As was referenced in my review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past had a daunting task at hand. Not only did it need to serve as a suitable sequel to 2011’s excellent X-Men: First Class, it also had to successfully adapt the legendary Days of Future Past comic book story arc and somehow remove from the X-Men movie timeline the actions seen in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, arguably the worst of the series and an uninspiring superhero film overall. With Bryan Singer now back in the director’s chair after turning the reins over to Brett Ratner for Last Stand & Matthew Vaughn for First Class, Days of Future Past hit theaters in May of 2014 and immediately met with waves of critical acclaim & box office glory, heralded as a triumphant return for Singer to the series that defined him and the format of the modern superhero movie via his fantastic X-Men (2000) & X2 (2003), as well as a great lead-in to X-Men: Apocalypse, the already-in-production follow-up.
Unfortunately, early reviews for Apocalypse were less than stellar, especially considering the bar set by the preceding film, and following this reviewer’s viewing of said film in June of 2016, I unfortunately must agree with the masses. This is not a very good movie.
Picking up in the period of time following the events of Days of Future Past, the 1980s-set X-Men: Apocalypse revolves around the titular character, an ancient Egyptian mutant (portrayed by Oscar Isaac) feared by some and revered by many, who awakens following a centuries-long slumber bent on, predictably, world domination. Naturally, it’s up to our friendly neighborhood X-Men to put a stop to him and his followers, a group which includes Olivia Munn as the sword-wielding Psylocke and Alexandra Shipp as a young Storm. Michael Fassbender is back as the ever-conflicted Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto, and in addition to returning X-Men such as James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier/Professor X, Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven Darkholme/Mystique, Nicholas Hoult’s Hank McCoy/Beast, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver and Lucas Till’s Alex Summers/Havok, Tye Sheridan makes his Marvel debut as Scott Summers/Cyclops along with Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner as Jean Grey and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler.
The premise is as rudimentary as they come, with every moment even more foreseeable than the last so as to make one wonder if Jean Grey’s advanced telepathic abilities have somehow transferred to the audience. The visual & makeup effects always orbit the average zone, with nothing exemplary to speak of and a few scenes, like when entire cities are being destroyed (and, in some instances, rebuilt) and Apocalypse’s overall appearance, looking simply bad. The screenplay treats the audience to more lazy, sometimes confusing exposition than one might believe was possible, and Singer’s tendency in Apocalypse to present dramatic tension by showing various characters blankly staring into the camera doesn’t make the unnecessarily long 144 runtime go by any quicker. Truly, this is a rare superhero film I wished would end sooner rather than later. At least one scene makes good use of Beethoven’s Symphony 7, Opus 91, Movement 2, Allegretto, which gave the end of 2009’s underrated Knowing a nice, ominous tone.
Acting-wise, it’s a mixed, mostly disappointing bag. Jennifer Lawrence, once again thrust center stage, is decent in a very run-of-the-mill way, as are Lucas Till and Tye Sheridan as the mutant Summers brothers, with Till somewhat better than his on-screen sibling. Smit-McPhee’s shaky German accent dances around quicker than Nightcrawler’s teleportation skills, as does Alexandra Shipp, who overall portrays Storm in a manner that did not capture my attention at all. Olivia Munn as the once-promising Psylocke similarly disappoints, with line delivery and fight scenes that teeter towards unremarkable and ensure that Munn’s desire for a Psylocke spin-off will never come to fruition. Sophie Turner, on the other hand, is actually a respectable Jean Grey, but Singer’s attempts to shoehorn what will likely become the Dark Phoenix saga into Turner’s portrayal comes off as highly unneeded. Rose Byrne has also returned as the non-mutant/ally Moira MacTaggert, with useless scenes that could have easily found their way into the trash.
Oh, and there’s a cameo which I won’t spoil, but did succeed in one again putting a black mark on an otherwise excellent character.
However, it’s Oscar Isaac as the eponymous villain Apocalypse who, coming off a string of excellent parts in the recent Inside Llewyn Davis and last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, provides cinema with one of the cheesiest, least-threatening, unintentionally hilarious big bads I’ve ever witnessed. The ridiculous costume and makeup aside, Isaac is unable to transcend that physical appearance and lumbers around with a baffling voice a child might use when playing with their secondhand X-Men figurines.
Luckily, as if the audience has now strapped into Professor X’s mutant-finder Cerebro in search of good performances, one can turn to the always-reliable Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, both of whom add just the right amount of weight and emotion to two of comicdom’s most famous characters that easily rivals Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Sure, they may induce a few eye rolls here and there, but overall both do a fine job. Plus, Evan Peters as Quicksilver again is gifted with one of the best scenes in the film, even if his acting ability may still need some work.
As one looks back on the now-sixteen-year old, nine-film strong X-Men franchise, one of the longest-running theatrical superhero chronicles in existence, it’s interesting to see how, despite its missteps (the aforementioned Last Stand and 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine), the series always manages to find a way to correct its course and come out stronger than before. By using almost the entire original cast at various points over the duration of its run, X-Men has remained remarkably consistent, and by going back into the past with First Class to see how it all began, seamlessly opened a new door that served as a pseudo-reboot and took things in a new, interesting direction. Unfortunately, X-Men: Apocalypse stops the positive growth dead in its tracks, doing little to move the series forward, and I must agree with Mike’s assessment wholeheartedly that it’s time Bryan Singer stepped aside-with his announcement that he’ll more than likely be doing just that, one can’t help but look at Apocalypse, despite its many faults, and feel a sense of having come full circle, a feeling that will more than likely continue with the release of a third and final solo Wolverine sequel next year, which will bring Hugh Jackman’s involvement in the X-Men Cinematic Universe to an end. One might look to the future and wonder where the series might go next, with terms like remake/sequel/prequel as the buzzwords of the moment, but I don’t see any of those as necessary. I’m increasingly finding myself content with stories coming to a close, and although Deadpool will likely continue operating as its own entity within the timeline, I believe that, with the conclusion of Apocalypse and Wolverine 3, we can safely say goodbye to this world of mutant films, but we know that won’t happen. It’s a shame, because in the case of this film, X most definitely does not mark the spot.