About halfway through 20th Century Fox’s new film X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), there is a rather ironic moment where Sophie Turner’s young mutant Jean Grey, having snuck out to watch Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983) with her classmates, comments tongue-in-cheek that ‘at least we can all agree the third movie is always the worst’. Sadly, despite being a satirical reference to Brett Ratner’s universally panned X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), it also speaks volumes about Singer’s new trilogy too.
The film follows the tried and tested formula of good guys versus bad guys, with the newly formed X-Men team called into action after the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse, wakes from a long slumber and threatens to unleash the end of days upon the world. Backed by his four horsemen; Storm (representing famine), Psylocke (representing pestilence), Angel (representing death), and Magneto (representing war), Apocalypse’s god-like stature helps him channel his recruit’s rage, greed and blind-faith to tear the world apart. When he kidnaps Professor X, seeking to attain his power, the new generation of X-Men must step up and unleash powers that, until now, they’ve been trying hard to control.
As the fourth superhero movie out this year, X-Men: Apocalypse (2017) unfortunately succumbs to the dreaded genre fatigue. Where Captain America: Civil War (2016) brought a smart, tight, and tense blockbuster, X-Men: Apocalypse comes across as a jagged and overblown extravaganza. It has none of the charm or comedy of Deadpool (2016) either, thankfully doing just well enough to put it ahead of Zack Snyder’s unrestrained Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Instead of focusing on being the culmination of a nuanced First Class trilogy, it too often slingshots off onto future tangents, be that Wolverine 3 (2017), or the upcoming X-Force film.
That is not to say X-Men: Apocalypse is without its good points though, with a grandiose scale accomplishing something rarely attained in the X-Men universe. The special effects are magnificent, and the visuals are simply stunning. It’s worth the ticket price alone just to see Evan Peter’s second Quicksilver slow-motion scene, which plays out as a true highlight of modern cinema, and is exactly, as the overlaying music intones, what ‘sweet dreams’ are made of. The film also excels in the ‘surprise’ cameo department, with Wolverine and Jean’s exchange making for one of the most emotional scenes of the film, and Stan Lee’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment made all the more special by the inclusion of his real-life wife.
These moments are few and far between though, as the film’s namesake goes about destroying what could have been one the finest superhero trilogies around. Oscar Isaac does the best he can with the character, however it’s just not enough to elevate him to the monstrosity we were promised. Instead, Apocalypse appears the weakest character of the bunch, with undefined powers which are rarely exerted until the second act whereupon he uses his henchman to do all the heavy lifting. They too, unfortunately, become conceited caricatures of the characters they could have been. Storm is criminally underused, with Alexandra Shipp giving a phenomenal performance; while in contrast, Psylocke and Angel are narcissistic and egotistical fillers who provide no benefit to the story whatsoever. The ‘bad guy’ team is redeemed only by Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, with the Irish actor once again proving his status as one of the most charming, likable, and talented actors in the industry today. Despite a predictable reason behind his third attempt to go dark-side, ultimately Magneto becomes the heart and soul of the movie.
As for the rest of the cast, the new youngsters all prove to be solid additions that will carry the series well in the future. Turner’s Jean Grey starts off rather uncomfortably, before settling into a strong character, managing something her predecessor Famke Janssen never did – a dignified and threatening Phoenix. Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops also lands well, his character arc travelling from disruptive high-schooler to daring leader. Kodi Smit-McPhee steals the show though as Nightcrawler, the most useful and endearing character of the bunch. Surprisingly one of the worst turns in the film is Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, who has descended from Rebecca Romijn’s sultry vixen in the first X-trilogy, to a stale Mockingjay-esque bore.
The climax of the film is both the best and the worst part of the two-and-a-half-hour action epic. With all the mutants working together and Apocalypse forced to actually use his ‘God-like’ powers, we can finally remember what made the first X-Men (2000) movie so genre-defining. But it’s also a callous moment, as hundreds of cities are reduced to atoms. Bad taste is a common theme it seems, as Apocalypse's first form of destruction comes from making Magneto level Auschwitz. Yes, I stand by the fact it is still ‘too soon’ to make such mockery of historical moments for entertainment purposes.
If there is one thing to take from X-Men: Apocalypse though, it is in the title characters speech that “Everything they built will fall! And from the ashes of their world, we’ll build a better one!” For all the disappointment, there is always the option for rebirth. Hopefully for future installments, the idea of ‘rising from the ashes’ won’t be limited to just the Phoenix.
Rating: 3.5 Mutants out of 5
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