So I watched X-Men: Apocalypse…
The X-Men movie franchise is a bit like the middle child of the superhero movie world. DC is the eldest brother who used to be super successful but has now started down a path of self-destruction; the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the youngest sibling who used to be nothing but cute but has recently proved themselves to be a prodigy. So that leaves X-Men somewhere in between. Sure, sometimes they’ll do something fantastic – like First Class – or something horrid – like The Last Stand – but the majority of the time, they don’t warrant a second glance. Unfortunately X-Men: Apocalypse does nothing to alter this perception.
Okay, basic plot: In ancient Egypt, a mutant named En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) rules over the land as a god. Disgruntled with the rule of this ‘false god’, a pocket of humans lead a revolution against him and bury him deep beneath the Earth – assuming him dead. Millennia later En Sabah Nur rises from his grave and is disgusted by what the world has become without his presence. He sets out on a mission to cleanse the world of the weak and rebuild a world where only the strong will survive. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Professor X (James McAvoy) and his X-Men must stand up against En Sabah Nur before he brings the apocalypse.
It’s been a long time since a movie has left me feeling this underwhelmed. I went to see this with my girlfriend and we’d periodically turn to each other and whisper, “when’s this movie going to get going?”. The answer is…never. X-Men: Apocalypse is in a constant state of beginning. Instead of a steady build-up that leads to climax, the film plateaus in its early minutes and never attempts to provide an entertaining journey or a satisfying climax. The film is so obsessed with introducing characters and setting up subplots that it completely forgets to propel its story forward. This movie does have a beginning and an end and events transpire between these two points to provide the illusion that the story is moving forward; but the film never delves into the endless number of introductions it provides and the result is a rather hollow story.
It’s quite clear that director, Bryan Singer struggled with balancing the different elements and characters in this film. He never decides on a focal character for us to follow and this leads to a muddled story that lacks focus and a steady pace. There are about fourteen characters which are central to this movie’s plot and seven of them are completely new. Now new characters and large ensemble casts can be fitted into a story rather seamlessly (as Civil War proved) as long as a clear hierarchy is established. We don’t need to know a character’s full life story or have them present in every scene for us to appreciate them and this is a lesson the X-Men movies need to learn. It’s a horrible cliche but less can truly be more. Especially when it comes to Wolverine. I love Hugh Jackman’s depiction of the character but we don’t need him to be present in every X Men movie. Give the guy (and the audience) a break.
Simon Kinberg – who wrote this film’s script – needed to scale back on certain characters so that others could be more well-developed. More detail should have been paid to En Sabah Nur who could have being a truly wondrous villain but is relegated to the Marvel discount bin of forgettable baddies. His motivations and powers are poorly defined and he never truly feels like a threat. Oscar Isaac does an alright job bringing him to life but you can tell that the character is missing the edge that would have made him truly menacing. Another thing lacking from this film is originality. It explores the exact same plot points from every other X-Men movie: Charles and Erik disagree on mutant/human relations, new mutants who can’t control their powers, evil humans experimenting on mutants. It’s all a little old now and so predictable that there’s no sense of danger because you know where things are going to end. I used to be a huge fan of the X-Men 90’s cartoon and while the themes listed above where cornerstones of the series, there were several story arcs that drifted away from these and I’d like to see those on the big screen.
A problem I’ve had with every X-Men movie is the lack of creativity in the display of the different mutants’ abilities. This leads to an ever present anti-climatic quality in every major action-sequence. Thinking back to Civil War once more, there’s a great sequence in an airport where Team Iron Man and Team Captain America are fighting each other. The best thing about that sequence was the creativity and ingenuity shown in how different superheroes fight each other. It wasn’t as simple as “I’m super strong so I’m going to punch this guy to death.”, We saw mashups and heroes having to adapt their style to differing opponents. That’s what I want to see in X-Men. I also want to see different mutants combining their powers to create new combinations that I’ve never seen or even imagined.
Look I like Jennifer Lawrence, I think she’s a talented actress and seems to be a likeable person in real life BUT I think she’s reached a point where her star power is hurting her portrayal of her character Mystique. I think it’s great that Mystique has been promoted to a more central figure – we need more female characters in prominent roles in major films. That being said, Mystique needs to be blue more often than she is! One of the appeals of the character is that even though she can transform into anyone, she chooses to stay in her natural blue state – unless she’s working – because mutants shouldn’t be ashamed of who and what they are.
Now I know that applying that make-up is a tedious process and consumes a lot of time but you knew what you were signing up for when you agreed to take on the role. Imagine if Chris Evans didn’t want to perform the grueling exercises needed to portray Captain America’s physique. Sure the movie does explain why Mystique chooses her human form over her natural blue but it’s clear that the filmmakers are trying to pander to Lawrence by removing the labour of full body make-up. I don’t agree with this at all and think that if you sign up to play a character, you’re obligated to do it right. Same thing goes for Nicholas Hoult as Beast. Play the character right or don’t do it at all!
Overall, X-Men: Apocalypse leaves me with the same feeling that previous X-Men films have left me with – wanting more. It always feels the X Men movies are setting up for a bigger, more exciting film and I hope one day to see that film. There’s far too much happening in this movie but nothing of it is of lasting substance. There are far better superhero movies out there and I suggest you watch those. 4/10