The X-Men franchise has had a rough history on film. For every X2 and First Class that exceeded audience’s expectations, a The Last Stand or Wolverine: Origins would come along to remind us that in the wrong hands, the franchise could become another in a list of forgettable action films. After the exceptional Days of Futures Past 2 years ago, expectations are high for X-Men Apocalypse to continue the upward trend the more recent films have had. But while the newest entry does deliver some good action and a plenty of fan service, Apocalypse succumbs to the common mistake of being too much style over too little substance.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t individual parts of the film that manage to shine through its problems. The films recasting of popular characters Jean Grey, Cyclops and NightCrawler all deliver believable interpretations on these established characters. most of the best moments are focusing on how these young mutants look at the struggle for acceptance in the film’s society, and all of the actors manage to establish their own take on the character, simultaneously bringing something accurate to the source material, while not feeling like a retread from what we saw in the first 3 films. It’s clear the filmmakers knew these were the best performances, as the film often takes extra time to flesh out these new mutants, likely setting them up to take over the franchise in the future.
Additionally, theres a surprising amount of variety in the film’s action set pieces. From 1-on-1 cage brawls, to full scale war, its clear a lot of time was put into showing how these different sets of mutant powers would face off against one another. the highlight once again goes to the films Quicksilver slow-motion sequence, as Quicksilver saves many mutants from an exploding building, set to the tune of Eurythmics‘s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)“. Much like the similar sequence in DOFP, the scene blends a good mix of action and comedy, while simultaneously characterizing Quicksilver to those unfamiliar with his character.
But while the film isn’t skimping on action, its the lack of motivation and consistency behind it that ultimately brings the film down. at 2 1/2 hours long, the lack of character most of our villains have is somewhat baffling. while Apocalypse has his moments (we’ll get back to him later) and of course Magneto is given a fair bit of the plot, the other 3 Horsemen come off as shallow and one note. Fans looking forward to seeing the return of Storm and Angel, as well as the introduction of fan-favorite Psylocke, will find that they aren’t so much characters as they are catalysts for later action set pieces. Storm and Psylocke present the biggest issue, as the film doesn’t try to hide the fact that Storm will join the X-Men in the end at all, and Psylocke is given 2 lines of dialogue and no motivation. Were these side characters, these issues could be forgiven, but it stands as a major fault that these are present in the films main villains.
Speaking of main villains, Apocalypse gets held back as a villain from a lack of presence and overall threat. While Oscar Isaac does his best to deliver a good performance, there just isn’t much of Apocalypse in the film centered around him. There are some villainous moments, to be sure, but most of his screen-time involves posturing, screaming about how great of a villain he is, and having his Horsemen do his work for him. And while its easy to easy to jump on a bandwagon of hating something, the makeup on apocalypse really is distractingly bad, often getting in the way of Isaac’s performance during many of the films close-up shots on his face. While it may seem like a nitpick, its an important detail that turns what should be a terrifying villain in film into a villain more befitting of a television series, bringing with it the feeling of how fake and unreal the film is.
Then, there’s Magneto. To be sure, Michael Fassbender’s Magneto and James Mcavoy’s Professor X are still the highlights of this series. But while Fassbender still delivers a good performance, the film has a large disconnect between the characters actions and our sympathy for him as an audience. Towards the end, once Magneto has joined with Apocalypse, he orchestrates a worldwide catastrophe that is likely responsible for thousands of deaths. But because our characters like him, and he changes allegiances in the end, all of this is simply forgotten. Its a strange thing to see a film push a Man of steel/Avengers 2 level event under the rug, and only serves to further push the lack of stakes present in Apocalypse.
Ultimately, the biggest failing of Apocalypse is in its lack of risk or tension it presents for our heroes. Despite the characters saying that they are “going up against a god” or that “this is war”, the film never presents these as a danger to our heroes. Without spoiling anything, nothing changes from the films opening to its ending, say for a few new characters introduced. In the end, the film seems aimless, trying only to fill out a checklist of things fans expect in an X-Men film, including 20 minutes in a Weapon X facility that only happen to force in a Wolverine cameo. For a film that runs as long as Apocalypse does, the fact that no sense of progression is felt stands as the film’s biggest fault.
By not focusing on the strengths of previous films, namely the discussion on racial prejudices and overcoming fear, Apocalypse stands at a crossroad, too good to be considered a bad entry, but not good enough to be anything more then a serviceable action film. Days of Future’s Past was a reminder that Super Hero films can be more then just CGI people saving the world from shallow threats that last one film. They can tackle real issues about people, and work in tandem with spectacular action to deliver something more meaningful then the typical summer movie fare. What’s so disappointing about Apocalypse is how it instead takes the easier road, delivering a simple film that begins and ends without challenging its audience in the slightest. Anyone looking for a summer blockbuster will certainly get it, but shouldn’t expect anything close to what this series is known to be capable of.
Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 6.5 Forced 80’s References out of 10