X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Lucas Till, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, Olivia Munn
Director of Photography: Newton Thomas Sigel
Music by John Ottman
Edited by John Ottman, Michael Louis Hill
Written by Simon Kinberg
Directed by Bryan Singer
Rating: 6,5 out of 10
X-Men: Apocalypse is a disappointment by relying on cultural tropes instead of its stellar cast
It is hard to watch X-Men: Apocalypse and not think of all the movies this franchise has spawned before, considering that X-Men basically launched the comic book movie boom 16 years ago. You have to respect how much the filmmakers keep everything together, all the characters and storylines over such a long period of time. It helps that Bryan Singer, the director of the 2000 movie, is still behind the camera but the question has to be again if Simon Kinberg, the screenwriter for many current superhero movies, still knows what he is doing (and considering his Fantastic Four, the question must be on many people’s minds). Apocalypse is such a diversion from the previous two movies that succeeded in softly rebooting the franchise and making them a great mixture of superhero aesthetics, serious issues and fun. Apocalypse has one sequence of fun and ingenuity (nevertheless relying on a similar sequence from Days of Future Past) and two hours of setup, monologueing, sitting and running and endless 80s references. Not really much happens until the final showdown, where too much happens without any real impact. The whole movie feels unfocused, unclear in its tone, unfunny, dreary and slow.
It has lots of good moments, mainly thanks to its cast but if you look at the names that are gathered here and consider the quality of the overall movie, you can’t help but feel baffled. Oscar Isaac is probably the biggest disappointment since his role is so badly written. His motivation remains ambiguous throughout the movie. Either he wants to improve or destroy the world. There are some hints of him raging against capitalism or our culture in general, but what exactly his problem is, stays a mystery until his demise. He feels humans lost their way somehow and there could be a very intriguing potential of criticizing civilization here but the movie completely wastes it. Instead, it relies on the same old idea of “humans are just bad”, using another montage of war, nuclear weapons and general misery to make its point. We have seen this before hundreds of times (and better) and all it does is to tell us again that we are flawed. Following the future template, it puts the ideas we believe in culturally (“humans are flawed”) in the mouth of the villain, so that we don’t have to feel guilty for being convinced.
The movie is manipulative in other areas too. Magneto, one of the most interesting characters in those three movies, mainly because Michael Fassbender cannot play any character without nuances, is treated horribly here. We see him living a peaceful life, giving us hope that he might not become the villain after all, but from the moment he tells his daughter that he will never leave her, we know he is doomed. The little girl and his wife become refrigerator fodder in one of the most cruel and silly ways in recent memory, only to give him some motivation to become one of the Apocalypse’s horsemen. You never know why he really joins them or why he then decides against them eventually, but it falls in line with the other horsemen’s motivations.
Ororo (Alexandra Shipp) is slightly interesting but no one knows why she would follow an evil demi-god. Psylocke (Olivia Munn), is probably one of the most intriguing characters here, which says a lot since the movie tells us absolutely nothing about her. The movie just assumes that you know she is cool. Anything beyond that must be credited to Olivia Munn’s performance. All of their allegiances shift according to the movie’s needs. But since they mostly sit around on rocks in Egypt, it doesn’t really matter anyway. At least the potential for interesting female characters is created here, even if we have to wait for another movie to use that potential.
The ”New” X-Men fare slightly better but the inconsistency comes through here too. Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) changes his mood from scene to scene. First he is skeptical of the school, then amazed, then disillusioned, in what seems to be over the course of two days. The fate of his brother Alex makes you believe that some scenes got lost during production because the characters talk about things the audience doesn’t get to see. Their leader, Professor X (James McAvoy), is the supposed hope figure of this story but he doesn’t really offer much than bland optimism. He is also good at meddling in his love interest’s (Rose Byrne, totally wasted here) mind without any repercussions because he says “Sorry” in the end, which seems to make his selfish psychic rape okay.
X-Men: Apocalypse fails the most when it comes to the aforementioned views on our culture and humanity. It constantly tells us that using your powers can be dangerous but not using them is dangerous too, that looking forward and backward can be risky, which all leads to overall idea of conflicting ideas. When Moira McTaggart explains the Apocalypse’s motivation, it sounds as if the world ended whenever he appeared. How often can a world end, though? When X and Magneto discuss the idea that humans are building new nuclear weapons after they have all been destroyed, they toss it off with “It’s human nature”, the laziest, most non-sensical, and typical answer for everything in our culture. We are bad and need salvation, so relax in your seat and don’t bother thinking about what that means for you. The people on the rocks will be taking care of.
X-Men: Apocalypse is no Batman v Superman because it throws so much at us that a lot of it still works. But overall, the movie drags and doesn’t know what to do with all its interesting characters and their actors who should have better things to do than running through tunnels or lying and standing in cages. There have been four comic book movies this year already. Deadpool showed the possibilities these movies have and can use, Civil War showed the value of building characters over several movies and BvS showed that wanting to create a franchise does not guarantee that your movie is one of the worst big budget movies of all time. X-Men: Apocalypse falls somewhere in between, not offering anything new, too confused to be interesting all the way, but showing hope that the next movies can be better again. That is more than Professor X can offer.