Bryan Singer, the director of X-Men, X-2, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, has returned to direct X-Men: Apocalypse. But unlike the first three, which have flaws but are generally very entertaining and well-regarded superhero films, X-Men Apocalypse is not a good X-Men movie. It’s not even a good movie. That being said, it still has its moments, especially with regard to action sequences. But, the film is too long and is brought down by fundamental problems with its villain, an abundance of characters, and contrived plot threads.
The film’s plot revolves around an ancient mutant, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) aka Apocalypse, who awakens in the 80’s (don’t worry you won’t have a chance to forget as everyone will constantly remind you of the decade by their language, attire, and soundtrack) and wants to rid most of the world’s populace to create a new world for the strongest mutants. To achieve this, he sets out to find four powerful lieutenants known as “The Four Horseman of Apocalypse”, and in doing so, comes into contact with the heroes of the film: The X-Men (and various other mutants in the X-Men canon). In case you are unaware, the X-Men are a superhero group of mutants led by Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and they operate out of his mansion in Westchester County, New York. The mansion doubles as a school to teach young mutants how to control their powers and successfully integrate them with the human populace.
The action in X-Men: Apocalypse is still very enjoyable. Bryan Singer is an extremely talented director of action set pieces. Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) scenes are once again a highlight. While not as original as in X-Men: Days of Future Past, it's still extremely entertaining to watch him navigate in hyper slow motion whilst everyone else is basically frozen in time (and this time it's to a classic 80’s song to boot). A major character makes a viciously violent cameo that will certainly be a crowd pleaser while Xavier and Purple Rain have a bout in the astral plane. The film is impeccably cast, and most of the cast members have been together for several films now so they have great chemistry together. Even the young newcomers have solid interaction with each other. However, other than the film’s stellar action, visual effects, and its great cast, it has some major issues.
The problems with X-Men: Apocalypse are twofold:
The first major flaw in the movie is its antagonist, Apocalypse aka The Purple People Eater, who is a boring villain and doesn’t really do anything except yell really loudly about destroying the world. First, he gathers four lieutenants (and for the record, only two of the four deserve consideration as two of the most powerful mutants in the X-Men universe. The other two are laughably included and easily defeated in battle), then he slowly begins the process of destroying the world. That’s it, his endgame revealed right at the beginning, no mystery or intrigue. I have to add that destroying the world is something he could have done right as he awakened, but he would rather yell really really loudly about doing it before actually acting upon it. His powers seem to have no bounds and are very poorly defined, but he has no problem destroying vast swaths of organic matter, augmenting other mutant abilities, etc. So, it seems like the movie is puttering around with an all-powerful villain until “The Final Battle ™" ala X-3: The Last Stand.
The second flaw is the overwhelming amount of characters in the film, which leaves it feeling overstuffed AND spread too thin. It’s honestly difficult trying to keep track of all the characters in the film. That being said, the cast has great interaction with each other. There’s fun and clever interaction with Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) and Xavier, despite the latter committing a horrific memory wipe of their previous relationship and the film treating this gross invasion of privacy as if he slashed her tires to end their relationship. In addition to their relationship, there's also the interesting dynamic between Quicksilver and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who unbeknownst to the latter is Quicksilver’s father, the budding relationship of Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), and the ongoing trials of Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) aka Mystique as she struggles to deal with the pressure of being the face of mutant kind. All of that has the potential to be really compelling stuff. The film tries to give each of the characters’ an adequate introduction, screen time, and development, but with the plethora of characters, it struggles under this grand ambition. As a result, too little time is spent with characters that matter and too much time is spent listening to the Purple One pontificate.
The worst of the film’s needless focus has to be Magneto’s additional and utterly unnecessary backstory which has him married in Poland, with a wife and child. An unfortunate incident occurs at the smelting factory where he works, and he impossibly (for a normal human) saves a coworkers life. Outed as the infamous criminal mutant, the police come for him and kill his wife and child with a single wooden arrow. I’m dead serious, it’s so contrived I laughed out loud in the theater. Magneto doesn’t need additional sadness to make him work as a character. He is a child of the Holocaust and watched his family get slaughtered by Nazis. That backstory is flawless. It is his driving motivation to rid the world of humans and make it a safe haven for mutants. It would be like if they had Batman marry and have a happy family for years only to have them murdered like his parents. It’s unnecessary overkill, and even worse Apocalypse literally takes him to Auschwitz to remind everyone about the Nazi’s and his childhood. (Also Magneto commits minor genocide in this film and walks away scot-free. For real.)
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The film isn’t the worst thing that has come out this year, it isn’t even the worst superhero movie to come out this year (that ignominious crown is reserved solely for Zack Snyder's putrid garbage Batman V Superman). But it’s very easy to see what could have been done better. Many of its worse scenes are contrived excess used for plot motivation or to tie up loose ends in the confusing timelines of the new trilogy of films. Much of this flab could’ve been cut from the film and used to add more depth to the characters. In addition, the film is fundamentally flawed by a boring and yelly villain who spends too much time proselytizing and not enough time being fun, evil, or doing anything at all. X-Men: Apocalypse ends up trying to do too much with too little and it just falls flat.
TLDR: X-Men: Apocalypse is an overly long film about a purple demagogue who doesn’t do much of anything and the superpowered team trying to stop him. 2.5/5 Stars