X-Men Apocalypse (2016) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images
Running Time: 144 min.
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Lucas Till, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Olivia Munn, Josh Helman
Small role and cameo: Hugh Jackman, Ally Sheedy, Stan Lee
Director: Bryan Singer
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg
Review published May 23, 2016
For a film which gives a sideways swipe to the much maligned X-Men: The Last Stand by the comment within the film, after some of the characters are seen walking out a screening of Return of the Jedi, that the third film in a series is always the worst one, it sure takes a lot of cojones to bring out that statement in the third film in the young X-Men First Class series, especially one in which it is not only easily the worst in its own trilogy, but it's also arguably worse than the film it is skewering in tongue-in-cheek fashion. It's an especially curious swipe when you consider that the writer of that line, Simon Kinberg, is actually the screenwriter for both third films, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Apocalypse.
This entry in the retro X-Men series finds the mutants in the series-alternate universe year of 1983, ten years after the events of Days of Future Past, an age when the cold war is rampant between the United States and the Soviet Union, with most people already worried about being on the brink of annihilation of life on Earth within just a few hours if nuclear war should ever break out. Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (Fassbender, Macbeth), is living as a closeted mutant to keep his family safe, laboring as a metal worker in Poland with a loving wife and daughter. Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy, Victor Frankenstein) is at the mansion that serves as the School for Gifted Youngsters (aka, a place for mutants confronting who they are and learning to control their powers). Both have their home worlds rocked in tragedy that cause them to come out of their comfortable jobs. Meanwhile, Mystique (Lawrence, Joy) spends her time traveling to the four corners of the Earth in order to liberate mutants wherever she can, such as the German teleporter, Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee, Slow West).
The mutants begin to fight amongst each other yet again when the world's first mutant, the powers-absorbing En Sabah Nur (Isaac, The Force Awakens), aka Apocalypse, is resurrected from his dormant state, essentially imprisoned underground since 3600 B.C., after which he wastes no time in hatching a plan to lay conquest to the entire planet. He sets about pulling together powerful mutant accomplices, dubbed his Four Horsemen, in an effort to bring humanity under his rule, effectively threatening them with nuclear annihilation, using their own weapons against them. Now it's up to Xavier, Mystique, Beast (Hoult, Mad Max: Fury Road), and a band of untested gifted students to fight for the right of humans, people who want mutant-kind destroyed, from being crushed under the rule of these mad powermongers.
As with four of the six core X-Men films to come out thus far, Apocalypse is directed by Bryan Singer, who has seemingly done little wrong thus far, He finally hits a creative wall in this latest outing. It's not that it is entirely his fault, as Apocalypse finds its stride early and we see some good work by the helmer in setting up some of the supporting characters that will play a larger role toward the climax later in the film. The main problem comes when the character of Apocalypse, whom we're introduced to in a short opening summation of his origins in the age of Ancient Egypt, emerges into the realm of the 1980s, where he learns everything that has happened in the last five millennia by absorbing television broadcasts (no joke). Though he is as powerful as they come, Apocalypse lacks interesting qualities as a bud guy other than his ability to do pretty much anything he sets his mind to do, not too far removed from Imhotep from Stephen Sommers The Mummy series. His use in the film is to serve mostly as an excuse to showcase destruction or well-known terrestrial landmarks and landscapes on a massive scale, while the Four Horsemen are converted to his cronies with minimal rationale, shoehorned in to make for instant adversaries, and to give instant introductions for barely developed characters younger versions of Storm (Shipp, Straight Outta Compton), Cyclops (Sheridan, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse), Angel (Hardy), Psylocke (Munn, Ride Along 2) and Jean Grey (Turner, "Game of Thrones") to, presumably, utilize in future films.
The best scene in the prior film, Days of Future Past, gets somewhat recreated here in Apocalypse, this time another lengthy music video montage in which Quicksilver (Peters, is in speed mode while the world around him is in slow motion, set to the Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)". It's still great eye candy, but its regurgitated nature makes it feel like obligatory fan service this time around, rather than a wholly pleasant surprise. There are attempts at quieter moments, such as Professor Xavier's attempt to reconnect with an ex-love that he's wiped the memories of, CIA agent Moira MacTaggart, but they also fail to compel through the sense of superficiality that has largely permeated the series thus far. This series had once set itself apart through subversive social metaphors for such things as sexuality and equality, but this entry mostly pushes such notions aside for lots of superhero flexing and posturing in front of green-screen backgrounds of buildings crumbling into rubble.
As for the rest of the movie, it's overblown, overly violent, and largely without choice comic relief (save for the Last Stand dis that boomerangs) or particularly revelatory thematic subtext, which is a shame given that the early 1980s setting is rife for truly funny pop culture references and a wealth of historical importance. So where is the fun or gravitas? In their place we have monotony and plot points that dart around with little expository effort to hold them all together. It's a shame that Singer didn't wrangle more screenwriters than Kinberg, whose prior work, Fantastic Four, represents about the worst the blockbuster superhero genre has had to offer in some time. Such a shame for the series to fall apart so swiftly and spectacularly after such a great run, and so early in the film too, especially as they've decided to go so big with the scope of X-Men Apocalypse that the series will be challenged to deliver any bigger. That's OK, though, If not bigger, I'll settle for merely better, because this entry represents the kind of bloated and brain-dead spectacle-first mentality that Singer and company have been so successful at avoiding all along.
-- There is a small scene after the credits.
©2016 Vince Leo