The rise of a mutant god means the stakes have never been higher for the X-Men and yet, this sixth entry in the series is the most vacuous and without consequence of the franchise. As Marvel innovates within its model and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice tried (and failed, admittedly) to claim its own unique tone, X-Men: Apocalypse only stands out as a rote and repetitious. After 16 years of watching these films, audiences expect better.
Apocalypse is not as unrelentingly dark and deary as Batman v Superman but neither does it have the sharp character moments and interactions that made Civil War so joyous. While the former and latter veered in opposite directions with failure and success respectively, this entry in superhero canon accomplishes nothing of note. Say what you will about Batman v Superman (and I have) but you will not forget Granny’s Peach Tea after watching that movie.
It’s 1983 and a new day for mutants. In the decade since their reveal, they have earned a begrudging acceptance in wider society, allowing Charles Xavier’s School for the Gifted to flourish with young, familiar faces like Scott Summers and Jean Grey. Abroad, Raven aka Mystique works alone rescuing mutants from exploitation and Erik aka Magneto has started anew with a wife and daughter. Enter Apocalypse, a 2,000 year-old Egyptian mutant purported to be the world’s first, whose worshippers have awakened from hibernation.
A lot of the film’s choppy pacing can be attributed to the script from Simon Kinberg (based on a story by director Bryan Singer – back for his fourth go-around – and his X2 cohorts). It is exacerbated by surprisingly-sloppy editing, something unexpected coming from a director who pulled off the time travel juggling act with aplomb in Days of Future Past. There’s little sense of narrative arc or cohesiveness. When turns or payoffs are clearly meant to happen, they have diminished weight and feel more perfunctory than earned.
What does stand out are sequences, like whenever Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is showing off his powers or Wolverine’s extended cameo. Notably, both are echoes or revisions of previous popular parts of X-Men canon, as if reiterating how little this film has to offer the series
While getting a ton of marketing attention, the subtitular villain and his Four Horsemen are generic and their plot for world dominion is really stupid and, worse, a copy of a X2. The fact that Singer rounded up that films writers just to essentially remake it speaks volumes about the wheel-spinning neutrality he’s stuck the franchise in. There’s little sense of why they join Apocalypse, since he isn’t particularly charismatic or compelling.
Isaac is not as bad as I feared but that’s only because my expectations were so low that I expected a character assassination. Instead, we get two or three moments of Oscar Isaac straining to act through the makeup and the rest of the film he’s indistinguishable from the other doomsday villains who lack the resonance to make us fear them. For a film titled after him, he’s is its biggest disappointment.
Fassbender is outstanding but isn’t he always? His Magneto is a tortured Byronic hero of the tallest order but that the film just gives him absolution for his crimes (he commits genocide in this film, make no mistake) is laughable. McAvoy’s Professor X acts a fine counterpoint but, whether it’s his boyish looks or what, he still lacks the gravitas to believe in his naive wisdom. Lawrence is fine; there are hints of a story arc of her accepting her new role as hero but it’s pretty obviously an excuse to keep her happy and out of the makeup chair. Hoult is good as well, but underutilized again.
The young cast is good and the little glimmers of them just being teenagers was enough to get me to care about characters like Cyclops, mostly thanks to good work from Tye Sheridan. Sophie Turner also does the best with what she has, with the promise of a larger role to come. Shipp is good but largely wasted as an Apocalypse lackey for most of the film. Kodi Smit-McPhee is the standout as the adorable Nightcrawler. Poor Rose Byrne gets the shortest of the short sticks, basically acting as an exposition sex doll for Professor X.
Even writing this review, I struggle to remember what this movie was. It attempts to balance emotional devastation with snarky quips, to give two sides coherent development but both are half-hearted. Its cardinal sin is forgetting to be about something. This is a film with all the ingredients to a successful X-Men flick but none of the heart or depth.