Where would Marvel be without the X-Men? There's an argument to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) might not exist had it not been for the success of the first X-Men movie back in 2000. Not only did it prove that Marvel properties could be done right on the silver screen, after decades of laughably bad attempts (I urge you to search out the 1994 Fantastic Four and 1990 Captain America films for a real giggle), but the very sale of those movie rights helped Marvel stave off bankruptcy when the bottom dropped out of the comic book industry back in 1996. Yet the X-Men weren't always the jewel in Marvel's crown.
Created in 1963 by (guess who) Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men was not the initial runaway hit that the duo were used to. Indeed X-Men sold rather poorly in comparison and suffered the indignity of basically being cancelled in 1970 when the comic stopped shipping new issues and printed reprints of old ones. Five years and a radical revamp later and the new improved X-Men was relaunched in 1975 with issue 94, and quickly became Marvel's best selling title. Its themes of racism and prejudice struck a chord with readers and made a star of its young writer Chris Claremont, who went on to write the comic for sixteen years. Pretty much every X-Men story worth reading is from this period, the Dark Phoenix saga, the Brood, Proteus, and Days of Future Past which the last X-Men movie was based on - all come from him.
The new X-Men movie doesn't seem to be based on any particular arc or graphic novel at all. Yes it takes elements from certain ones - Apocalypse's past, him always having four followers (his horsemen), etc - but nothing that seems like a direct adaptation. It's probably closest to his first appearance which was in X-Factor (the comic not the talent show), an X-Men spin-off title containing the original five X-Men under a new guise. It's a shame the film makers didn't try to adapt what is widely considered the best Apocalypse related X-Men story ‘Age of Apocalypse’ which shows us a world bereft from the influence of Charles Xavier and the importance of one man. I can only guess that because the original involved time travel they didn't want to do it so soon after Days of future past.
On to the movie they did film, and it's pretty average fare: The world's first mutant, Apocalypse, has reigned for thousands of years and during one of his transfers to a new body, is betrayed and left buried in ancient Egypt. Cut to the 1980s, Xaviers school is up and running, Magneto has a new family and life under a new name in Poland, Mystique is helping mutants escape persecution, and Moira is researching an ancient cult that worships the original mutant, En Sabah Nur.
Maybe it's because we have had three huge superhero movies in just a few months or maybe because it's so closely following the amazing Captain America Civil War, but this one just feels slightly underwhelming. It would seem that the X-Men movies have a problem with the third movie in trilogies. X-Men: The Last Stand was by far the worst of the original three movies and X-Men: Apocalypse is the worst of the second trilogy. They even make a joke in the film about it. The X-kids go to watch Star Wars Return of the Jedi in the cinema (it's set in 1983) and as they come out Jean Grey quips that “the third one is always the worst”, a clear dig at the universally hated third X-Men movie. However if you are going to have a comment like that you should make sure that your own film doesn't succumb to the same curse. That's not to say the film is bad, it has much to like. McAvoy and Fassbender are excellent as always as Charles Xavier and Magneto. Fassbender in particular is put through the ringer and shows great emotional range. The best bad guys are always the most human ones and despite all his failings you are always left rooting for his character to become a better man. I do, however, feel that after this film they need to retire the character for a while. We have had six X-Men movies and Magneto has been front and centre in all six and it's starting to be at the detriment of other characters development. For example, ‘the Four horsemen', otherwise known as Angel, Psylocke, storm and Magneto. Of the four Magneto is the only one with any character development whatsoever. It's embarrassing how bland the other three are. Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp and Olivia Munn must have cried when then realised they would be nothing more than mannequins.
The new editions to the X-Men, Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers and Kodi Smit-McPhee are all good if unspectacular additions and should be fleshed out further in later movies. The film is surprisingly light with action sequences as well despite being nearly two and a half hours long. It starts off with a bang with an impressive sequence set in ancient Egypt showing the betrayal of Apocalypse but that's about it for what seems like a lifetime of setup before we once again get a stand out Quicksilver scene with the destruction of the X-mansion. Evans Peters once again stealing the show. We then get a brief Wolverine bit and then straight on to the CGI-a-thon at the end. It just doesn't seem like enough for a film of that length. Villain wise, Oscar Isaac does a good job as Apocalypse. You could argue that he's slightly one note but he's very much like that in the comics so it's hard to lay that complaint here.
Overall X-Men: Apocalypse serves up a serviceable but forgettable instalment of one of the more consistent comic book franchises. See it, enjoy it, forget it
VERDICT: 3 out of 5
X-Men Age of Apocalypse Omnibus by Various
The X-men mega event of the 90s is presented here in full within one huge volume. After a time travel accident leaves Charles Xavier dead in the past, what does a world without his dream of peace between humans and mutants look like? Apocalypse's rule is absolute but hope remains in the one X-man who remembers what the world should look like, the time traveler Bishop.
Magneto Testament by Greg Pak
Now known as the mutant Magneto, Max Eisenhardt wasn't always the man he is today. In 1935 he was just another Jewish schoolboy trying to survive in Nazi Germany. An award winning and touching tale that takes us from Nuremberg to the horrors of war stricken Poland.
Uncanny X-Men Omnibus by Chris Claremont
If you in any way like the X-men there is only one place to start. Available, so far, in 3 mega volumes these are the tales that shaped the modern X-Men.
Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon
Available in two ultimate volumes, Joss Whedons X-Men is the best run of modern times since Grant Morrison's New X-men. This really harks back to the golden age of X-Men stories. An absolute must have.