How do you solve a problem like Bryan Singer’s X-Men franchise?
I appreciate all the work that Singer put into getting superhero films through their 21st century birthing pains. It was probably a little too much in the early 2000s to have the character-based soap opera in garish costumes that X-Men is at its best, so it’s great these movies gave us a world where superhero movies could work. And hey, X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past are legitimately great, and I think X-Men 2 is still worth defending. Plus, Hugh Jackman is a really cool dude!
However, we’ve come a long way since then and X-Men…well…hasn’t. It still seems stuck in the pre-MCU mindset that there’s something about these properties that has to be altered to palatable to mainstream audiences.
This isn’t even getting into the arbitrary nature of what Singer has chosen to emphasize in the franchise that seemingly holds back any semblance of getting into the core of what people love about the X-Men.
Which brings us into X-Men: Apocalypse, which is the most comic-booky of these movies for sure. But that doesn’t save it from bringing every problem the X-Men franchise has had to the forefront and wrap it in enough “almost there” and enough fanservice to almost make you miss that this is by and away the most dull, infuriating, plotless, ugly, and terrible incarnation of the X-Men films.
In a franchise that had an installment directed by Brett Red Dragon-ass Ratner.
X-Men: Apocalypse is about (take a guess) Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the world’s first mutant, who has come back from a centuries-long coma to enact his will-to-power on a world that he feels has grown too weak in his absence. Apocalypse collects four powerful mutants to follow him as his Horsemen, including Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who comes out of hiding after the murder of his wife and child.
Under the leadership of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Singer’s collection of favorite X-Men, including Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and Beast (Nicholas Hoult), plus ones the studio made him include, such as Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), have to stop Apocalypse. And that’s about it.
Seriously, there is so little that happens in this movie. I really wish I could tell you about all the cool character-based work that has grown to define this trilogy and comes to a head here. All the fantastic explorations of relationships between old friends and new that the movie gets into. The discussions of the evolving ideological conflict between two opposing ideas of revolution and how it’s exacerbated by extremism.
Or hell, the fact that a major portion of the plot revolves around the fact that the Cold War 80’s seemed to experience total nuclear disarmament. Or that the mutant debate is again set sideways.
I wish I could tell you this film gets into all that, but I can’t, because none of that happens. X-Men: Apocalypse is a movie that seems to not only absolutely seems to give not one shit about making any sort of character progress or thematic exploration within its own film (seriously, that disarmament thing never comes up again), I’m also not entirely sure that it understands that it is part of a franchise.
In fact, I’m not sure that anyone involved has actually seen another film in the franchise.
How else are we to explain the fact that the film forgets all of Mystique’s progress from Days of Future Past for absolutely arbitrary reasons? How else are we to explain that no one has aged in 10 motherfucking years? How else are we to explain that STRYKER DIDN’T ACTUALLY CAPTURE WOLVERINE AT THE END OF DAYS OF FUTURE PAST AND THIS MOVIE SAYS HE DID?! How else are we to explain that this MOVIE RETREADS THE SAME FUCKING THEMATIC DEBATE THAT THE ENTIRE REST OF THIS FRANCHISE HAS HAD WITHOUT A SINGLE SIGN THAT ANYONE’S THOUGHTS HAVE EVER CHANGED EVER?!?! DO WE REALLY NEED ANOTHER FEW SCENES OF MAGNETO AND XAVIER TRADING BACK AND FORTH ABOUT THEIR PAST AND THEIR DIFFERENT IDEAS WITHOUT ANY PROGRESS?!?!?!?!?!
But oh, don’t let it sound like this is just about this thing as a franchise film. It’s also that this film is just an absolutely full-blown dull dull unbearably dull movie that doesn’t seem to actually give two holy fucks about the basics of film construction.
The narrative is pointless. I said it above, but the premise is really all there is. It’s legitimately an A to B line from “Apocalypse is back” to “The X-Men defeat Apocalypse” with no narrative twists or alterations. It’s a lazy move for a franchise that just came off a time travel movie.
The film is ugly. There’s no motivated camera movements or great new designs or effects that don’t look like ass outside of a single Quicksilver scene that I’ll admit is actually pretty cool. It’s just dull darkness and the same Singer costume stuff with flat black flight suits.
The actors are wasted. I mean, there are some fine performances. Michael Fassbender is literally incapable of giving a bad show and damn do I still love James McAvoy’s Xavier. But Jennifer Lawrence has a “I’m just waiting for the check to clear so I can finally leave this goddamned cursed franchise” look on her face the whole time, none of the new heroes are given anything to do to leave an impression in this film, and if anyone has seen Olivia Munn, please tell her she was supposed to be in this film.
But the creme de la horseshit goes to “Thank god I’m under 20 pounds of blue makeup” Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse. HOLEEE SHIT. I really have no idea what he saw in this script but he never showed it to the audience. Isaac gives a performance worthy of a SyFy B-Picture, and he’s an actor I thought was legitimately incapable of giving a bad performance. Every line reading ranges from off to aneurysm-inducingly-baffling. To the chagrin of the audience I was with, I laughed until I couldn’t breathe during at least three of his major monologues. This is bad. This is “Ask your publicist not to have interviewers bring it up” bad.
I’m just…I’m baffled. Who saw this and thought this worked? Who thought this kind of shit could compete?
It’s just so frustrating because the film keeps dancing on the line that they might know what this movie needs to be. There are scenes where X-Men are being teenagers and having soap-operatic talks about love and loss and thoughts like you want them to. There are good performances grounded in some version of these characters. There are grand displays of power and comic-booky shit that we’ve never seen before. It’s a movie that has the Morlocks and a comic-accurate Psylocke costume and
THE PHOENIX FORCE IN FULL DISPLAY!!!
Yet I can’t help that feel like none of this matters. It’s all just window-dressing for a film that doesn’t care about what it should be from the source, cares about what it’s been as a franchise, or cares about what it could be as a film.
It feels like the fullest obligation, a film no one made because they wanted to and everyone made because they had to.