There’s a point in X-Men: Apocalypse where the new additions to the mutant ensemble; Jean Grey, Nightcrawler and Cyclops walk out of the cinema after seeing Return of the Jedi. After debating about what’s the best Star Wars movie Jean shares a meta moment with us when she utters the self-shaming ‘at least we can all agree the third one is always the worst’. Though it’s stupid to say Bryan Singer was expecting his film to flop, he did well to foreshadow the response that his second stab at the new X-Men would have on audiences and critics alike. Unfortunately with the success of the likes of Captain America: Civil War and the MCU as a whole it only adds pressure to these other superhero films who are really fading under the weight of expectation. 10 years ago X-Men: Apocalypse may have stood stronger, but now its flaws are harder to hide.
Despite being predominantly set in the eighties, X-Men: Apocalypse initially takes us back to ancient Egypt where a mutant God (Apocalypse) has ruled for an apparent millenia. With a last ditched coup however, Apocalypse and his four mutant horsemen succumb to destruction and are entombed deep below the Earth’s surface for thousands of years. Coincidentally, Apocalypse is uncovered in modern day(ish) time where we are 10 years after the events of Days of Future Past; Professor X building his school for the gifted and Magneto attempting to raise a family in Poland.
The film’s limited successes come early on with its introduction of familiar yet fresh blood. Classic characters re-introduced alongside those already established in this story adds another level of familiarity for fans that gets you on board early. If the franchise is expected to continue (and with the post credits scene it appears so) then they need to keep on increasing the X-Men roster, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. With Olivia Munn’s Psylocke aside the current crop were fun to watch, but it’s unsure without the powerhouse performances of McAvoy and Fassbender that they would be able to carry a film on their own. Even the introduction of the reliable Oscar Isaac was wasted here as a villain that didn’t live up to his comic book lore. As for Jennifer Lawrence, Bryan Singer clearly didn’t get the message that she isn’t all that anymore.
As expected though it was the partnership of Fassbender and McAvoy that carried much of the weight of the film and both are stand outs as expected, but even these two struggled at points with a script that lacked subtlety. There was plenty of acting talent available but their dialogue was basic and sloppy, adding nothing to scenes other than explanations of what was already obvious. Even Bryan Singer, who has earned my faith in the franchise, made some terrible editing decisions that smothered much of the film’s charm. Other than the humorous yet out of place Quiksilver scene, the action on show was terribly edited, looking like a choppy 3D mess that was really poor to watch, so much so that I was actually wishing for more of the pathetic dialogue exchanges from earlier in the movie.
And their lies the the problem of X-Men: Apocalypse. If you take it aside from its two predecessors and compare it to the three original X-Men films it could probably fit quite comfortably when looking at quality, but we’ve been spoilt. Even the cameo of everyone’s favourite Weapon X felt like it was a cheap trick to bring in applause that appeared to fall flat. Unfortunately, the genre needs to keep pushing to new boundaries and Apocalypse was only able to sing from old hymn sheets. With Fox seemingly wanting to soldier on, there is need for a real shake up to bring X-Men back to the modern day.