When the negative reviews for X-Men: Apocalypse started coming in, I was surprised. The X-Men franchise can generally be relied upon to provide solid entertainment, if not anything really spectacular: in my opinion, the only “bad” one is X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and even that’s far from the worst superhero movie ever. I decided to see this movie anyway, as I do sometimes go against the critical consensus: I liked X-Men: The Last Stand better than X-Men: First Class, for example. But having seen this film, I’m with the Rotten Tomatoes rating: I was disappointed.
We open in ancient Egypt, where Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the all-powerful first mutant, rules as a god. As he performs a ritual that will grant him immortality, he is betrayed by his followers, and left entombed under the remains of his pyramid. Flash forward to 1983, where Apocalypse is set free: recruiting four powerful mutants to be his servants, including the ever-tortured Magneto (Michael Fassbender), he sets forth on his plans for world domination – and only Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his X-Men can stop him. (If you’re wondering how this fits into the timelines and continuity of the previous X-Men films, by the way, don’t ask me – I’ve given up trying to make sense of it.)
If the above plot summary seems simplistic, that’s because it is. This film literally involves cities being ripped apart from the ground up, yet still doesn’t have a grand enough scale. Broken down into the basic plot points, the whole story is more fitting for an episode of a TV show than a 142-minute film: there’s little sense of tension until the very end. This is compounded by the fact that Apocalypse, who is thousands of years old and wields incredible power, still manages to be a really boring villain. There’s little that’s fresh or lively in his performance, despite a lot of distorted shouting; and again, it isn’t until the end that he really comes across as unbeatable. I remember Apocalypse in the X-Men animated series being much more intimidating than this. The story also places a lot of focus on Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and her learning not to be afraid of her powers, but as Turner also gives a very flat performance, this isn’t very compelling either.
Michael Fassbender still shows off impressive acting chops as Magneto, but as with so much in this film, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Early on, the character suffers a personal tragedy, the staging of which comes off as silly more than anything else: I wasn’t even sure what had happened for a few moments. Soon after, Magneto has his first encounter with Apocalypse, right when he’s about to deliver a big dramatic revenge on the people who wronged him: the film appears to show some self-awareness as Magneto turns to Apocalypse and says “Who the *** are you?”, in a tone that says “Excuse me, I’m reminding everyone how dark and tortured I am and you’ve ruined my moment!”
Easily the best thing about this film is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who is as funny as he was in the last film, and gets a lot more screentime as well. He has another extended scene where he carries out life-saving tasks in a slow-motion environment, this time to the tune of The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This” – but while this is funny to watch, it also feels inappropriate: what is happening during this scene is actually really serious, and it’s jarring to suddenly cut to Quicksilver doing his thing. There are also some good individual scenes, like when Apocalypse takes Magneto to the remains of Auschwitz. The action is OK, but there is so little time spent fighting each of Apocalypse’s mutant followers individually, that it feels like wasted potential: it could have been brilliant, and it just isn’t.
X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t an actively bad film – it’s not just not terribly entertaining and doesn’t bring anything new to the table. There’s little in the way of deep character and theme exploration: it’s just another story in the lives of the X-Men, and nothing more. I recommend you wait for the DVD release. Rating: 2.5/5.