The 9th film in the X-Men franchise is here, but does it surpass the quality of Days of Future Past?
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Captain America: Civil War ?
This has been the main question for comic book movies this summer. While that question has been answered, its left Fox in a darkhorse position with their followup to one of their strongest X-films. As it turns out, that was well warranted. Apocalypse is one of the lesser entries, and feels almost as bloated and drawn out as Dawn of Justice with worse visuals.
Each X-Men film seems to reinvent the series in one way or another, and after director Bryan Singer’s departure and return it made a comeback in quality and fittingly, direction. Restarting back in the 60’s with First Class proved to be a smart move, with mixed results but a success in reinvigorating the franchise. Moving to not only the 70s, but bridging the new cast with the old for a closing chapter for the latter was inspired and a monumental improvement over several of the previous films. Where Apocalypse fails is simply following a formula instead of trying anything new.
For the first 10 minutes, I was convinced I was watching a remake of the remake of the Mummy. After that, the movie picks up briefly by visiting some familiar faces in new environments. Magneto has found some peace after DOFP and his misguided attempt to kill the U.S. government, Mystique is working covertly to save abused mutants, and Jean Grey is worried about losing control of her powers. As soon as Apocalypse shows up, the pacing starts slowing down and getting muddy. He quickly decides that this world has become overgrown and the weak must be eliminated for the strong to flourish. What that actually boils down to is he wants to rule over everything for lolz.
As he gathers his followers and Mystique reunites with the X-Men, the movie stumbles from one set piece to the next revisiting key points for the series in the 80s, before a ridiculous and long climax at the end.
One of the draw points and shortcomings of these movies, are the characters. Some are done very well, and others could almost be taken out of the movie for all their presence amounts to. This film has about the same amount total amount of DOFP but fails to utilize 70-80% of them. Worse, many of those characters motivations are either poorly written or not explained at all.
The strongest character in the film, to me, is Evan Peters’ Quicksilver. He gets another super speed montage set to music in the film, and although the song is one of the most overplayed 80s songs ever, it is twice as brilliant as the Pentagon scene. He actually is given a narrative arc in the film regarding Magneto being his father, and this compels him to act throughout the plot. It’s minor in the scope of the movie, but no one else seems to have a reason for what they do that’s as clear and understandable as connecting with your long-lost father. Also his performance is quite simply fabulous, a word I seldom use but fits here. Quicksilver here is wonderfully self-aware and self-deprecating, but happy to be part of the action and join the ride.
Mystique for her part is the second most successful character here in terms of writing, with her mission to save Magneto from himself and facing hero worship from her actions in DOFP. Unlike Quicksilver, her narrative arc actually concludes in the movie but isn’t given enough time to mature.
The reintroduction of Cyclops and Jean is frustratingly cut short, given that it’s a massive improvement over not only Cyclops’ last appearance in Wolverine Origins but also the Scott/Jean dynamics in X-Men 1-3. Sophie Turner’s character is much more competent and nuanced than Famke Janssen’s. Tye Sheridan’s cyclops is more erratic but has moments that promise this portrayal won’t be as stiff and boring as James Marsden’s. Hopefully the next movie takes time to nurture their romantic chemistry and allow it to progress organically.
Micheal Fassbender’s role as Magneto wants to be more than a rehash of First Class but thats what it amounts to. Narratively, it works in the cliche sense but in the context of the series feels random.
Perhaps one final bright spot is the mixed but acceptable strong female characters in the form of Mystique and Jean Grey. Although overlooked and underused in the original trilogy, here they act confident without the need for a male hero to rescue them. Indeed, Erik and Charles are the ones who need saved by them in the movie and not the other way around. It feels as though Singer has learned some things from his previous mistakes, although here it is plain to see he has much more to learn. Storm and Psylocke are given very little attention to motivation, to the point of incoherence. Both are portrayed as powerful (Olivia Munn’s Psylocke is fun to watch as she leaps and stabs her way through the action scenes), but neither are given many lines or justification for their actions.
Oscar Issac’s Apocalypse is a poor man’s Ultron. While he preaches about the strong inheriting the Earth, and has such power (which is never explained how powerful he really is or why he needs followers) that he could easily conquer the planet, its very one note and frankly boring. The comparison to Ivan Ooze from the Power Rangers movie is undeserved, at least Ivan was fun to watch. Some of my least favorite scenes in this film are the ones featuring Apocalypse. When he’s off-screen the movie picks up several paces, even at its worst.
It occurs to me that Fox probably expected Deadpool to flop and this film to make the big bucks. I feel confident saying it’s the other way around, Deadpool was a massive success based on its performances and writing in spite of Fox’s meddling, while this movie will likely fall short of expectations and needed some TLC. It’s overlong, navel gazing at points, and lacks the emotional resonance that it had built up over several entries.
Bryan Singer cannot phone in these movies, as this one clearly shows. If it doesn’t have a reason to exist, a story to tell, it will squander the movie rights that Fox doesn’t earn as much as they ought to. It’s the best parts of First Class mixed with the worst parts of Days of Future Past.