The X-Men Franchise might be one of the most successful and influential comic-book series around but it’s also one of the most inconsistent with all nine of its entries ranging from great to mediocre to downright terrible. Following on from the awful Origins, the franchise seemed to find its feet again with First Class, followed by the even better Days Of Future Past, but like the original trilogy, the 3rd film is always the weakest and Apocalypse suffers from being an enjoyable yet overstuffed third album.
The film begins in Ancient Egypt where En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaacs) is beginning a ceremony to transfer his conscience into the body of a young mutant with healing abilities. However before the ritual is complete he is betrayed by his followers and decried as a False God, his temple is destroyed and his body trapped inside. Millenniums later, Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne) investigates a mutant group in Cairo where she finds the tomb of En Sabah, accidentally waking him from his sleep.
At the same time, things have been iffy for the mutants since Magneto’s attack on Washington, Charles (James McAvoy) is trying to turn his home into a university for mutants and humans alike with his first students including Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) has been trying to ignore her hero-like status following Washington by covertly rounding up mutants and sending them to Charles, one of them being teleporter Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smitt-McPhee), and Erik (Michael Fassbender) has been laying low in Poland, living with his wife and daughter and trying to act human for the first time in his life.
En Sabah’s arrival coincides with Erik finally being caught up with by the authorities, in the confusion (slight spoiler warning but really if you’ve seen one trailer then you know what happens) his wife and daughter are killed and a heartbroken Erik is found by En Sabah who, along with young Storm, Angel and Psylocke (Alexandra Shipp, Ben Hardy and Olivia Munn), is granted enhanced powers to become one of his four horsemen. Upon hearing of Erik’s resurface, Raven returns to Charles in the hopes of being able to save the man they both remembered, however En Sabah has other plans for Charles and sets about creating an apocalypse event in order to cleanse the world and bring about his new one where, human or mutant, only the strongest survive.
The plot has a few problems, it takes forever to get going, this is a very busy film but as a result by the time we’ve been introduced to the new characters and the mission to stop Apocalypse finally kicks off we’ve reached the third act. It’s also less engaging than the previous two films, even with the cataclysmic style events happening around the third act it felt oddly neutered, there was no sense of scale, no sense of real danger even though thousands of people are probably being killed as a result. It’s a film that is bogged down by extraneous crap but still feels rushed which is a big problem, especially following the greatness of First Class and Days Of Future Past.
Part of the reason for that could be because where First Class was Erik’s story about finding his powers and Days was Charles story about rediscovering his hope, there’s no central character in this film, it just feels all over the place and lacking in a central focus which, considering this has the cast-list of a damn opera, isn’t a good thing.
The new faces were a mixed bag, on the heroes side we had Scott Summers, suitably scared of his new found abilities but a little too douchey, there is room for growth in future films though. Turner did a fine job as Jean Grey, accent’s a little rough but she has the right amount of trepidation when it comes to the full extent of her powers. Kurt has some funny moments but he felt held back to allow room for Scott and Jean. Oh, and Jubilee shows up for a blink and you’ll miss it cameo, for as much as her role was included in the promotions she has about three lines.
The villains don’t fare much better, Psylocke looks good in that slashed purple number but she doesn’t do anything other than grimace at the camera. Storm is wasted to the point where I’m not entirely sure why they even included here and Angel has even less lines than Jubilees, not even saying one word after he joins with En Sabah.
Speaking of which, En Sabah Nur is the biggest waste of talent this series has had since Rogue in the last film. Isaac has quickly become one of the best actors of this generation and his turn as an all-powerful villains should’ve brought with it a lot of great moments. Instead En Sabah is portrayed as an arrogant dick, he’s got a lot of great powers but he never feels like a threat, he never comes across like a genuine villain and it’s a damn shame. There was a lot of potential with him, from his complete disregard for modern life to his displays of powers but he never uses them to the full extent of his abilities, instead preferring to give speeches about cleansing the world then letting his followers do all the work. X-Men films aren’t noted for their villains but they’ve had some solid runs with Magneto, Stryker, Shaw and even Trask in a way, but for all his god-like powers En Sabah came up short.
The returning faces did better jobs but even they fell short on occasion, Moira felt out of place and didn’t contribute much once the final act kicked in. Hank (Nicholas Hoult) had a couple moments but overall his role was lessened after the last two. Raven had a decent arc but the decision to make Mystique a hero because she’s played by the biggest actress in the world right now hasn’t paid off and they’ve run out of story for her, essentially turning her into mutant Katniss by the end which does translate as near boredom by Lawrence at some points.
Quicksilver (Evan Peters) returns and once again steals the film with his humorous use of speed and his over-powered as hell abilities, including another ‘save the day’ scene set to period friendly music, it’s not as good as Time In A Bottle but it’s a very fun scene and a nice piece of levity for an otherwise serious piece. There’s a lot of seeds put in place for his role in future installments but for the moment he does a fine job.
The two main-stays of the series, McAvoy and Fassbender, both do fine jobs but they too are reaching the end of their arcs, McAvoy does have a good part to play but he’s transition from main character to supporting role, which is in keeping with Patrick Stewart’s role in the original films and he’s began to see the pacifist role in life that he must take to ensure peace amongst humans and mutants. Fassbender fares better with a more emotionally heavy performance following the death of his wife and daughter – an admittedly cheap way to bring out his dark side again – which allows En Sabah to manipulate his anger and pain into a dangerous weapon. Erik is a great character and Fassbender plays the hell out of him, this film included, but there are some odd moments for him, specifically his role in the apocalypse, Erik’s past as a holocaust survivor should’ve put him against causing another genocide but his emotional state wasn’t the best so let’s not judge it too harshly.
Bryan Singer directs his forth X-Men and this easily his weakest, by X-Men Standards it’s fairly middle of the road, not too bad, about on par with The Wolverine but it’s Singer’s weakest which is sad because he basically kicked off the comic-book genre with the first two X-Men then returned for one of its strongest chapters with Days. I’ve already touched upon the major problems, the lack of focus, the needlessly long first act but I’ll put those to the writing more than Singer’s involvement, as it goes he doesn’t do an awful job, there’s actually some great moments within the film, Erik’s reaction to his family’s death is suitably Magneto-esque, En Sabah taking over Cerebro and using it for his own devices is a very powerful moment, the aforementioned Quicksilver scene is probably the best in the film for its humour and technical marvel, even the Wolverine cameo stands out for being a much more bloody and brutal scene than we’ve witnessed from the character before.
There’s also a great part for Jean but we won’t go into details on it just yet.
But moments do not a good movie make, the third act feels especially weakened by Singer’s apparent refusal to showcase the devastation En Sabah commits upon the world, sure there’s some very CGI heavy destruction – too CGI at points – but Singer takes the Man Of Steel approach of doesn’t show anyone dying and there is surely a lot of people dying. After Days Of Future Past went to some of the franchises darkest places this one felt like it was being held back. Which is ironic because it’s some of the biggest events in X-Men history, the apocalypse subtitle does feel earned in terms of the spectacle because complete cities are destroyed by En Sabah’ powers but the emotional investment just isn’t there.
X-Men: Apocalypse might suffer the same fate as Last Stand, the third album that feels overstuffed and underwritten but it’s still an enjoyable film, the action’s good and the returning characters have fine work but as a whole the film comes up short, especially when compared to its better siblings.
3 Out Of 5 Hairpieces