Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Simon Kinberg
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan
Review by Mike DeAngelo:
I've said this many times - there’s no doubt that we’re living in the golden age of superhero filmmaking. Not only is the technology finally able to fully realize these characters on-screen, but studios are actually understanding that it’s best to be respectful of the characters & the source material. While the early Marvel Cinematic Universe and Nolan’s Dark Knight films certainly helped pave the way toward what’s known as “the modern superhero film,” Bryan Singer’s original X-Men (2000) is seen by many as origin point of that journey. It respected the source material, and also grounded the characters in a very tangible and modern world. Re-watching the movie today, it feels pretty dated and largely action-less compared to modern movies, but it still works due to Hugh Jackman’s commanding performance and the grounded framework given to the concept of the mutant/human relationship. Singer has now directed four of the six X-Men films (not counting spin-offs), and was improving little by little with each outing, from X-Men to X2: X-Men United to X-Men: Days of Future Past. Sadly, that is where the improvement ends as X-Men: Apocalypse, while fairly decent, cannot live up to the high bar set by modern superhero franchises or even its own franchise.
To me, the reason is fairly obvious – Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg. While they are originators of the modern superhero franchise, their vision of the X-Men has become repetitive and a bit stale by this, the 6th outing. With Apocalypse, it’s obvious that Singer and Kinberg have simply overstayed their welcome. With franchises in general, as much as you hate to see it happen sometimes, it’s integral for the survival of the franchise to inject some new blood into the mix. You need new perspectives, styles, and takes on characters for things to stay fresh, even if the series isn't being rebooted. That’s why I love X-Men: First Class so much – it allowed a new writer/director (Matthew Vaughn) to come in with his take on the characters in a way that allowed him to redefine the franchise with his own style. Singer and Kinberg mashed up both worlds in Days of Future Past, which allowed for some interesting moments, but it started to slide back into the old-style of X-Men films by the end of the movie. In Apocalypse, the flare that Vaughn brought to First Class is completely gone and the movie just feels like a rehash of everything that’s come before, mistakes and all.
The film also suffers from one of the cardinal sins of superhero movies – poorly realized villains. We all know Oscar Isaac is a great actor, but even he can’t elevate the material that he’s given enough to make his character work. They give him so little screen time to establish himself as a proper villain that you don’t even feel he’s a true threat by the third act. He’s also never really allowed to show his full power. In the comics and cartoons, Apocalypse is a seriously badass, all-powerful villain. Most of the movie he’s merely preparing to strike in some hidden abandoned building and talking about how great and powerful he is – all while making pretty costumes for his followers, who, outside of Magneto, are given very little to do outside of looking dark/broody and intimidating.
That’s not to say that there’s little to enjoy here – with an A-list cast and characters like this, you’re bound to get some good moments. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver once again steals every scene he’s in, Fassbender and McAvoy provide much of the dramatic legwork, the newcomers do well enough with what they’re given to entice the audience, and there’s some big moments that will please comic fans (don’t worry, I won’t spoil them). In fact, there’s so many good little pieces here and there, that it’s hard to write off the film completely like you can with X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: The Last Stand. That's the problem - it's not bad, it's merely adequate, with the main problem being that there are just too many characters to tell a properly well-rounded story.
When the inevitable sequel comes, hopefully the studio will realize that it's time for Singer to relinquish the reigns to another filmmaker, as the series is in serious need of something different. Without going into spoiler territory, I will say that the movie ends in a way that would lend itself well to a passing of the proverbial baton. So, Bryan...just pass the damn baton, man.
OVERALL SCORE: 6.5/10 Unneeded Characters
If it helps, here's how I rank the X-Men films (minus the spin-offs):
- X-Men: First Class
- X2: X-Men United
- X-Men: Days of Future Past
- X-Men: Apocalypse
- X-Men: The Last Stand