the part his X movies played in kick starting the renaissance of the comic book movie genre), his approach to the X-Men wasn’t really what I had hoped for. The colorful costumes were replaced by black leather, continuity was little more than an afterthought and in some ways there was a complete disregard for the source material.

Fast forward to 2016.

Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse is about to hit theatres and Apocalypse – one of my favorite X-villains – is about to make his cinematic debut.

My expectations were low.

X-Men: Apocalypse completely disregarded my preconceptions, grabbed me by the throat and unceremoniously turned me into a grinning child again for the next two and a half hours.

Beware. There be spoilers ahead.

apocalypse

Let’s take what didn’t work out of the way.

Apocalypse was, quite simply, wasted. That was possibly the single biggest issue with the movie. There are other issues, but this one is nigh unforgivable. Apocalypse is a pretty complex character, the first mutant in history, extremely powerful and a believer in the maxim “Survival of the fittest”. Essentially Apocalypse is a Darwinist with superpowers and a god complex. Fitting since mutants are the next evolutionary step in the Marvel universe.

According to comic lore, he came from a nomadic tribe in ancient Aqaba (Jordan) and throughout the centuries found ways of becoming stronger.

In the movie though, we find Apocalypse as a pharaoh, swapping bodies with another mutant (no explanation as to why) who exhibited a mutation similar to Wolverine’s, in the form of a healing factor. That’s a pretty handy power if you want to live forever. During this introduction, we are treated to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it coup during the transfer ceremony, which explains why Apocalypse stays buried in a dormant state for the next 4000 years or so, doing nothing but counting mutant sheep and essentially castrating the character.

He is then accidentally awakened by Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) who happens to be in Egypt at the time, still working for the CIA and continuing her tradition of going in over her head in mutant affairs. Apocalypse wakes up in modern day Egypt, and makes it his mission to recruit four new horsemen (read henchmen) to help him conquer the earth.

There wasn’t any kind of motivation given, no explanation of his powers. He wanted to conquer the earth simply… because. No survival of the fittest grand plan, no reasoning as to why he believes it. He eventually mentions a culling of the weak, but that is more of a nod to something he often said in the comics than an exploration of his true motivations. Apocalypse seems to have been chosen based on his popularity and as a plot device to get the team together.

Oscar Isaac is a very talented actor, but the even the best actors in the world can’t do much if the material isn’t good. You can polish a turd, spray some perfume on it and put a lovely silk ribbon around it, but at the end of the day…. it’s still a turd.

Speaking of turds, the next issue I had with the movie was Mystique. Or, should I say, Jennifer Lawrence playing an overgrown Smurf. Because that really isn’t Mystique. Sure, she’s a big Hollywood star, won an Oscar, has a nice pair of Golden Globes et al. But let’s make this clear: Mystique is a villain. Not an X-Man. And all of a sudden we have her as de facto leader of the X-Men and seen as some sort of mutant Che Guevara. It’s forced, hinders the movie at the expense of other characters. Lawrence’s phoned in performance didn’t help either. According to Lawrence herself, X-Men: Apocalypse will be her last foray into the mutant-verse. Fingers (and toes) crossed.

Then we have a mixed bag when it comes to Apocalypse’s Horsemen. The Horsemen of present day consist of Angel, Psylocke, Storm and Magneto. As per the comics, the Four Horsemen always the same titles: War, Famine, Pestilence and Death.

In the movie there is no reference to the title each of the horsemen hold. Throughout the course of the movie, it is safe to assume Magneto is War and Angel (based on comic book lore knowledge) is Death. But this is pure assumption. Those who know little to nothing about the comics won’t find any issues with this omission, but I did.

Psylocke (Olivia Munn) looks like she was ripped straight out of the comic’s pages but unfortunately doesn’t have much to say. It’s fair to assume that social justice warriors everywhere and a disproportionate amount of Tumblr accounts will complain about her outfit for being too revealing and exploring her beauty. Personally I don’t have an issue with that as, for the sake of diversity, I think attractive women who like to wear minimal clothing have a right to representation in the medium. If you don’t agree, please step away from the internet and go work on your prejudice.

But please, give her some more lines.

Angel (Ben Hardy) once again is a throwaway character, just another name to be crossed of the list for no other reason than to throw a bone to fans of the character. They shouldn’t have bothered. No, really, they shouldn’t.

The only Angel moment that made me smile was a scene in which he’s listening to Metallica’s ‘The Four Horsemen”. And that’s simply not good enough for such an integral member of the team. Angel was one of the original X-Men, and after being portrayed in the films twice (he previously made an appearance in X-Men: The Last Stand) Fox Studios still hasn’t managed to do anything of value with the character.
In the comics, being turned into “Archangel/Death” by Apocalypse was a very powerful moment, as we witnessed one of the purest X-Men literally fall from grace. In the movie we get a winged man, who is a bit of a dick, get metal wings to enhance his dickishness. With that said, he does have impeccable taste when it comes to 80s music.

Storm (Alexandra Shipp), was the most fleshed out Horseman (beside Michael Fassbender’s Magneto of course). We see her as a pickpocket in Cairo, with a convincing accent and sporting a Mohawk. That is all taken from the comics, albeit at different times in the character’s storyline. I couldn’t help but smile.

Fassbender, as usual, was great. Magneto finally gets what I like to call his “second origin”. Even though his powers manifested after losing his parents in Auschwitz, according to comic book canon he turned against mankind after humans persecuting him killed his daughter. It’s not literally like it happened in the comics, but it’s powerful and provides Magneto with a reason to turn his back on the X-Men and their philosophy of peaceful coexistence.

The good news is that despite these issues, the movie gets a lot of things very, very right.

Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) were really good. I had some concerns with the casting but they were superb, fleshing out the characters with nuanced performances and great chemistry as the “junior” X-Men.

Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops is undoubtedly the truest portrayal of the character we have seen on film. The pure destructive nature of his power is well conveyed, his fear of it palpable, although at time peppered with some needed humor (the Marvel Studios formula at work). His relationship with his brother Havok (Lucas Till) was solid and believable. I can’t wait to see him grow into the group’s leader and tactician.

Nightcrawler is a personal favorite of mine and it was a joy to see him on screen. Singer did a brilliant job with the character back in X2 and had fun with a power that is difficult to translate to movie. Essentially, Nightcrawler has the ability to teleport (“bamf”) across medium distances as long as he’s been there or has eye contact. It was a joy to watch and Smit-McPhee did a great job portraying the blue elf’s kindness, good humor and Catholicism.

Sophie Turner makes a really good Jean Grey. She is powerful and scared of her power (as are those around her). That fear becomes her initial link with Cyclops, and it’s great to see her start her journey as the X-Men’s matriarch by embracing her power and taking action at the most crucial moment. And as the cherry on top, we are treated to a proper Phoenix force manifestation. I felt chills.

For those of you who enjoyed Quicksilver (Evan Peters) in X-Men: Days of Future Past – and if you didn’t, you are dead inside – brace yourselves. It surpasses the Pentagon sequence in every single way. His main scene is possibly my favorite of the whole movie. You can see how Quicksilver has fun with his power and you can’t help but join in. The sequence took one and a half months to shoot and was worth every single second they put into it. And he does it to the sound of the Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams”. Flawless and worth the admission price on its own.

Wolverine has a small but excellent cameo. As if in an apology to fans of the clawed one’s solo movie and convoluted origin, we finally get the feral Weapon X, complete with helmet and battery packs. For those who read Barry Windsor-Smith’s iconic “Weapon X”, this is how it should have been from the start.

The follicly challenged X-fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief as Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) finally goes bald! McAvoy as usual brings his A game, and his interaction with Moria McTaggert was one of the highlights of the movie, both humoristically and emotionally.

We finally get the suits at the end (well, Singer’s version of the suits but closer than ever) and an old school Danger Room. No holograms, no VR.

The post-credits scene was good but I feel it went over most people’s heads. A man in a suit walks through the cleanup of Weapon X’s facility holding a briefcase. He then proceeds to retrieve a blood vial marked “Weapon X” and placing it in his briefcase, which contains other vials with different colors. When he closes the briefcase shut, we can see it’s labeled ESSEX CORP.

For those in the know, this is a reference to Nathaniel Essex, a super powered Victorian geneticist who is quite literally obsessed with the Grey and Summer bloodlines, and who engineered the birth of Cable – whose cinematic debut is confirmed for Deadpool 2. I really can’t wait to see where they go with this. I just hope they treat the character with more respect than they did Apocalypse.

This brings us to the question this review is all about: “Is X-Men: Apocalypse a perfect movie?” No, it’s not. It has issues. It was clearly designed for the general audience, but it has a lot of small touches for the comic aficionado. And that, in some ways, may work against itself. Its weaknesses can be quite obvious but thankfully it has so many great moments, you will be able to overlook its faults and enjoy the ride.

And you absolutely will.