DESPITE INCREDIBLE SPECIAL EFFECTS AND A STAR STUDDED CAST, X-MEN APOCALYPSE FOCUSES ON STYLE RATHER THAN SUBSTANCE
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: James McAvoy, Micheal Fassbender, Jenifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, Lucas Till, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Rose Byrne and Olivia Munn
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Running Time: 2 Hrs. 24 Mins.
Taking place ten years after the conclusion of X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men Apocalypse reveals a world where mutants are no longer a secret and even live out in the open in the few places that have adopted slow albeit grudging tolerance for them. Together with Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Professor X (James McAvoy) has turned his New York mansion into a School for Gifted Youngsters, offering acceptance and sanctuary to mutants from across the globe (including a young Scott Summers and Jean Grey, played by Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner respectively). Since being caught on camera rescuing President Richard Nixon and standing up to Magneto in DoFP, Mystique has been elevated to a symbol of mutant resistance and equality, and she busy rescuing mutants from the uglier parts of the world where they’re still threatened and persecuted on a daily basis. Magneto meanwhile (Michael Fassbender) has disappeared despite being the most wanted criminal in the world, finding happiness as an becoming an everyman with a loving wife and daughter.
But when the world’s first and most powerful mutant (Oscar Isaac) awakens from a five thousand year slumber, it isn’t long until Professor X and his students are faced with an evil beyond their imaginations. Apocalypse isn’t just nearly omnipotent, he can also enhance another mutant’s existing power, which he uses to turn his chosen followers into unstoppable warriors (which includes a grief stricken and once again vengeful Magneto). At first Apocalypse plans to simply lay waste to the world, ruling over those strong enough to survive his cataclysm. But when he discovers a way to seize control of every mid on the planet, a power he has long coveted, he plans to become an actual God, feared and worshipped by his new master race of the strong.
Apocalypse boasts some of the best visuals in any of the X movies so far. It masters showing off the character’s powers, seamlessly weaving the visuals into shots that include global destruction and fast paced fight scenes. McAvoy continues to make the character of Professor X his own despite the impressive shadow of Patrick Stewart (it’s interesting watching the Professor’s perspective on the role his school and the X-Men have in the larger scheme of things change through the course of the movie and his final shot in the film tells the entire story of his evolution) and Jennifer Lawrence does her usually efficient job portraying Mystique, a reluctant hero and mutant icon forced into the role of warrior and subsequently teacher. Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) extended super speed scene is the best visual sequence of the movie as well as its biggest source of laughs while Wolverine’s exaggerated cameo is arguably the best action scene in the film.
Apocalypse tells a good enough story, checking all the major boxes along the way and even addressing some loose ends from the continuity resetting DoFP while setting the narrative back on path (particularly with Wolverine). Technically, it does everything right, but it feels underwhelming. It feels like it’s going through the motions but lacks passion or conviction. This is a movie that threatens Mankind with global destruction and enslavement for the fragments of humanity that survive Apocalypse’s genocide, but the film lacks that emotional weight. There are scenes where entire buildings are yanked from their foundations and cars send spiraling through the sky like dead leaves in an autumn windstorm, but aside from the concerned looks on a bunch of politicians faces, the audience isn’t confronted with the human cost of that widespread destruction. It feels very . . . emotionally sterile.
That’s X-Men: Apocalypse’s weakness, despite it’s brilliant visuals it feels flat. It’s great seeing some of the classic characters in their formative youth, coming to grips with their identities and choosing to become heroes, but we’re given little to no connection to them. This is especially true of the newer characters, who all just kind of show up with little to no development or backstory. Even Olivia Munn’s Psylocke, who was heavily hyped and could have been this movie’s breakout character, comes across as just another extra, an afterthought to be addressed when the script calls for it.
Perhaps nowhere is this flaw more apparent then with the villain himself Apocalypse is supposed to be a larger than life, omnipotent, omnipresent presence, an unyielding force of nature pursuing purity through destruction. In other words, a homicidal demi-god. Despite the extensive makeup, prosthetics and FX, he fails to come across with anything close to that kind of presence. It isn’t Isaac’s fault, who plays Apocalypse as well as could be expected, it just fells like the movie exclusively concerned with how to make him look like Apocalypse and not how to make him feel like an ancient god-powered fanatic bent on the murder of billions.
Don’t get the wrong idea-X-Men Apocalypse is miles better then X_Men: The Last Stand and the Wolverine films (which were mercifully erased from continuity by Days of Future Past)-but it seems far more concerned with it’s look (which is very, very slick) and it’s style then it’s substance. It’s a movie built for appearances and not for delivery, which is a shame because it looks like it’s setting the table for some promising things (although unlike the Marvel and Star Wars films, there doesn’t seem to be a master plan or even a cohesive idea behind the growing tapestry of X-titles). Could director Bryan Singer and company be growing complacent with the franchise? There were even a few moments where Fassbender was looking borderline bored. Perhaps the time has come for an injection of new blood behind the camera as well as in the roster of characters.