I’ve said that I like the X-Men franchise in my previous reviews. They haven’t all been good – some have been really bad – but when the films work they’re really exciting. There are so many interesting characters in the source material that it should be an attractive prospect for any actor and writer. They can find at least one character that matches their sensibilities and provides them an outlet for their worldview.
It’s why I’m sad to say that X-Men: Apocalypse manages to highlight the absolute worst of comic book writing. And it fails because it’s obvious that no one in the cast was excited about the material and didn’t try to do anything fun. Most were phoning it in so badly that they were practically using a rotary.
What happened? After rebooting the series in The Days of Future Past, I was eager to see where the franchise would go. I was worried a reboot would mean character development might get tossed out the window, but the film franchise had always aimed higher than the comics and didn’t ignore character development. That wasn’t the case with Apocalypse.
It starts out so well. Apocalypse (Oscar Isaacs – yes, really) may be the first mutant in existence. He has the power to transfer his consciousness into other mutants – and gain their abilities in the process. He has four main followers and will frequently wreak havoc on the world when he feels it needs to be renewed. This power allows him to live as a god in ancient civilizations – until he’s sealed in a pyramid in Egypt.
These are exciting scenes that set up some good ideas. “OK,” I thought. “It’s an examination of religious extremism and cults. That’s really strong and could lead to some great moments.” The existence of Apocalypse in this universe proves several religions wrong and provides the filmmakers to dig deep into ancient mythology for inspiration.
But that sort of examination never happens. Instead we get the same thing we always get. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is trying desperately to live a good life in secret but is tempted back into evil. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is running his school with Beast (Nicholas Hoult). Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is doing what she can to blend in. Jean Grey (Sansa Stark -yes, I know her name is Sophie Turner, but until Game of Thrones is cancelled she’s Sansa Stark), a student of Xavier, meets a new student at the school named Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) who seems to have something wrong with his eyes. It’s pretty standard and their fate in either fighting of joining Apocalypse is not surprising.
The fact that Apocalypse is not as deep as its predecessors does not necessarily make it a failure. Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy were not “deep” either, but still met their ambitions and were a lot of fun. Apocalypse is not fun. It takes about an hour or so for the plot to take off. Before then, we’re being introduced to characters we’ve seen before and who are acting completely differently than the films would indicate. I know that the cast is younger and meant to play the characters still trying to understand their powers, but I can’t see the confident Jean Grey in Sophie Turner’s interpretation. It is interesting for about an hour seeing the X-Men in their younger days, but after an hour I wanted them to move on. The filmmakers had forgotten that these characters have already been explored and im not going to clap at seeing Nightcrawler and Angel when I already saw them in an X-Men film years ago. And that Quicksilver scene, in which he has to rescue practically everyone from an explosion, is pretty much what we saw in the previous film. It’s well done, but it doesn’t feel fresh.
Then they try to change the focus to their fight with Apocalypse, who goes to Egypt to destroy the world…for the sake of it, really. There’s a lot of CGI destruction effects, but I never felt like the world was in danger or wondered why I should care if Apocalypse succeeds. The fact that Isaacs doesn’t have fun makes the conflict even less worthwhile.
But of the main cast, Jennifer Lawrence gives the worst performance. She comes off as completely bored with her character. She’s rarely shown with the makeup, even though Mystique is supposed to be about embracing her true nature. We only see her imitate someone once and every line reading demonstrates no internal conflict that was what made her great in Days of Future Past. Her performance exemplifies everything wrong with Apocalypse. Everyone’s bored with the material and ignores what made their characters work.
I was wondering when audiences would grow tired of comic book movies. X-Men: Apocalypse shows a bigger danger – that the artists behind them are growing sick of the genre. Apocalypse does nothing new and none of the actors even try to explore their characters. It leads up to something that’s not an outright disaster but is completely bland. Apocalypse keeps the franchise at a standstill and acts as though things the franchise did 13 years ago are somehow new. The series is on autopilot and needs a very quick change if it hopes to stay relevant or even watchable.