“…more like X-Meh: Alight I Guess,” I chuckled to myself as I walked out of X-Men: Apocalypse. Not a very professional way to start this out, I know (just wait till you get to the end). But I can’t really think of any other way. The movie itself is just so…unspecial, if I’m making up words, which I am. Meh is really the best way to describe it.
To put it bluntly, the movie just isn’t very good, and the reason why is very easy to see but so baffling to realize: It’s that where the first two films in this new franchise, First Class and Days of Future Past, were so assuredly and bravely made this one seems so unsure of itself. The makers of those first two films were so confidant in what they wanted to do they were able to give us something more meaningful in terms of character relationships in this ever growing mutant world in ways earlier X-Men movies never touched.
But here, all that confidence is gone. I could tell writer Simon Kinberg and director Bryan Singer were trying to combine both an origin story and the culmination of the new trilogy they started five years ago around franchise leads, Mystique, Professor X and Magneto (Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender). However, in the process of juggling such a large cast—featuring both newcomers who need to be introduced and series regulars with complex backgrounds—all sense of exploring said characters goes out the window, replaced by nonlinear scene-to-scene establishments.
For instance, at the beginning we’re introduced to the new villain, Apocalypse (Oscar Issac), a member of the Blue Man Group who was kicked out of the band and now wants to destroy the world out of rage. No not really, he’s actually an eternal mutant who’s worshipped like a god, or something. After a very expensive, elaborate destruction scene he is buried underneath an ancient pyramid in 3600 B.C. Egypt where he stayed trapped until the swingin’ 80s.
Now we have the setup, and what proceeds for the next hour or so is a style that reminds me of the grand opus—Batman vs. Superman. We get scene after scene of characters doing something that fails to establish anything resembling and consistent story. Cyclops/Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) gets his powers; Next, Mystique helps a mutant in need; Next, Professor X tries to discover the source of an earthquake (hint: it was Blue Man Group) and so and so forth.
The characters spend so little time interacting with each other—instead doing their own thing—that it’s hard to care about what anyone is doing at all. All they get are stripped-down one-dimensional personalities of not wanting to behave certain ways in this new world that may or may not accept them.
That last idea has been core to the previous two X-Men movies, but is completely undeveloped here. If it were going to be evolved in anyway it should’ve been in the new generation (as they basically exist as a new generation within the already new generation of heroes introduced to us in First Class. It’s like bad inception) May I reference a scene where the new mutants go out to the mall and catch Return of the Jedi, and the only thing we get from it is them ironically saying how the third film is always the worst. I don’t want to see my mutants having a nice day at the mall with no conflict from the normal, supposedly scared public. That’s not how this world works. That’s like if in a Holocaust movie a Nazi bumped into a Jew and the Nazi said, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” Unfortunately, these youngsters don’t get to do much otherwise except ponder the difficulty of life as a mutant or be stiff props.
No one’s scenes add up to much. The good guys are doing whatever, and Apocalypse is gathering up his groupies to mess crap up. But when the moments do ring with impact the movie cuts away to something that is tonally in the opposite direction as if to say, “Alright, that’s enough of that.” For example, in Magneto we get the most fascinating character. After 10 years he has started a family, and is trying so hard to be a good man. But in a moment of Shakespearean tragedy it’s all taken away from him as he screams to the Heavens, “Is that what you want for me!” He cries for his dead family and then—CUT—off to see Apocalypse walking around, seeing cars and radios for the first time. Because what’s a man-out-of-time flick without them being baffled by fancy automobiles?
But writer Kinberg doesn’t seem to care much about digging deep into the characters. This is finally the film where we should see Magneto become the tragic villain, driven by emotional anguish with the Universe against him. Sadly, yet again, him taking his place as the X-Men’s greatest foe will remain unseen in an attempt to avoid embracing his dark nature, instead aiming to give the audience a happy, bubbly ending where everyone stays pals.
Magneto is in fact, has better potential to be a villain than the actual villain. Issac is a tremendous actor playing the most boring god-like villain ever. Issac plays him and Kinberg wrote him to go for the cult leader aspect, working more with words than powers. But he never says anything interesting. It’s all “we are better than humans!” and, “we shall make a better world!” It’s like the super villain greatest hits album on shuffle mode.
This goes on and on while major characters go unexplored. The young mutants feel weird for frightening other people, but I never saw a scene where people actually seemed scared of them, while Mystique is reluctant to take on the role as a leader but for what reason I’ll never understand, etc., etc.
This all of course leads to a forced climatic battle wherein the followers of Apocalypse (some of whom have very important roles in X-Men lore) get to continue being pawns that have five lines apiece and then get to smash stuff. That’s how this movie ends: smashing stuff and clichéd speeches about togetherness. Oh well, after 130 minutes of aimless behavior is was fun to know my caveman brain was excited to see stuff blowing up. Sure, the entire population of Cairo is obliterated and no one seems to care but, hey, smashing! And at the end of it all they’re finally the X-Men! Yay!
I apologize, as those exclamation points were not honest. Truthfully, the movie would’ve been more impactful had the attempts at an origin story for the young mutants not been mixed in with the continuing story of the major mutants, with a mediocre villain to add an extra level of “ugh”. I hope dearly the next entry is more focused, and I have faith it will be. This one just has too much that distracts from what has been building up since First Class. What seemed like a bold new future for the X-Men now reeks with fear to take their characters they’ve spent years working on to the final brink, just so that nerds may get excited about seeing a young version of Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and her white Mohawk. As a result nothing feels special. The action and the beloved characters are there but it’s all meaningless. Nothing is really concluded and the new characters feel less like they’ve gotten an origin tale and more like crammed-in additions. In other words, maybe it would’ve been better for the filmmakers to finish one piece of pie before cramming another in their mouth (mature analogy for the win!).