Under Review: “X-Men: Apocalypse”

Movie poster for X-Men: Apocalypse.

Creative Commons

Movie poster for “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

Oh, “X-Men: Apocalypse.” I had such high hopes for you. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you for more than two years, hoping you would carry on the legacy of “X-Men: First Class” (2011) and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014). Sadly, you fell short. Very, very short.

The plot of “Apocalypse” revolves around an all-powerful mutant, the titular Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), who was worshipped by the Egyptians before being betrayed and buried in a pyramid in the 37th century BCE. When he is accidentally revived in 1983, Apocalypse is disgusted by the state of society and vows to destroy and rebuild civilization with the help of his four sidekicks (or horsemen, if you will).

I disliked this movie from the very first scene, where Apocalypse transfers into a new body as thousands of worshippers pray. The mysterious glowing symbols, gravity-defying liquids, and constant background chanting made this transfer seem like ancient magic. Of course, we can’t expect correct science in a superhero movie. But Charles Xavier, or Professor X, (James McAvoy) was a genetics professor, and much of the universe set up in “First Class” revolved around genetics and explaining the existence of mutants—all that groovy science. When they threw all that away in “Apocalypse,” it was really an unpleasant jolt.

Another huge detractor was lack of politics and consequences in “Apocalypse.” The central question of the original trilogy was whether mutants could be accepted into society. “First Class” revolved around the Cuban Missile Crisis; “Days of Future Past” was about government precautions against mutants and the public’s changing views on them. Meanwhile, although “Apocalypse” clumsily inserts CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) into a minor, purposeless role, we don’t see any further elaboration of public attitudes towards mutants after the events of “Days of Future Past.” The fact that the government barely reacted to the world-ending event of the film’s climax suggests that there are few consequences of mutants using their powers, which completely negates previous messages.

The political and cultural elements of X-Men made the universe rich and believable. They expanded the scope of the characters’ actions and gave context to the long-standing feud between Erik (Michael Fassbender) and Charles. “Apocalypse” completely misses this point.

The body count of “Apocalypse” was probably 500% that of all the other X-Men movies combined. Although this might be expected from a movie whose title promises the end of the world, the deaths were treated in a trivial way and shown hyper-graphically, which seemed more suited to a Tarantino flick than an X-Men movie. If this was a stylistic choice, it was the wrong one.

Oscar Isaac plays the titular villainous mutant in "X-Men: Apocalypse."
Creative Commons
Oscar Isaac plays the titular villainous mutant in “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

Right off the bat, the universe was handled poorly, but “Apocalypse” could still have been saved by its characters. Sadly, they were also poorly executed.

The two most iconic X-Men characters are Professor X and Magneto, yet both fell unbelievably flat in “Apocalypse,” with the tired stories (from prior films) of Erik’s anger over the death of his family members and Charles’ martyrdom. Both seem to play almost meaningless roles in a universe centered around them.

As mentioned above, Moira was a one-dimensional love interest rather than the highly capable government agent she was in “First Class.” Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Jubilee (Lana Condor) , two of the characters I was most looking forward to seeing (hint: they are both Asian females), had maybe three lines total. Filmmakers tried to introduce so many new mutants that they were all unremarkable.

“Apocalypse” focused on relationships—Charles and Moira, Erik and his daughter—but on all the wrong ones. I was so excited to see (unpopular opinion) my favorite X-Men, brothers Scott (Tye Sheridan) and Alex Summers (Lucas Till), finally be in a movie together, but Alex’s role was so small it hurt me. Instead, the movie chose to focus on the relationship between Scott and Jean (Sophie Turner), which has already been done to death in the original trilogy.

The worst aspect was not seeing anything new regarding Erik and Charles. I may or may not have cried at the end of “First Class” when Erik left Charles on the beach after paralyzing him, and again in “Days of Future Past” at “goodbye, old friend” when Erik flew away. There were no emotional moments in “Apocalypse;” it’s like this film regressed in character development.

Not to say that this movie was completely terrible. The return of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) was as hilarious and endearing as audiences expected. The CGI and action scenes were incredibly well-done. If this was some standalone action flick I would have enjoyed it, but as an X-Men movie it falls short.

“Apocalypse” could best be summed up with a scene from the movie itself. There’s a throwaway line after Jean, Scott, Kurt and Jubilee see “Return of the Jedi” when someone comments that the third film is always the worst. This was intended as a jab at “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006), but it applies more to “Apocalypse” itself. Yes, this means that I think this movie is even worse than “The Last Stand,” which was so bad “Days of Future Past” had to literally go back in time and undo its damage.

This film is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 144 minutes.