The X-Men are back! How does the latest entry in Fox’s mutant franchise compare to First Class, Days of Future Past, and the rest of the X-Men movies? Find out now!
My overall anticipation for X-Men: Apocalypse has been pretty muted. Despite being a big fan of X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing from the promotional materials that I have seen for Bryan Singer’s latest X-opus. Perhaps it’s because Batman V Superman and Captain America: Civil War were the bigger comic book movies of the year, or maybe it’s because of the Ivan Ooze-ness of the first picture of Apocalypse, but something just wasn’t clicking for me. To borrow a phrase from another Marvel franchise, my “spider-sense was tingling”. Regardless, I’m a huge fan of Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy’s takes on Magneto and Professor Charles Xavier, so I went into this movie knowing that at least part of my ticket purchase was going towards them.
Well, I hope they buy themselves something nice with that percentage of my purchase.
The problem with X-Men: Apocalypse is that it’s neither good nor bad, its just kind of there, and what is there is surprisingly boring. From the destruction in the final act to the fact that the rebooted timeline reintroduces younger versions of mutants we’ve met before, there’s a weird feeling of “been there, done that” in Apocalypse. Bryan Singer’s film is kind of all over the place as well, tying up events from First Class and Days of Future Past while also setting up new (ish) mutants like Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan). Oh, it also finally introduces mega villain Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), whose plans to transform the world into his image are the driving force behind the film.
All right, let’s cut to the chase and talk Apocalypse. I’m a big fan of Oscar Isaac, but he’s completely wasted here. Apocalypse could have been played by literally anybody. There’s nothing in Isaac’s performance that gives you a hint that this is the same actor who was Poe Dameron in The Force Awakens or Nathan in Ex Machina. Apocalypse is so bland and quiet that I’m surprised that no one, from producer Simon Kinberg to Bryan Singer himself actually tried to fix anything about him during filming or in post-production. We all joked about how he looked like Ivan Ooze in that first picture, and while his final look in the movie is a little better, he also doesn’t resemble the character at all. Everything about him that’s supposed to make him seem like a credible threat doesn’t work, from using sand to create the costumes of his Horsemen (yes, you read that right), to the fact that he’s actually shorter than Magneto (the scene in the trailer where grows? That’s in the astral plane inside Xavier’s mind).
Apocalypse isn’t the only problem in the film though. This is the 6th X-Men movie (8th if you count X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine), so you’d think by now that we know how Cerebro works, and how big of an impact Auschwitz has had on Magneto. So you can imagine my boredom when Singer decides to explain both of these things, AGAIN. Yes, we get scenes describing the importance and purpose of Cerebro and more flashbacks (from better X-Men movies) to Magneto in Auschwitz, instead of scenes setting up our new X-Men, or Magneto’s life in Poland with his wife and child. This idea is baffling, and it works counter to what Singer is trying to do. By the finale we’re supposed to care about Cyclops, Jean, and Nightcrawler, but we haven’t had as much screen time with them to really care if they live or die (SPOILERS: they live).
There are some bright spots in Apocalypse, though. Both Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are great in their roles as Magneto and Professor X. While Fassbender definitely has the better arc of the two (the scene where his family is killed is amazing), both actors really give it their all with their performances, and appear to still be enjoying their time as these two characters. Jennifer Lawrence is a different story though. The whole time she’s Mystique she seems like she would rather be anywhere else than in this movie. Plus, her arc is very strange. After Days of Future Past, she was “mutant and proud”. But here, she’s regressed back to hiding who and what she really is.
When it comes to our “new class” of mutants, the few moments we spend with Sophie Turner’s Jean and Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops are really well done. The two seem to have a great handle on the roles, and have the potential to lead the franchise if Lawrence and others decide not to return. But my absolute favorite has to be Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler, who brings some much-needed humor to the film. Just like in X2, the blue-skinned teleporter put a smile on my face every time he was on screen, and it was a blast watching him BAMF around. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver also gets another scene-stealing moment, and while it’s not as good as his scene in Days of Future Past, it’s definitely a crowd-pleasing moment. Hell, I even liked Olivia Munn’s Psylocke, even though she’s nothing more than glorified henchman.
If you’ve seen the trailers, then you know about the Wolverine cameo. For as shoehorned in as it is, it’s actually really awesome, and gives us our best look yet at what the upcoming R-Rated Wolverine 3 will be like. Again, it’s completely unnecessary, but it also delivers the movie a shot in the arm of adrenaline and excitement for a few moments. But it doesn’t add up, as the last time we saw Wolverine in this timeline, he was being taken away by Mystique pretending to be Stryker. But here, in Apocalypse, he’s a captive of the real Stryker. So, did Bryan Singer forget about that plot point from DOFP? Or does he simply not care? It’s a weird inconsistency that takes you out of the movie, especially if you re-watched the other two movies in anticipation of this one.
Perhaps one of my problems with this movie stem from the fact that both First Class and Days of Future Past used the time frame of their movie to work mutants into current events of the time. Instead of First Class’s use of the Cuban missile crisis or the JFK assassination in DOFP, the 80’s setting in Apocalypse feels more like an excuse to have Charles Xavier dress like a Miami Vice extra than working the X-Men mythos into American history again. There’s no major global event to tie the mutants into. Plus whenever characters mention events that happened 10 or 20 years ago, it reminds you just how weird the timelines of these movies have become. Professor Xavier and Magneto have been arguing for mutant rights since 1963, but look like they’ve only aged 7 years over the 2 decades that are supposed to have passed.
I admittedly went into this movie with pretty low expectations, and unfortunately those expectations were met. While this movie certainly isn’t the worst in the X-Men franchise (Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine still hold that “honor”), it’s definitely a misstep after the one-two punch of First Class and Days of Future Past. There’s a scene halfway through the movie where Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, and Jubilee are exiting a screening of Return of the Jedi, and Jean Grey says “The third one is always the worst”. That’s pretty ballsy of Singer now that I’ve sat through this movie. It’s almost like he’s more interested in the X-Men being metaphors for people who are different than the fact that they are also superheroes. Perhaps it’s time for him to step aside and let someone bring a more balanced take on the X-Men.