Warning: this post contains spoilers!
The stakes are higher than ever in Bryan Singer‘s X-Men: Apocalypse and as the end credits roll the words ‘the higher you climb, the harder you fall’ have never felt so true.
Singer stretches the X universe into bulging, bloated, fantastical territory with the awakening of super villain Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac). It’s now 1983 and with the almighty blue one dead set on ruling the Earth, he recruits four ‘horsemen’ to aid his cause – Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender).
Speaking of which… having moved to Poland to start an honest life as a family man, Magneto aka Erik Lensherr is hurting after the loss of his wife and daughter. So with his heart broken, it makes perfect sense to join a strange mutant who appears out of the ‘blue’ (!) and persuades you to join his crew on the premise ‘humans bad, mutants (ergo Apocalypse) good’, right?
Meanwhile, Xavier’s school is fully functional. Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) has joined, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is moping around there too, Nightcrawler aka Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee) has been rescued and brought in by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) who’s emerged from going underground after the events of Days of Future Past and Jubilee (Lana Condor) is around (albeit briefly) as well. It’s all laughs and japes until Xavier decides to go poking around looking for the cause of a ‘disturbance’ and, voila, Apocalypse appears and takes Xavier with the intention of using his power to aid in his bid for world domination, with the school, and mutant Havok (Lucas Till), being destroyed in the process.
I’ve spent 16 years watching Bryan Singer attempt to tell the intricate and complicated tales of the X-Men with varying degrees of success and none of these attempts have ever hit the mark for me, yet I drag myself to the cinema each time hoping the next film will be better than the last. It’s pointless going back to dissect all the X films since 2000 so let me stick to what was wrong with Apocalypse.
In the months leading up to the film’s release, Apocalypse promised to be huge with one of Marvel’s deadliest villains finally making a big screen appearance and plenty more fan favourites too including Pyslocke, Jubilee and the return of a younger Jean Grey and Cyclops.
However, with all it’s bombastic energy and emotion, the film falls flat with recycled action sequences (Evan Peters‘ quippy Quicksilver does his speedy ‘saving people thing’ once again, however, less effective the second time around) and characters with such threadbare roles, they didn’t need to be there in the first place.
The addition of Psylocke was something I was most excited about and Olivia Munn certainly looked the part but after her first few scenes, it was clear she was nothing more than ‘ornamental’, often seen scowling or standing stoically by Apocalypse whilst rambled on (yet again) about his great power. She has a few brilliant action sequences and her uncompromising power comes across perfectly onscreen but she barely says anything and there’s nothing that endears you to her character or gives you any indication of her background, the origin of her powers or her motivation.
Meanwhile, another character I was pleased to see but received little or no attention was Jubilee. In interviews actress Lana Condor had talked about her powers and described her character with excitement but she was barely there, never had the chance to use her powers and was sidelined to a minor role.
Angel and Storm were equally underused. Storm is found in Cairo living a life as some sort of street urchin. Meanwhile, Angel is cage-fighting fellow mutants in Berlin to survive and is later found drunk and hanging around the rafters of an abandoned building by Apocalypse. Before you know it, by the end, Storm’s done an about turn and Angel finds his fate, unceremoniously, under a pile of rubble.
However, the jewel in Singer’s crown with his ‘rebooted’ series of X films is Michael Fassbender. When Fassbender is onscreen he emotes every ridiculous word with feeling. Despite Magneto’s will and intelligence, he defects so quickly between one side to the other without logic or reason that the idiocy of his flimsy decision should be a sticking point but Fassbender’s scenes are performed with such grace and feeling that all is forgiven. The poignancy of his pain as he holds his dying wife and daughter whilst simultaneously killing the policemen who cornered his family in the woods is absolutely perfect and one of the best scenes in the film; a standalone Magneto film focussing on the ten year gap between Days of Future Past and Apocalypse would have made more sense than this third instalment.
Despite my scepticism, Hugh Jackman‘s cameo as Wolverine was another highlight. Jean Grey unleashes Wolverine inside the Weapon X facility and it’s the most violent we’ve seen the character on film to date and it’s about time. Arguably, the cameo probably wasn’t needed but there were some great Weapon X references and the full force, ferocity and power of Wolverine in these short ten minutes was more effective than his entire run as the character so far.
However, as we reach the film’s climactic end, the MacDonald’s esque effects feel empty and pointless. As the world is torn apart and the young mutants stumble around trying to save Xavier with the Earth’s fate in their hands, this could have been any nonsensical CGI-laden movie, like 2012 (with mutants) or The Day After Tomorrow (with mutants).
X-Men: Apocalypse was an unimaginative, joyless ‘superheroes-by-numbers’ film that lacks the heart of what the X-Men are all about. With Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War upping the stakes this year, Apocalypse fell very short of the mark.
Ten years on from the disastrous X-Men: The Last Stand and we’re right back in the same place again – even the heavily photoshopped posters look similar. With the ‘new’ trilogy of films thus far, Apocalypse is the new The Last Stand in this set and perhaps it’s time for Singer to step away from the franchise and pass the baton onto more capable and caring hands.
The mixed reviews for X-Men: Apocalypse so far prove that fans are wary of action over substance and when it comes to the comics, the X-Men have always been about the depth of characters, the melodrama and the substance. These are people stories. These are stories everyone can relate to and, unfortunately, when it comes to X-Men: Apocalypse, there’s not much to relate to at all.
Agree or disagree? Leave a comment below!