As I sat through X-Men: Apocalypse, I felt every ounce of the eight film series’ decade-spanning mythos weighing on me. At this point, it’s inescapable that the franchise has some baggage, and through all the reboots and retcons it can all be little hard to parse, even for a longtime fan. As a result, I felt something I hadn’t felt towards the franchise before as I watched Apocalypse, even during its lesser entries: I felt bored.
For all its star power and mutant mojo, X-Men: Apocalypse feels like a franchise entry that exists solely to set up sequels, and doesn’t seem interested in much else.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Opening with a scene in ancient Egypt, the film introduces the primary plot device/antagonist, Apocalypse. Played by Oscar Isaac, this blue-hued Egyptian demigod is introduced with all the pomp and circumstance befitting of a franchise villain, and thankfully Issac is well-equipped for the role. Despite a lot of cheesy writing, he manages to craft a character that is interesting to watch, at the very least.
Sadly, the only member of this badass band worth investing in is Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, who gives a great performance in his opening scenes. It’s just a shame his arc isn’t very interesting, mimicking that of Wolverine in X-Men: Origins. When the film starts, he’s doing his best to be a regular working joe, living by the law and raising a perfect family, complete with a quaint woodland cottage and adorable mutant daughter. You can probably guess how he becomes a bad guy again.
The amount of setup he gets is directly at odds with the time it takes for him to join Apocalypse. Much akin to how he recruits the other three members, Apocalypse shows up out of nowhere, shows Magneto he can kill people, and Magneto is convinced. In fairness, the guy wants revenge, and the blue guy can help him get it. It’s just sad that it all ends up exactly like you’d expect: with Xavier trying to appeal to Magneto’s humanity. If you’ve seen an X-Men film, you’ve seen this one.
Which brings me to X-Men: Apocalypse’s biggest flaw: it’s just dull. Characters either go through the same motions they have in other films, or are left with nothing to do for a good hour and a half of the film’s two hour runtime. New, interesting characters like Psylocke and Nightcrawler are criminally underdeveloped, basically showing up out of nowhere for the sole purpose of bolstering the roster come punch time. On the other hand, familiar characters take up way too much time, even if they aren’t doing much. I don’t need to be reminded again that Beast is a mechanical whiz— I’m much more interested in what Jean Grey is up to. Even Fassbender, who usually lights up the screen in spite of what he’s been given to work with, seems as though he’s resigned to contractual obligation by the time the credits roll. The look on his face at the end says it all: “I’ll take my check now, see you guys again in two years”.
Then there’s the character development. Mystique may be the worst offender: once a compelling villain struggling with her allegiances to Magneto and Professor X, Jennifer Lawrence’s character has been written into a corner, playing the same reluctant hero for the entire film only to have a change of heart after major cities have been royally f***ed up. More so than any other character, hers feels written with the sole intention of retaining Lawrence’s screen time, time that is wasted with an uninspired arc, made even worse to watch through the poor writing of her character.
Some other actors do try their best with the given material. Sophie Turner does a commendable job as Jean Grey, trying her best to portray a confused child trying to cope with powers she doesn’t understand. This makes her role all the more sad, as her character is primarily treated as a plot device throughout the film, rather than as a thinking, feeling character. It’s predictable, too; every time something happens and Xavier isn’t around, you can almost hear the characters say “Go get the other psychic, she’ll figure it out”.
Storm and Cyclops follow similar roles, being introduced briefly and drafted to either side of the growing conflict before going to superhuman war. In Cyclops’ case, there was not even any indication of training to be an X-man before he was volunteered to fight Blue Egyptian Oscar Issac.
You’re going up against a dude named Apocalypse, who rolls with a posse called The Four Horsemen. You can’t even stuff in a training montage?
The poor pacing, characterization, and boring plot seep through every frame of this film, corrupting even the action scenes. Some scenes are little more than brief character introductions, while many fail to do anything visually stimulating with those same characters. A fight in Egypt between a man with metal wings, Olivia Munn with a katana and laser sword, a dude with an eye blaster, and a teleporting teen should never be boring, especially with a director of Bryan Singer’s pedigree. Yet somehow, none of these elements coalesce into battles that are interesting to watch. Much like Batman v. Superman, it also doesn’t know when to quit, and the film culminates in a massive battle scene that slogs on for what feels like an eternity.
Its not all bad, as there are some memorable bits throughout the film that should be commended, most of all the much-teased Wolverine scene. Set up at the end of the previous film, the payoff here is well-integrated in the plot, and is one of the few points that doesn’t feel forced. Choreography is also on point here, as Singer gives us the most brutal look at Hugh Jackman’s character yet. I was actually surprised some parts of that scene made it into a PG-13 cut of the film.
Quicksilver also makes a good impression, stealing the show in a scene similar to his cameo in Days of Future Past. It falls in line with the film’s habit of retreading the rest of the series, but if we have to revisit Apocalypse’s predecessors, it’s a damn good spot to pick.
Unfortunately, even with the aforementioned Wolverine scene, I couldn’t help but feel that Apocalypse just isn’t a good X-Men film. Entire characters are set up and never paid off, seemingly teasing for a sequel. Arcs and plot lines we’ve seen two or three times now are retreaded with no attempts at making them new or interesting again. Even the superhuman smackdown that takes up the last third of the film becomes a trudging bore. Still, I have hope for the next entry in the franchise. Should 20th Century Fox make good on its sequel setup and deliver a worthy adaptation of the beloved 90’s X-Men, it could easily be an instant superhero classic. However, if things go sideways and Apocalypse happens again, this franchise could be in some serious trouble.