In this movie the mutant speedster Quicksilver saves a bunch of Charles Xavier’s gifted youngsters when the X-Mansion blows up. Sadly that is about the only true heroic moment in this film. Sure it’s fun seeing superheroes slugging it out with supervillainous counterparts or in the case of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War superheroes slugging it out with each other, but my question is that with all this massive carnage, supposedly on the behest of humanity, is that a good thing? Way back in the year 2000 Bryan Singer gave us the first X-Men movie, a film that most would agree really started the current superhero boom, and it dealt with the villainous Magneto’s plan of turning all the world leaders into mutants to further his pro-mutant stance, but now it’s sixteen years later and history seems to be repeating itself. Is humanity any better off? Or more importantly can we get an original script out of Hollywood?
A long time ago Superman was pulling cats out of trees and stopping California from falling into the ocean, but now the percentage of “average joes” saved is infinitesimal to the amount that are killed when a superhero arrives on the scene. Both BVS and Civil War tried to explore this issue to varying degrees of success, but now with X-Men: Apocalypse we get a movie that makes the message clear, “Kill or lock up any and all super-powered persons you can find!” Its films like this that makes it hard for anyone to side with Professor Xavier or Captain America as the defense of “Without superheroes the supervillains would cause even more destruction” is getting harder and harder to swallow.
I found myself completely detached with most of the goings on in X-Men: Apocalypse, there just wasn’t much in way of emotional connections to any of these characters, and boy are there a lot of characters in this movie, so that when the credits finally rolled I just felt, “Meh.” I mean how many times can the world be on the brink of total destruction before one reaches the point of, “Fuck it, I don’t give a damn anymore.” I believe this all comes down to Hollywood always wanting to up the stakes for each movie in their respective franchises, and because upping the stakes emotionally isn’t enough they have to constantly blow shit up. But enough of my pontificating, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of X-Men: Apocalypse.
The movie begins in ancient Egypt where we learn that an all-powerful being had positioned himself as a god among the Egyptians, but when some of the locals destroyed his temple, trapping him and his “Four Horsemen” inside, mankind was given a few thousand year respite from his tyranny. Flash forward to the 1980s and CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) accidentally awakens the “god” while investigating some Egyptian cultists. This god is of course Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) and he was the world’s first mutant. He immediately starts to recruit present day mutants to become his new horsemen, while overseas Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) is also recruiting mutants of his own but not for an army, they are for his school for gifted youngsters.
I’d say over fifty percent of this movie is introducing us to mutants. We get Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) rescuing Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Angel (Ben Hardy) from an East Berlin underground fight club that forces mutants to fight each other. Raven takes Kurt to see Caliban (Tómas Lemarquis) a mutant black marketer who runs some kind of Underground Railroad or something.
Note: In the comics Caliban was a member of the mutant group known as the Morlocks, and he’d eventually become one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen because he was offered greater power, but in this movie it’s his bodyguard Psylocke (Olivia Munn) who catches Apocalypse’s eye. One assumes her sexy outfit and cool purple sword were just too hard to pass up.
Meanwhile stateside teenage Scott Summers/Cyclops’ (Tye Sheridan) mutant powers manifest while being tormented by a school bully, his ability to fire destructive optic blasts whenever he opens his eyes is something most schools will not overlook, and so his brother Alex/Havok (Lucas Till) brings him to Xavier’s school to learn to control this new and destructive power. While at this school he runs into Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) a young woman who is telepathic as well as telekinetic, and we get glimpses of their future together…that is if her dreams of the End of the World don’t come true. Meanwhile over in Cairo a pickpocket by the name of Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp) is recruited by Apocalypse and he amps up her power which causes her to get her trademark white hair. As Storm is one of my favorite X-Men this change from her origin of being found by Xavier really pissed me off.
With Storm, Psylocke, and eventually Angel as his horsemen Apocalypse finds himself one mutant short. Lucky for him Magneto’s family had just been murdered so Erik (Michael Fassbender) is more than willing to get on the Destroy the World bandwagon. *sigh* Can we give Magneto any other motivation other than revenge for the death of a loved one? Worse is that in this movie he basically becomes a glorified flunky to Apocalypse.
One of the greatest dangers in a comic book movie is the overloading of characters and exposition, and in this movie it’s just insane how much is dumped on us. Marvel Studios probably provided the best examples of balancing a team movie, but even they stumbled with Avengers: Age of Ultron. But with Marvel movies they try and keep the amount of new characters manageable while in X-Men: Apocalypse it’s just a mosh pit of people that we are never given enough time to care about. It doesn’t matter if Psylocke or Storm look as if they leapt straight out of the comic book, not if the results are characters that are basically two dimensional non-entities, and that’s me being generous. Cyclops and Jean Grey are given a bit more fleshing out, but much of it seems like set up for further movies and not really pertinent to the one were currently watching. In fact a lot of this movie seems like set up for further films and that Apocalypse is just the catalyst, and a rather boring one at that.
Bryan Singer is a very talented director but this story, and the screenplay by Simon Kinberg (who wrote the craptuclar screenplay for the latest Fantastic Four movie), is just a bloody mess. At almost two and a half hours in length I felt every minute of it, and was almost exhausted by the amount of extraneous action and characters put into what is basically just another “Villain wants to destroy the world” plot. There is an entire sequence where William Stryker (Josh Helman) shows up to capture some of the mutants and take them to his secret base at Alkali lake, for those not familiar with X2 this is the place where Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) was given his adamantium claws and turned into Weapon X, and it has nothing to do with the current plot. It’s a completely unnecessary side journey just so we can get a Hugh Jackman cameo.
With the kind of cast on display here I expected better, and it’s clear that Jennifer Lawrence has become rather sick of this character as her performance bordered on the lethargic. Seeing Sophie Turner getting the chance to kick ass, after seasons of seeing her Sansa Stark getting dumped on, was rather nice, but I kept thinking of how the young mutants in X-Men: First Class were given a much better treatment than what Jean Grey, Cyclops and company got here. And again Storm was just bloody wasted in this film, and that is criminal. On the plus side the visual effects are stunning; Nightcrawler’s teleporting is portrayed decently if not as dramatically as it was in X2, and things did blow up really well. Hollywood has really got good at ripping cities from their foundations, and I’d be surprised if there wasn’t off the shelf software for such things now. But alas this all leads to X-Men: Apocalypse becoming another typical action film, all sound and fury signifying nothing. This is something I have come to expect from the likes of Michael Bay but not Bryan Singer.
• Why did the pyramid have what appeared to be self-destruction devices? Did the slaves secretly incorporate this into the design?
• How did that accidentally shot arrow go through Magneto’s daughter far enough to kill her mother as well?
• Havok has one of the most stupid and pointless deaths ever.
• Magneto needs a trip to Auschwitz to remind him that humans are terrible.
• Stryker takes out a group of mutants with the some kind of anti-mutant gun, but later when Wolverine escapes none of his men are armed with such a device. Seems like bad planning.
• Quicksilver’s slow-motion running scene is again one of the best moments in the film.