“The third film is always the worst.” This pseudo self-aware line is spoken as a not so subtle nod to the less than stellar reception X-Men 3: The Last Stand received. And, as painful as it was hearing this piss poor attempt at irony, it couldn’t be more true.
X-Men: Apocalypse is the third film in the new X-Men timeline and follows the events of the X-Men sequel / reboot Days of Future Past. While Days of Future Past had its faults, it still stood out as one of the stronger entries in the X-Men film franchise. Sadly, the legacy of the excellent First Class does nothing to elevate Apocalypse above mediocrity.
The film opens strong enough with a thundering score and the titular En Sabah Nur (Apocalypse) and his four henchman marching to a ritual to transfer his consciousness. We’re treated to a fun, if a little clumsy, action scene right off the bat before the film tosses up the title card… and then devolves into a muddy mess of mediocrity and wasted potential.
The majority of the film is set in 1983, over 20 years after First Class, and it does little to emphasize this point aside from a few period outfits and a Return of the Jedi marquee. Despite the cast having aged only 5 years since this new (old) class of heroes was introduced, we’re thrust into yet another decade with little to no reason. Really, the only cues we have, aside from the punk clothing and movies playing in cinemas, that any time has passed between films is the damage done in the last two movies is barely a passing thought to anyone in this universe and one of the characters has a family now.
With First Class, and to a lesser extent Days of Future Past, the characters felt new and refreshing. Even if we had seen them before in these films, the new interpretations added a new layer of depth. In the original X-Men film, we were given a glimpse into what turned Erik into Magneto. First Class took us deeper into that character evolution with an extended look at Erik’s time in Auschwitz and Michael Fassbender giving us a Magneto that, in spite of his feelings toward them, is more human. The relationship between Charles and Erik in First Class gives more weight to each instance you hear the line “old friend” spoken in the original films. It’s a compelling relationship and one I’d love to see more of, but one that takes a back seat to some of the new gifted youngsters as Apocalypse tries desperately to bridge the gap between the old and new.
While Days of Future Past did little to develop that relationship further, being essentially another Wolverine movie, the characters in that go ‘round were actually fun to follow. Apocalypse shifts its focus to follow Jean Grey, Kurt Wagner, and Scott Summers in their “first” appearance in the franchise. I’ve never been a fan of how Cyclops has been presented in the film franchise, being a bit of a whiny douche, which is disappointing because he was always my favorite in the comics. Apocalypse somehow manages to make the character even less likable than the James Marsden iteration of the character. I understand, he’s going through some unexpected changes that are difficult to handle, but the stilted performance, cringe-worthy dialogue, and lack of chemistry do nothing to make those changes relatable – or even tolerable.
On the topic of dialogue, the script is downright terrible at times. With a hodgepodge of graceless exposition, ham-fisted attempts at humor, and standard, impact-less “us versus the world” hero speeches, you’re sure to shake your head more than a few times at just how utterly stupid these characters can sound when they open their mouths. That’s not to say that it’s all bad – there are moments with true dramatic weight, but I think that has less to do with the script and more to do with Michael Fassbender’s better-than-this-movie-deserves performance. Each scene he’s in is mesmerizing, with one in particular striking nearly every emotional cord. It’s a shame, then, that he’s such a small presence in the film. Each scene with Erik is like watching a different movie. A good movie.
The primary conflict in X-Men: Apocolypse centers on the return of Apocalypse as he gathers an army of mutants to push the reset button on the world so the strong can survive and start anew. It’s an idea with potential: all-powerful being hell-bent on world destruction and domination surrounds himself with other, like-minded powerful beings to see that plan through. Unfortunately, it’s wasted on unnecessary subplots and stupid characters.
Apocalypse keeps four henchmen nearby and, of those, only two are actually interesting in any way. Olivia Munn as Psylocke is hard to watch – even if she is just a blip on the radar in the film – and the inclusion of Angel is downright baffling (I don’t remember him being in his forties in The Last Stand). Alexandra Shipp’s turn as Storm is a vast improvement over Halle Berry’s, but she gets about as much screen time as Psylocke – which is a shame because she manages to be one of the few enjoyable characters in the film. Apocalypse himself is bland and a waste of Oscar Isaac’s talent as the blue makeup and boring progression do a fine job of making him as unrecognizable as he is uninteresting. There are brief moments where you can see a glimmer of what could be only to be pulled back down by a groan-inducing line someone managed to choke out.
There was an opportunity to build toward something bigger with Apocalypse. Days of Future Past reset the timeline and created the possibility to do something new; instead, they went with another paint-by-numbers standalone superhero flick. While some of the action is enjoyable and the time you get to spend with the Magneto subplot is absolutely worth watching, there’s little to nothing else in this film worth recommending. It’s like a cocktail of one part good movie, two parts painfully mediocre movie, and one part absolutely horrible movie. While it’s not downright terrible as a whole, it rarely ever tries not to be.
Meh – 2 / 3