The X-Men series has been one of the most inconsistent superhero series that’s been put to film. Most of the films have been okay, with one terrible film with Origins: Wolverine and a brilliant film with First Class, even ones the other critically acclaimed ones I only find okay, held back by story problems, exemplified by Days of Future Past, which has not held up that well on repeat viewings. There is still always the potential for another X-Men film to reach the heights of First Class and I hoped that Apocalypse would be that film. Unfortunately though, this is a film that shows how little creative effort is being put into the X-Men films.The film takes place in 1983, 10 years after the events of Days of Future Past, with the world coming to accept mutants, Professor Xavier has reopened his school with a bunch of new students (notably Jean Grey and Scott Summers), Mystique has been travelling the world helping fellow mutants (as seen when she helps a young Nightcrawler) and Magneto has gone into hiding in Poland and has got a wife and daughter. However, their world gets shattered by the awakening of En Sabah Nur (also known as Apocalypse), the first mutant, after thousands of years buried under Cairo, who wishes to destroy the world and remake it with mutants in power, believing humanity has lost its way, recruiting newly introduced Storm, Angel and Psylocke to his cause and, Magneto after his wife and daughter are killed (a classic case of fridging). On paper this can create a very intriguing and thematically strong X-Men film and early on there is some promise, mainly in the ways the world has adapted following the events of Days of Future Past but after this opening the film starts to fall apart. Simply put, the film is trying to juggle too many characters and do too many plots to be really effective at doing any of them, all of them coming across as a bit generic and rushed. It also feels less like and original film and more a retread of the other X-Men films, the plot element for Jean Grey coming from X-Men 3, the introduction of Scott Summers feeling reminiscent of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the plot of Apocalypse and the way it was implemented being a complete rehash of X-Men 2 and First Class, it doesn’t feel like there’s been any growth in the story department between Days of Future Past and Apocalypse. This also extends to some of the characters, partly due to there being no attempt to age up the actors so characters that should be in their 40s look about 20 and for some of the characters, particularly Quicksilver, there is no change in the way the character acts, even though there should be some growth. The film also feels way too long, going back to the issue of it trying to juggle too much, the most egregious example of this being a 20 minute detour before the climax of the film which doesn’t add anything to the plot except to have a cameo from Wolverine and set up the next film, feeling about as forced as the tie-ins to Justice League in Batman v Superman. There are some good parts in the plot, mainly at the start of the film, and there is some good humour, but it just felt really generic to me.
The performances are a pretty mixed bag throughout. On the positive side, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are as great as ever, Fassbender getting some great time to shine here showing just how broken and angry Magneto is at the death of his family in the first half of the film, making it understandable why he joins Apocalypse. Along with those two, Nicholas Hoult remains entertaining as Beast, Tye Sheridan makes a good impression as Cyclops and Kodi Smit-McPhee steals every scene he’s in as Nightcrawler, a lot of the best comedic moments of the film coming from him, with him adding some great little elements of Nightcrawler’s character. However, most of the other performances range from forgettable to downright terrible. Jennifer Lawrence and Sophie Turner look bored playing Mystique and Jean Grey, Evan Peters as Quicksilver is pretty annoying here, what I feared he would be in Days of Future Past along with his action scenes presenting him as ludicrously overpowered, Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert and Alexandra Shipp as Storm give decent performance but nothing to do in the second half of the film, whilst Olivia Munn and Ben Hardy are complete non-entities as Psylocke and Angel, both of whom could have been cut out without impacting the story. The worst performance though easily comes from Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse. Normally, Isaac is one of the most exciting and versatile actors you’ll see in a film, with the films he was in last year (A Most Violent Year, Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens) showing this off. Here though, he has no character to work with, the make-up doesn’t give him a chance to be expressive and he spends most of the film stomping around and shouting, there is no depth to this performance, it’s just loud and irritating, something I never thought I’d say about an Oscar Isaac performance.
The technical aspects of the film are also a mixed bag. The CG ranges from impressive such as the destruction (although there is a weird detachment from everything that ignores how many millions of people died) and the way Apocalypse kills people, but the green screen work in the climax is laughable. The make-up work is pretty mixed, being excellent for Mystique and Beast but looking incredibly fake for Apocalypse, the same being true of the costume design, some of the costumes work well (such as Xavier’s suit and Nightcrawler’s Thriller jacket) but the others range from bland (the flight suits at the end of the film) to needlessly sexual (everything to do with Psylocke’s costume) to fake and plasticy ( The action scenes are a mixed bag, going back to the idea of repeating what worked in the other films there’s a full action scene that looks like it was ripped from X-Men 2 and the Quicksilver slow-motion scene from Days of Future Past is repeated twice but doesn’t work anywhere near as well as it did in Days of Future Past. The final action scene meanwhile feels incredibly cluttered and the environment in which it takes place feels really small and quite cheap. The film just doesn’t impress in the way it intends.
Overall, I was really disappointed with X-Men: Apocalypse, there are individual elements that work really well (mainly the performances from James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee) and there’s a lot of promise in the first act but this petters away into bland performances, an overly long and overstuffed plot all capped off with a terrible villain. It feels like Bryan Singer wanted to do a victory lap of everything that worked in the other X-Men films here but instead he’s made an incredibly forgettable film that doesn’t do justice to the promise set up with the ending of Days of Future Past.
My Rating: 2/5