Review: X-Men Apocalypse (2016)


Bryan Singer returns for his 4th outing directing on Fox’s X-Men cinematic saga. Does it stack up with X2: X-Men United or with X-Men 3: The Last Stand?


Bryan Singer made his reputation as a filmmaker with a string of independent film hits in the 1990’s. Films like The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil marked him as a director with an eye for intriguing casting decisions and subject matter and he was tapped by Fox to direct their big screen adaptation of Marvel Comics’ X-Men in 1999. The film was a big hit in an era when comic book films were becoming seen as camp and had less of an audience with the decline of Warner Brothers’ Batman franchise after the disappointing Batman & Robin in 1997. Many film fans considered Singer’s second foray into the X-Men universe, 2002’s X2: X-Men United as one of the best comic book films ever made as it teased an adaptation of the well-known Dark Phoenix Saga from the 1980’s comic books. However, even though Singer had made some headway into the planned 3rd X-Men film, he left the franchise to try and resurrect Warner Brothers’ Superman franchise with 2006’s critical and commercially disappointing Superman Returns. Brett Ratner attempt to save the X-Men franchise with 2006’s X-Men 3: The Last Stand planned to close out Fox’s X-Men trilogy and landed its own critical and commercial pans. It wasn’t until 2011’s X-Men: First Class, by Kick Ass and Layer Cake director Matthew Vaughn, that Fox attempted to right its continuity issues and introduce a team of X-Men in the 1960’s. The film was a tremendous critical success, owing to the casting of then somewhat unknown actors like Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence, and a smart script. Bryan Singer returned to the franchise with 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, a homecoming film that united the casts of Singer’s films with Vaughn’s and ret-conned the timeline of Singer’s original films to allow characters from those films to return without negating the original films. Days of Future Past was well-received and a commercial success. This weekend, Singer returns with his 4th X-Men film, X-Men Apocalypse, set in the 1980’s and picking up where the last film left off. Unfortunately, X-Men Apocalypse does not rise to the level of X2: X-Men United or even Days of Future Past.

X-Men Apocalypse starts off in ancient Egypt, where we learn an ages-old immortal mutant called En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) can transfer his essence into the vessels of other mutants and live forever, assuming the powers of those he melds with. He has a cadre of followers that make sure that humans worship En Sabah Nur as a god to enable his power to grow over time. If this seems at all reminiscent of the film Stargate, you wouldn’t be far off base. En Sah Nur even compares himself to that films protagonist Ra in order to draw more followers once he awakens in the 1980’s. En Sabah Nur now sees mutants are much more abundant and powerful amidst the wonder of 1980’s technology in this new world in which he has awakened. Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne reprising her role from X-Men: First Class) learns of the threat of Apocalypse from Xavier (James McAvoy), who we learned erased the events of their last adventure from her mind. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has brought Nightcrawler to Xavier’s Institute, now bustling with new mutants like Cyclops and Jean Grey, after helping him escape a life as a mutant slace cage fighting for money. En Sabah Nur has enhanced the powers of Angel, a mutant Nightcrawler was fighting Nightcrawler and other mutants for money, as well as Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and started a new group of Horsemen. As Xavier reaches out to find En Sabah Nur with Cerebro, he becomes a target, as Xavier’s powers would allow him to unleash an apocalypse and cleanse mankind except for the world’s most powerful mutants. Included among them is Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who having tried to retire from the world joins En Sabah Nur, once his family is killed by anti mutant policemen.

X-Men Apocalypse suffers from an under-cooked plot with too many characters and not enough compelling and consistent characterization. Magneto and Mystique seem to be given extremely out of character and prominent arcs mostly due to the prominence of the actors playing their parts. Mystique spend seconds at the most in her blue Mystique form. The relationship between Jean Grey and Xavier boils down to both being telepaths so thus they have a bond. Similarly, Cyclops and Jean Grey are both outsiders and their connection is flimsily based on that pretext. Evan Peters is once again given a showcase scene for his powers as Quicksilver much like the scene in Days of Future Past, which is eye-catching, but just draws attention to how this film isn’t as good as that one. Oscar Isaac tries his best to make his En Sabah Nur seem imposing, but his ultimate doomsday plot is right out of Superman IV: A Quest for Peace and creates more plot holes than awe in its scope. In a summer with superheroes fighting superheroes in Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War, X-Men Apocalypse aims for the biggest stakes of all 3 and delivers something more like a music video in its overabundant CGI spectacle than an epic operatic battle.

Ultimately, X-Men Apocalypse doesn’t live up to the bar set by the last 2 films in its lineage and despite having a lot of battle scenes and characters, still seems languid in its pacing and drags. There are some welcome moments, such as Easter egg appearances from characters like The Blob and Wolverine which will please comic book fans, but not enough to make Apocalypse a must see film this summer.