The X-Men have a rocky cinematic history, to say the least. For a team that has consistently starred in some of Marvel’s best performing comics and television series, some of the films have been downright disappointing. I won’t go into too much detail on the whole history of the X-Men film series, as I recently did with a couple of my friends on “The Mother Flickers” YouTube channel, where we did a series of film reviews on the entire X-Men series. Needless to say, however, we mostly agreed that despite a dip in quality, the latest of the few films definitely set an upward trend, peaking with Bryan Singer’s return to the franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past. So how does Singer’s follow up, X-Men: Apocalypse hold up? Let’s take a look.
The plot to X-Men: Apocalypse is very busy, but it revolves around Professor Xavier as he attempts to teach young mutants to control their abilities. Part of this class involves newcomer to Xavier’s school Scott Summers, played by Tye Sheridan, Jean Grey, played by Sophie Turner of Game of Thrones fame, and Nightcrawler, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee. Meanwhile, Mystique (reprised by Jennifer Lawrence) is on the search for Erik Lehnsherr, better known as the mutant Magneto, who has recently been re-exposed as a mutant after going into hiding, and having his wife and daughter killed because of him. This all takes a back seat, however, to the awakening of the ancient mutant En Sabah Nur, best known as Apocalypse, and portrayed by Oscar Isaac. Apocalypse gathers four mutants as his followers, including Magneto, and disarms the world of their nuclear weapons in an attempt to take over and “purge” the world of humanity, leaving only mutants to rebuild in the aftermath. This leaves it up to the new team of X-Men to stop Apocalypse and save the world.
This is the most basic explanation of the plot, and leads into two of my biggest complaints about the film; it’s overstuffed, and it’s tonally confused. To touch on how overstuffed it is, there’s a ton going on on screen at any given time; from Scott learning how to fit in, to Xavier trying to figure out what this new apocalyptic force he feels stems from, to Erik’s personal conflict of trying to fit in as a normal human, to Mystique helping refugee mutants, to Apocalypse himself amassing his power… the film is incredibly overstuffed, hardly giving any of these plotlines room to breathe, and thus leaves the film feeling like a jumbled mess. While hardly any of these plotlines felt unnecessary, there was simply too much, and though I feel Bryan Singer did a decent enough job juggling everything he wanted in the film, it didn’t all work.
This leads nicely into my second complaint, which is the tonal confusion this film suffers from. For the first half of the film, as everything is being set up to fall into place, each separate plotline of the film feels like its own separate film, making the transitions fairly jarring. An overall tone is never established, which left me wanting more. This is somewhat rectified at about the halfway point of the film, as all of the plotlines finally intersect there is a definite tone of urgency present, which gives plenty to enjoy as the final battle against Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen commences. The road there, however, is long and confusing. To compare it to an earlier summer superhero blockbuster, Captain America: Civil War, the two have roughly the same runtime, and Civil War moved at a much quicker and more coherent pace than X-Men: Apocalypse, which disappointed me.
Moving on from the negatives to one of the biggest positives of the film, to me, is the overall performances by our new cast of characters. Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, and Kodi Smit-McPhee all do an absolutely phenomenal job in their roles. They all have fantastic chemistry on screen, and as a beginning to the next generation of X-Men, they absolutely won me over. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender do great reprising their roles as Professor Xavier and Magneto, and though I feel their chemistry is weaker compared to their previous outings in First Class and Days of Future Past, this mostly stems from how conflicted Erik as a character is throughout the plot. By the end of the film, Fassbender and McAvoy have their chemistry back, and while I still feel that you can never touch the level that Stewart and McKellen reached in their portrayal of the characters, McAvoy and Fassbender continue to prove that they can do a great job in their own right.
The rest of the characters do a fine job as well; Evan Peters’ return as Quicksilver is a welcome addition, and Lawrence and Hoult are up to snuff in their respective performances as well. It’s hard for me to judge Olivia Munn and Ben Hardy’s performances as they really aren’t given much to do, but they do alright for what they’re given. While I wish Alexandra Shipp as Storm was given a bit more, she’s shown to be sticking around for the future of the series, so that leaves me hopeful for her future performances. Unfortunately, amongst all of these fantastic performances in the film, we’re also treated to an incredibly weak portrayal in the form of our title character.
First I’ll address Oscar Isaac’s performance, which I would say is quite good. Isaac clearly did the best he could with his script, and plays the “ingenious mastermind” quite well. Unfortunately, Apocalypse is given very little to do outside of his quest to gather his Four Horsemen, and we’re never truly given a full example of what his powers can truly do that makes him the most powerful mutant in the world. Instead, Apocalypse spends most of the film trying to convince his horsemen that he’s who they should align themselves with, and once it gets to the point where he actually needs to act, he simply has Magneto do the bulk of the work for him as far as building his base of action. To fight the X-Men, he assigns his horsemen to take care of them, and only once they’re all defeated to we get to see Apocalypse in action. Once in action, Apocalypse is decent, but at that point in the film I’d become so disappointed by Apocalypse’s lack of activity that it was tough to rebound from.
This, I feel, is the absolute most disappointing aspect of the film; the title character is the weakest point. Apocalypse has been called for by X-Men fans for years, wanting to see an epic film adaptation of the team’s greatest foe. While the film certainly becomes epic in scale, the character of Apocalypse himself is far from it. As I mentioned earlier, Apocalypse does very little in the film, which is the worst thing that could be said about the character; in comic’s lore, he is the arch enemy of the X-Men, and in the film, he is talked about as being one of the strongest mutants ever to live. Neither of these are portrayed properly in the film, which left me wanting more.
Sophie Turner has a line in the film about how the third in a series is always the worst, in regards to the group having gone to see Return of the Jedi. Apocalypse, acting as the third in the “new timeline” trilogy of First Class, Days of Future Past, and Apocalypse, unfortunately does indeed fit this descriptor in that it’s inferior to the films previous to it. However, it does more than act as a simple end to a trilogy, as it also marks the beginning of a new series of X-Men films starring this group of new X-Men. My hope is the film will become much more appreciated as the series goes on, much in the way Iron Man 2 holds up much better after watching The Avengers.
Despite all of the negatives the film has, it handles what works very well, and makes it memorable. The film does a good job of entertaining, and is ultimately a lot of fun in the right parts. That’s what it boils down to at the end, is whether or not you enjoyed the product. In a sea of X-Men films, it blends in as simply “not the worst,” and being released the same year as Deadpool and Civil War, it’s unfortunately going to suffer a bit since those two films were just so damn good. I’m giving X-Men: Apocalypse a 3/5; the confused and stuffed plot may drag it down a bit, and the titular Apocalypse may not have been handled all that well, but the portrayals of the rest of the characters are more than enough to safe the film from disaster, just like the X-Men they’re playing.