Film: X-Men: Apocalypse
Director: Bryan Singer
Primary Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, Lucas Till, Josh Helman, Olivia Munn
US Release Date: 27 May 2016
In 3600 BCE, the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse (Isaac), is worshipped and regarded as a god. After entering a pyramid, he lies on a slab so that his consciousness and powers can be transferred to a new, younger body. However, before the ritual is complete, the pyramid is destroyed, and Apocalypse is trapped in slumber beneath the rubble.
In the 1980s, CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Byrne) investigates a group who continues to worship Apocalypse. While following them, she also accidentally enables the incredibly powerful mutant to finally rise once more.
Worried about Erik, Mystique (Lawrence) goes to Charles (McAvoy) for help. Around the same time, Quicksilver (who knows that Magneto is his father) decides to try to connect with Erik and goes looking for him at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
In the meantime, Apocalypse begins seeking out mutants who he can imbue with great power and use to do his bidding. After recruiting Storm (Shipp), Psylocke (Munn), Angel (Hardy), and Magneto (Fassbender), he turns his sights on destroying mankind. He also targets Charles, thereby roping Beast (Hoult), Mystique, Quicksilver, and a trio of young, inexperienced students (Turner, Sheridan, Smit-McPhee) into the fray.
X-Men: Apocalypse is an over-stuffed super hero film that, far too often, makes it all too clear that the franchise is running in place. And yet, thanks largely to a few of its characters and to the foundations laid by other X-Men films, Singer (X-Men, X2, X-Men: Days of Future Past) and his latest blockbuster manage to avoid all-out disaster. While Apocalypse fails to break new ground or to make the most of its cast, it also keeps its head above water and does enough of what an action movie needs to do to keep summer audiences interested. At times fun, funny, engaging, and even tragic, Apocalypse is certainly not the worst film in this franchise, but it—rather unfortunately—isn’t the best either.
Before I dive any deeper into the mess that is Apocalypse, allow me to make one thing perfectly clear: I genuinely enjoyed watching this movie. I liked it. In fact, I liked it so much, that I am almost positive I will rewatch it multiple times in the future. For those who are already fans of the X-Men films—and thus, are already accustomed to the flaws that plague them—Apocalypse should prove more entertaining than frustrating. That said, the film hits more than a few stumbling blocks over its inflated 147-minute run time, for on more than a few occasions, this 16-year-old franchise can’t help but get in its own way.
As dark as parts of Apocalypse are, the film also maintains a definite sense of humor. And while the script’s silliness does occasionally distract from some of its more powerful moments, it also helps to keep the film afloat. Without the jokes and levity, certain parts of the film may have become insufferable. There’s nothing simple about balancing humor (or cartoonishness) with the darkness, tragedy, and suffering that seep through so much of the X-Men franchise, but Apocalypse attempts to do so regardless. The result is a film that, while tonally uneven, doesn’t take itself too seriously and is pretty fun to watch as a result.
On the subject of humor, many of the film’s funniest—and indeed, most memorable—moments come via Quicksilver. His slow-motion sequence may not feel as fresh or be as impressive the second time around, but Peters (X-Men: Day of Future Past) demonstrates strong comedic timing, and Quicksilver’s lines are some of the best written ones in the movie. Similarly, Smit-McPhee’s (Slow West) young Nightcrawler is also a bright spot. Though he doesn’t say much, the character is charming, lovable, and funny, and though Smit-McPhee is no Alan Cumming, he does steal many of the scenes in which he appears.
Where Apocalypse makes the most of Peters and Smit-McPhee, the same is not always true concerning its more proven cast members. McAvoy, Fassbender, and Isaac (Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year) each do a solid job with what they are given, but the script doesn’t quite live up to their massive talents. Lawrence—whose Mystique has always felt off—feels even more out-of-place in Apocalypse than she does in First Class and Days of Future Past. To make matters worse, writer Simon Kinberg uses his screenplay to turn the already inconsistent Mystique into a sort of Katniss Everdeen figure, which simply doesn’t work.
The rest of the Apocalypse’s sizeable cast is nothing to write home about. Hoult is the same, forgettable, too-small Beast he’s always been. Bryne does nothing wrong, but her presence is unwelcome, largely because Moira adds nothing compelling to the story, wastes precious screen time, and should have been cut from the film. Helman’s Stryker also continues to be lackluster and one-dimensional, and some of the newcomers to the franchise aren’t much better. Turner (Game of Thrones) is good enough as young Jean, but she is capable of more than the film allows her to show. Sheridan (Mud, The Tree of Life), has shown promise elsewhere but barely makes an impact as a young Scott Summers (aka possibly the most vanilla character in the expansive X-Men universe). Olivia Munn’s Psylocke is pretty awful. Hardy’s Angel is yawn-worthy. And while Shipp may develop into a solid young Storm, it remains unclear how much she is capable of.
The X-Men films have always had a good deal of protagonist and antagonists (and quasi-antagonists) alike. And even if the presence of so many characters does help to keep the films moving while giving viewers a variety of personalities to be moved and entertained by, it also causes problems. All too often in Apocalypse, a surfeit of mutants means that too many characters are neglected and that none of them experience anything one might call “development.” Add this to the fact that Jubilee—who did appear on posters and in the film’s publicity photos—hardly speaks or does anything at all, and it’s clear that Singer’s film doesn’t pay enough attention to its mutants.
The most compelling aspect of the X-Men films has always been their characters, their complex relationships, and their complex moral issues. That said, Apocalypse consistently limits itself where these areas are concerned. For the most part, the film fails to add any further dimension to many of its key dynamics; this is especially true concerning Charles x Erik, but also applies to Charles x Hank, Charles x Mystique, Erik x Mystique, and Jean x Scott. Such relationships each carry the potential to elevate the film if explored properly, but all too often, Singer reduces them to a set of over-used phrases and repeated glances. There are now 6 X-Men films (we don’t talk about those Wolverine ones), but 6 film’s worth of ideas and character development are nowhere to be found. Such things should have formed the heart of Apocalypse, but action, rehashing, and excess are allowed to take center stage instead.
Moving forward, the X-Men movies need to be bold enough to stop repeating themselves, and the franchise desperately needs to find a way to evolve and move forward. At this point, viewers don’t need Charles and Erik to recite the same over-simplified speeches every 10 minutes. They don’t need Erik to go rogue in every film, and they certainly don’t need flashbacks to remind them who the film’s key characters are. Apocalypse is fine. The next film needs to be better.
As much as I personally enjoy the X-Men films, I’ll be the first person to tell you that, when viewed from a certain angle, under a certain light, they look little like a pile of incredibly self-confident garbage. Apocalypse is messy, jam-packed, and over-complicated. Thankfully, the degree to which Singer and the X-Men films simply don’t give a shit is so ridiculously great, that the franchise remains watchable—and indeed, is occasionally rather good. At this point, the X-Men movies have just about as many possible timelines as they do characters. According to Apocalypse and the films that precede it, continuity can fuck off entirely. Multiple versions of multiple characters (both of which, in Jubilee’s case, are virtually invisible) isn’t that big of a deal. Fitting Wolverine into every film (even when it doesn’t make sense) is the norm. No one behind the scenes seems to worry about pacing at all anymore at this point, and Charles and Erik may just keep having the exact same conversation for decades to come. It’s awful, but it’s glorious too. And it still sort of works. For now.
Until Next Time
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