For all the talk of evolution that has occurred in the X-Men movie franchise over the 16 years it has been around, it’s rather frustrating that the latest cinematic mutant escapade from director Bryan Singer is not so much the evolutionary equivalent of mankind developing fantastic powers, but rather suddenly forgetting they have opposable thumbs. Coming on the heels of the fresh and funky X-Men: First Class and the thrilling and geektastic X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse is a painfully fatigued step backwards. The X-Men have become slightly X-Meh.
Most of this comes from the fact that despite this being the fifth film he is helming in the franchise, Singer seems to only be capable of telling one X-Men story. So while the extraneous details may be tweaked, at the core of the movie we once again find ourselves glumly pondering on whether there’s good in Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, if James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier will become the wise professor we know or whether Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique can wholly embrace her blue skinned mutation. Admittedly Days of Future Past rehashed some of the same questions from First Class, but Singer’s A-list cast made it work blockbusters, punching far above the material’s weight with an effective 70’s period sheen adding to the appeal. Here though, through wan plotting from Singer and writer/producer Simon Kinberg, not even the always magnificent Fassbender can hide the fact that it’s all getting rather tiresome now. Magnet-oh not again, indeed.
Luckily, the 1980’s set Apocalypse gives us the chance to bring in a changing of the guard as we get introduced to a couple of new “old” faces who will soon be leading this franchise. As the young Scott Summers aka Cyclops, Tye Sheridan is instantly likeable, while Kodi Smit-McPhee is a charming breath of fresh air as the demonic looking, teleporting mutant Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler. Sophie Turner carries most of the dramatic weight of the newcomers as a young Jean Grey, just discovering her powers and her fear of them, and she shoulders the burden affably enough. Global Scene Stealing Champion of 2014 Evan Peters is back as speedster Quicksilver, and once again he is given a show- and time-stopping slow-mo set-piece that easily stands as one of the film’s two biggest highlights (I’ll keep the other a surprise, but just know that it gets violent in all the best ways).
Not that those are the film’s only bright moments though, as Singer puts together some of the best action beats yet seen in the entire series – one of which feels like Roland Emmerich’s Stargate dialed to 11. But the problem is that getting from one of these incredible moments to another is a sluggish chore, as the already ho-hum pacing is bogged down further with far too many elements scrambling for screen time as heaps of characters are introduced more as ticks on a geek checklist, rather than adding anything meaningful.
And unfortunately, the biggest offender here is the titular star himself. Apocalypse is one of the X-Men’s greatest villains – the first mutant ever born, he is a godlike being of monstrous powers with a dwarfing, nightmarish physical presence, concocting world breaking plans. Not that you would get most of that convincingly from this movie rendition. Here he is still the progenitor of the mutant race, but instead is now able to jump his essence from one mutant body to the next, essentially becoming immortal and adding whatever mutant abilities his host has to his collection. I say “whatever powers” because it’s all a bit vague here, as is his agenda after being accidentally awoken in the modern world after being buried for thousands of years through betrayal.
Oscar Isaac, fresh from becoming the galaxy’s coolest new starfighter pilot in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has practically all his normal charisma snuffed out here under layers of prosthetic and grating ADR, all in the service of a “That’s what they went with?!” character design. We get told that his Apocalypse has the ability to sway any mutant to his cause – whatever that may be – but from what we see, I can’t even imagine him capable of convincing water to be wet. But yet he does though, gathering his Four Horsemen around him… only for them to be wasted as well.
Alexandra Shipp’s Storm gets the most criminal treatment of the lot, seeing as she’s actually really good at what she does; she just doesn’t get to do much. Ben Hardy’s Angel is nothing but an angry haircut with wings, while the previously mentioned Magneto gets a few early moments of proper glory, but then slums it (or should that be glums it?) for most of the rest of the movie. And for those of you who were excited to finally see fan-favourite Psylocke on the big screen, I have some bad news. There’s no doubt that Olivia Munn completely nails the iconic look, but with only about three lines of dialogue and not much else left to do but glower and occasionally contribute some shiny CG action, she’s more pinup than character.
But that’s really the overall problem here. There’s no denying the appealing polish on this production, but the film is so busy trying to move umpteen elements in place that there’s barely enough time to tell an engaging story. The arcs for characters like Magneto, Rose Byrne’s Moira McTaggert, Nicholas Hoult’s Hank McCoy and more are also clumsily handled, especially since some of their actions actually bring about cataclysmic consequences. Big destruction porn battle royale that probably claims the lives of millions? “Oh, no biggie, it was all part of a character just learning to be true to themselves. Now please step around those massive clumps in the carpet where we just swept all sense of morality and responsibility. Thanks.”
Contradictingly overstuffed yet still underplotted, X-Men: Apocalypse is a lesson in frustration. When it works, it well and truly soars to new heights, but it’s simply a po-faced slog in between those moments of elevation. But despite the oafish failings of this movie, it does end on one seriously geek-grin inducing note though, getting me genuinely pumped for the future potential of the franchise through a huge hint at some actual colourful fun with its authentically exciting new young cast taking the reins. Whatever that movie may be – and there are blatant clues given – hopefully it will be better than the X-tremely uneven affair we got here.
Last Updated: May 19, 2016