Another day, another X-Men movie.
After Days of Future Past effectively rebooted the entire series by rewriting the future, the series comes full circle by bringing back a bunch of familiar superpowers in teenage form — Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel, Nightcrawler, and Storm.
X-Men: Apocalypse trailers begged answers for the questions: Who will join the mutant megalomaniac En Sabah Nur? Who will fight to stop him?
After seeing the movie, I’m prepared to answer those questions with another: Who cares?
X-Men: Apocalypse contains everything terrible about the X-Men movies, turns all of the good into a routine exercise, and spins its way to an anti-climactic finish for the second worst entry in the entire franchise.
Talk about being a shell of its former self — you would think Bryan Singer had hit his stride after releasing back to back critical darlings X-Men: First Class and the aforementioned DoFP.
But X-Men: Apocalypse is an uninspired stinker that caters to the uninitiated and leaves the rest of us wondering whether the PG-13 rating was actually an indicator for the kind of mindset we needed to be in.
The movie begins in ancient Egypt just as En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is taken to a pyramid where he’s about to transfer his soul into a younger body that exhibits mutant healing powers. The first of all mutants, Nur (or Mr. Nur if you’re nasty) has lived throughout history, cherry-picking the best powers by taking over other mutants’ bodies. His entourage of four usually keeps him safe during the body-snatching process, but not on this day — backstabbing normals have created an elaborate plan to collapse the pyramid on top of him and his followers, effectively burying En Sabah Nur for thousands of years beneath the Egyptian sands.
Fast forward to the ’80s — a time of big hair, shoulder pads, flashy shades, and blazers over t-shirts. Moira MacTaggart (Rose Byrne) investigates (coincidence!) the same area in Egypt where Nur lies, leaving an opening for the sun’s rays to hit En Sabah Nur’s solar panel.
Moira, with those odds, you should buy yourself a lottery ticket.
Light travels deep into the earth until it reaches the sleeping mutant, and suddenly the game is afoot.
An earthquake felt throughout the entire world wakes up the students at Charles Xavier’s School for the Gifted, and Jean Grey’s (Sophie Turner) nightmares have started to manifest themselves so intensely, the wood paneling in her bedroom starts to sear. Charles (James McAvoy) tries to console her, hoping to convince her that everything she feels means nothing.
By now, you would think a person as intelligent, or at least as experienced, as Xavier would be a little more accepting. Does he not remember his own future self reaching through the past to convince his former self to keep up the fight? As the headmaster of a school where teens are taught to use their powers against potential threats, Xavier should probably be a little more open-minded.
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts, and the rest of the movie is one long meandering trip from start to finish.
We get Alex Summers (Lucas Till) — Havoc from First Class — bringing his brother Scott (Tye Sheridan) to Xavier’s school after an unfortunate accident that left a high school bathroom split in half. Scott, suffering from acutely low self esteem and incredibly high levels of teenage angst, displays his eye-beam power in front of Xavier, cutting the professor’s favorite tree in half. That grants the teen immediate acceptance into the school, which would be similar to getting accepted into Harvard for exploding a pipe bomb in chemistry class.
Meanwhile, En Sabah Nur walks around Cairo’s markets and discovers his first protege in Ororo Munroe (Alexandra Shipp), aka Storm, after she uses her wind-controlling abilities to steal some cash from a street vendor. En Sabah Nur decides to take young Storm under his wing and grant her an upgrade to her powers along with a new spiffy suit of armor.
While Nur seeks out more helpers, we get caught up with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), and the rest of the cast spread throughout the world. Each character gets a minimum amount of time to explain their motivations, which is a shame given that the movie feels so empty elsewhere.
Mystique, now a revered mutant role model after the climactic Days of Future Past Washington DC battle, has forsaken her newfound fame looking for Erik who lives happily under a new identity — he’s now Henryk Gurszky, a metalworker in Poland. Married and with a child who exhibits some of her own mutant powers — the ability to control animals — Erik’s life is turned upside down when the tremor of Apocalypse awakening shakes the foundry where he works, forcing him to use his powers to save a coworker’s life.
The display of power leads to an unfortunate set of circumstances. As Erik tries to flee with his family, he and his wife search for their missing daughter. They find her being held captive by a group of bow-and-arrow wielding policemen.
It just seems a bit odd that someone would abduct a child, then drag her to a place where people usually go to never be found. You would think they’d leave a note — something like, “We have your daughter. Find us near the rock garden. Don’t wear your belt buckle.”
Erik surrenders peacefully, not wanting to bring harm to his family. That doesn’t stop his daughter from summoning the forestland creatures to her aid which distracts one of the policemen who lets loose his arrow, killing both wife and child in a single shot. Within a split second, all of the policemen are dead, and Erik goes on the run right into Team Apocalypse’s arms.
The rest of the film is jazz hands, cheap special effects, cardboard characters, and cameos that will make you wishe you were anywhere but in a theater watching this movie. It’s not just the constant in-your-face obvious ’80s references or the way we’re expected to applaud on cue whenever a familiar character appears onscreen. There’s a thick sense of deja vu, like we’ve all seen this before, and it’s been done so, so much better.
X-Men: Apocalypse is basically an X-Men movie by the numbers, superficial by design with no heart.
It’s why Apocalypse has costume-designing powers — the perfect reason for Psylocke’s (Olivia Munn) sexy one-piece ninjakini outfit. I get that superhero outfits aren’t always the most practical, and that they’re often a bit showy — it’s just a bit on the nose when the tailor of said outfit is an ancient mutant whose design aesthetic is less about protection and more about looking great and hoping the next war is on a beach somewhere. (Volleyball after victory.)
And because we’re now witnessing the birth of the real X-Men squad, we’re stuck with Degrassi: Mutant High School without the depth, theme song, or even a Drake. Forget Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) — how about low-self esteem boy, loner girl, religious dude, and funny guy?
The staleness of it all permeates every aspect. The non-existent romance between Mystique and Beast (Nicholas Hoult), the uninspired cinematography, the robotic action choreography — it just all feels so boring and lax. Does Jean Grey really have to touch her temple to show the audience she’s not just having a headache? There’s so much posturing and “defining the relationships” that the movie becomes a tedious and imbalanced movie that feels too long just 30 minutes in.
Even the decision to keep Mystique in her non-mutant form feels like a cop-out. Not only does it seem like a giant plot hole — why is she in disguise as the form she’s most recognizable in — it also feels like the filmmakers were working with a really, really tight budget.
Overall, the filmmaking feels limited. Apocalypse, as powerful as he is, has about two dimensions and exists as a shade of the character comic readers and cartoon viewers know so well. Despite the name, Apocalypse manages to kill zero X-Men.
But X-Men Apocalypse manages to live up to one aspect of its title because I don’t want to see another Fox X-Men movie anytime soon. Sony made a deal to give Marvel Studios a chance to do Spider-Man, and we got a glimpse of how awesome things could be in Captain America: Civil War. Perhaps it’s time Fox did what’s best for fans and let the X-Men come home.
Now, there’s an inspired thought.
Fox — let Marvel have their mutants back.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Screenplay by: Simon Kinberg
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, NIcholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Lucas Till, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, and Lana Condor