For my money, Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class stands tall as the best X-Men film ever put to the big screen. Colorful, campy, dramatic, and with a heavy-focus on the characters’ relationships more than incredible action set pieces, it was the kind of X-Men adaptation that I think fans had been waiting their entire lives to see, myself included. It was so good even, that the film’s only real weakness is its B-list of mutants, thanks in part to director Bryan Singer’s original X-Men films.
Instead of bringing Vaughn in to helm its follow-up though, Fox brought back Bryan Singer to direct Days of Future Past in 2014, a time-travel exploration of both sets of characters in the franchise, that managed to (mostly) mend a number of the series’ continuity errors. I thought that the obsession with the past and present might end there, and I would have been more than happy.
Unfortunately, it did not, and in case you were wondering, no one seems to love the X-Men franchise, more than the movies themselves.
Moving the franchise forward from the cool, smoky 70s aesthetic of Days of Future Past into a more techno-heavy world of the 1980s, X-Men: Apocalypse finds a number of the returning characters doing exactly what you’d think they’d be doing. Professor X is teaching, and Nicholas Hoult’s Beast is building a war plane underneath the mansion, and only turns blue sometimes because the studio cannot let you forget that’s Nicholas Hoult onscreen. However, things are turned upside down when Apocalypse, the first mutant in history (who we’re introduced to in a strange and awful opening sequence that seems more fitting in Gods of Egypt than it does in an X-Men movie) reawakens and vows to take over the new human-run world, and return it to the mutants.
The titular villain here is played by none other than Oscar Isaac, one of the most reliable actors working today who brings a kind of Al Pacino-esque energy to the screen with practically every outing. Unfortunately here, he’s covered in enough heavy, blue prosthetic makeup to make you forget it’s even Oscar Isaac, not to mention the often laughable dialogue he’s given, and the even more comical use of his nearly unstoppable power sets, that often look like they were pulled straight from a very specific scene in Robin Williams’ Jumanji. In what appeared on the surface to be one of the most brilliant villain castings in recent memory, is instead crushed and trampled on by boring and lazy execution.
Accompanying Apocalypse are his four horsemen – Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) – the most powerful and easily-persuaded mutants that Apocalypse can find. All of the horsemen though, with the exception of Fassbender’s Magneto, are given about as much to do onscreen as the sentinels in Days of Future Past. They are there to act as obstacles for our heroes, waving their flashy powers around, with some of the thinnest character work in the entire X-Men franchise. Munn had previously said that her fight scene in Apocalypse would be like her character’s monologue. If so, then Psylocke apparently never made it through the first grade, because the action here is choppy, incoherent and unexplainably basic.
That’s not to say that any of the acting in the film is bad because none of it necessarily is, but when you give a great actor poor material and not much onscreen time to flesh it out or make it better, then the performances are neither bad nor good, as much as they’re practically forgettable. The actors here often feel more like vessels to move the plot forward, than they do the living and breathing characters that they were originally brought in to play.
That is with the exception of Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler and Evan Peters as Quicksilver, who both seem like the only two actors in the film legitimately having fun with what they’re being given. Coming off of Alan Cummings’ memorable portrayal in X2, McPhee manages to separate himself from his onscreen predecessor well here, with a Nightcrawler that is naive and excited by the opportunities that the world outside provides. As for Quicksilver, he steals the show with a scene that is a clear callback to the beloved sequence from Days of Future Past, this time set to “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics, and while it doesn’t pack quite as much of a punch as its predecessor, it does provide the film with an energy and joy that it’s all but lacking throughout otherwise.
I sat throughout X-Men: Apocalypse though, waiting for everything to come together into a nice little bow, the way that Simon Kinberg and co. had managed to do in Days of Future Past. That never happens here. Each of the characters feel like they’ve been given the bare minimum, and the final showdown between the X-Men and Apocalypse’s squad is so poorly paced and staged, that you’ll end up appreciating the airport scene in Captain America: Civil War even more. For a climactic battle between the most powerful mutant in history, it packs about the same equivalent as a punch from a toddler would.
There are brief bursts of energy onscreen throughout. The first interaction between Apocalypse and Professor X is well-structured and impactful, and the scenes between Michael Fassbender’s Magneto and his new family help to provide the character with enough motivation to send him down a dark path throughout the rest of the film, though a majority of that credit must also be given to Fassbender’s inherent talent and charisma onscreen. The rest of the film feels forced and unforgivingly forgettable though, as if Singer and Kinberg were just counting down each scene until they could reach the end credits.
There are attempts at humor throughout, which actually seem to hit more than they miss. But one of the many odd jokes in Apocalypse comes when Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey admits to the audience that the third film in any trilogy is always the worst. In the scene, she was talking about Return of the Jedi‘s place in the original Star Wars trilogy. It got a laugh at my screening, because her character said it and was clearly a reference to the Jean Grey’s awful treatment in Brett Ratner’s abysmal X-Men: The Last Stand. The only problem is, Apocalypse is just as disappointing compared to its two predecessors, and it seems frustratingly unaware of that. Or even worse, like it just doesn’t care.
X-Men: Apocalypse is set to hit theatres on May 27th.
Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.
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