In what must be some sort of record, the X-Men series makes its second go at a meaningful trilogy with X-Men: Apocalypse. The last time the franchise went for a triumvirate, the woeful X-Men: The Last Stand was the result. Now, a decade later, Bryan Singer has decided to have a go at making a third film for the mutants himself in what is his four outing overall for the characters. And though it certainly isn’t the complete disaster of The Last Stand, Apocalypse is an all too vivid reminder of just how far comic book movies have come since the first X-Men in 2000.
Following on from 2014’s time-travel fuelled system reset Days of Future Past, Apocalypse picks up a decade later, in the early ’80s. James McAvoy‘s Charles Xavier is busy running his school for gifted children, while Michael Fassbender‘s Magneto has started a new life with a new family in Poland with an alias. Their respective peace is shattered when ancient Egyptian all-powerful mutant En Sabah Nur, played by the woefully under-utilized Oscar Isaac, is reawakened from a millenia-spanning slumber and decides to take control of planet Earth as its one true leader.
The problem with Apocalypse is that it’s a two-and-a-half-hour reminder that we’re unlikely to ever see an X-Men film on the scale and strength of any of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s offerings with the current production regiment. The story being adapted is one of the X-Men’s most legendary, and one that makes for easy drama on a global scale. Yet for all the various locations and countries visited, it all feels rather small and underwhelming.
The fight scenes are poorly choreographed and so covered in CGI and special effects, moments border on comedy. The new cast members, including Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and Alexandra Shipp, are given little to do bar look generally confused and scared until it’s their turn to add to the lightshow. Meanwhile Jennifer Lawrence, reprising her role as the shapeshifting Mystique, looks so disinterested no matter where she is it’s a wonder she even showed up in the first place. Evan Peters‘ Quiksilver, is, once again, given the most legitimately entertaining scenes, themselves a redux of his memorable sequence in Days of Future Past.
Comparisons with the recent Captain America: Civil War are unfair, but Fox proved they could do an adaptation that played to the strengths of the character it portrayed earlier this year with Deadpool. A big reason that was so successful was because it was honest and forthright about the character as he is on the page and why people liked him in the first place. Apocalypse is simply retrograde in contrast, Singer seeming militant to cling to an aesthetic and tone that has long been outgrown. There’s no sense of cohesion in moving from one scene to the next, a totally pointless detour for a series staple to cameo just spliced right into the middle. The global scale is only exploited for visual cues, with the last act a complete wash in computer generated destruction that everyone seems happy to shrug off by the end.
The moments where the film does provide something of worth are entirely predictable. Big character moments are teased so blatantly it’s like the script stopped short of talking to the audience. What’s worse is seeing the returning actors who do seem to care – Fassbender, McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult – wasted on already well-trodden character arcs and plotlines that just cycle back into themselves, rendering the film’s events seemingly pointless.
Anyone who finds themselves enjoying the wide selection of superhero and comic book movies and TV shows out right now owes a debt to Bryan Singer‘s X-Men. It was a revelation for fans and for the industry. And, fair dues, 16 years later it finally got a trilogy that doesn’t end with an almost franchise ending catastrophe. Apocalypse may be bad, but it’s just bland and harmless enough that it plays the part without being too egregious. They even manage to do it with a slight sense of self-awareness at their previous mistakes. But if Apocalypse tells us anything, it’s that it’s time for Singer to retire his black spandex suits for good.