X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).
Directed by Bryan Singer.
Starring James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Olivia Munn, Lana Condor and Evan Peters.
Apocalypse, the world’s first mutant, awakes from a centuries-long slumber. The X-Men must reunite to stop him from destroying the world.
Since Bryan Singer Directed X-Men back in 2000, we’ve seen a lot happen within the comic book movie genre. We’ve seen it fall as quickly as it rose following dreadful releases such as Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Ghost Rider. We’ve seen it compared to high art thanks to Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. We’ve seen Marvel Studios reinvent Hollywood tentpoles with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and turn the medium into a multi-billion industry. We’ve seen DC attempt to replicate that success earlier this with a very mixed response, but impress with trailers for Suicide Squad. We’ve even seen a comic book that only played to a niche market become the biggest R-rated movie of all-time. We’ve seen the highs and the lows, and we’ve seen a lot of things change for the better. Which is why it’s so perplexing that Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse feels like it was made in 2000.
Taking place ten years after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse sees Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) now successfully running his school for the gifted. While Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) runs around Germany and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) attempts to start a new life in Poland, Charles and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) are welcoming their new recruits Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). However they will all be brought together when the returning Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) accidentally aids in the resurrection of En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) – the very first mutant – who has assembled his horsemen in the form of Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Magneto, and is now looking to wipe out humanity.
It’s staggering out of place X-Men: Apocalypse feels in a year that has already seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War and is set to see Suicide Squad and Doctor Strange. Each one of those – even just by looking at the trailers – is attempting to bring something new to the genre. For all its faults (and there are many), Snyder was trying something different with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that separated it from Nolan’s Batman and even his own Man of Steel. Deadpool broke moulds about what a superhero movie could and could not be while Captain America: Civil War followed the lines of Captain America: The Winter Solider by trying to be a heavy character piece outside of the punch-kick fight scenes. But Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse feels like it’s stuck in a timewarp. The style, the visuals, the script, the CGI – they all feel like they’re from the mid-2000s. It’s so outdated it’s almost laughable.
But the style and look of the movie are not its only issue, as the script by Simon Kinberg is full of lazy and mis-guided exposition dialogue. He struggles to introduce his new characters while maintaining the stories of the established crew and this leads to a muddled mess of a movie where no one really has a clear path. If X-Men: Apocalypse is truly to be the end of the First Class Trilogy, then none of the characters have really learned anything new or progressed. This is only made worse by the fact virtually none of the cast are trying. Jennifer Lawrence appears to be very bored of this franchise and gives a terribly bland performance matched only by James McAvoy’s. However they pale in comparison to the abysmal showing by Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner as Jean Grey. Every single frame she has is wasted with a hilariously bad performance filled with wide-eyed emotionless expressions and half-arsed dialogue delivery. It’s almost impressive how bad she is. She’s not much better than Tye Sheridan, who appears to be the victim of Kinberg’s script as he does very little but try and keep his eyes closed. There should be a moment were Sheridan shows us why he’s an amazing up and coming talent, but the movie doesn’t allow him that time to shine. Praise be that Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult are here. Fassbender in particular is the most interesting character on screen and it makes you wish they’d pulled the trigger on a Magneto solo movie as that would have been better than this.
Furthermore, none of the characters – particularly the Horsemen – matter. Jubilee shows up in the movie for no reason other than for fans to point and the screen and say, ‘hey there’s Jubilee’ and Kinberg admitted that Psylocke (adequately portrayed by Olivia Munn) was just picked out from a list of characters – and that shows on screen. She, along with Angel (a very boring Ben Hardy), do virtually nothing in the entire movie. They could have been any other third-tier X-Men characters or – worse yet – any made-up character and it wouldn’t have made a difference. Even Storm (another boring performance) has little to offer and/or show. Like Jubilee, she’s just there. What could have been an interesting character progression is lost amongst a sea of other underdeveloped characters. It just further shows how little 20th Century Fox understands the superhero genre in 2016. They may have distributed Deadpool, but it was a movie they didn’t want any part of because it was trying to move new ground.
Singer does show some signs of brilliance though, and some of his visuals are very good. This isn’t his first rodeo and that shows with his clever – if workman like – action direction. The fight scenes between the X-Men and Apocalypse are fun to watch and he does capture the 1980s in the background relatively well (although some of it is a bit haphazard). However, it can be argued that a lack of care and attention breaks the verisimilitude, because despite the film taking place ten years since the last film and twenty since the first one, none of the characters have aged much. No effort has been made to make them look any older than they did in Matthew Vaughn’s movie, and this is only made worse when Quicksilver shows up still looking like the teenager he was in 1973.
X-Men: Apocalypse is technically a better movie than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice because it’s a much more competent outing, but it shouldn’t be praised above it because it takes zero risks. This is a studio-made movie. It’s a box-checking movie. It exists for no reason. It’s textbook direction hampered by a woeful script and some truly awful performances. It’s never boring, but it’s never exciting either. Notice how there is very little reference to Oscar Issac as Apocalypse in this review? That’s because he’s inconsequential. They’ve somehow managed to make an X-Men movie where Apocalypse is the lead villain and it’s bland. Slash Film nailed it when they called it X-Meh. Because that’s what it is: a “meh” of a movie.
The coup de grace, however, is when Cyclops, Jubilee, Nightcrawler and Jean Grey leave the cinema having watched Return of the Jedi arguing that the third film in a trilogy is never as good as the other two. Oh sweet irony.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and Scooperhero News. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen and read his weekly feature The Week in Star Wars.