Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Evan Peters, Oliva Munn, Rose Byrne, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp
I thought it would be a slam-dunk no-brainer that the casting of Oscar Isaac in the latest and final film in the new X-Men trilogy would make it the best one yet. I now realize I was reaching a bit due to my love of the actor. In case you’re unfamiliar, he played the heroic Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the title character in Inside Llewyn Davis. Now he’s playing the mother of all X-Men villains, Apocalypse. The film opens in 3600 BCE in ancient Cairo with a transformation ceremony where he is given the gift of eternity. After a very CGI heavy opening sequence, he is sequestered into hibernation buried deep beneath a pyramid. Cut to 1983 and we pick up years after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Charles Xavier (McAvoy) is now running his school for gifted students. Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Fassbender) has started a new life in Poland where he has changed his name, has a job, and takes care of his wife and daughter. Raven/Mystique (Lawrence) has been off on her own helping other mutants she meets along the way. One of them is Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee) whom she brings to Xavier’s school.
Another character coming back into play is Rose Byrne’s Moira MacTaggert, a CIA agent we first met in X-Men First Class. She heads to Cairo trying to find a connection to a mutant group who are believed to be dated back many centuries ago. That connection could lead to the very first mutant, Apocalypse. While she is there his powers are awoken and he is unleashed into the real world again. This time he has his sights set on total world annihilation in hopes of rebuilding it again. He recruits Storm (Shipp), Angel (Hardy), Psylocke (Munn), and Magneto to help him take down Xavier.
As with the other two films in the new trilogy, we are continuing to see the background and early days of the mutants we were first introduced to in Bryan Singer’s original trilogy when they were all adults. Screenwriter Simon Kinberg, who has previously been a writer and producer on the trilogy, brings in other fan favorites as well with Jean Grey (Turner) and Scott Summer/Cyclops (Sheridan) as students at Xavier’s school. Their budding romance comes into play, and Jean Grey’s telekinesis plays a big factor into the climax. Singer is back on board and makes this the fourth film he’s directed in the two trilogies. I’m a pretty big fan of the series overall as the X-Men were the Marvel characters I grew up watching long before I delved into the Avengers. It can be a bit daunting trying to keep everything together in your head from both trilogies, especially as timelines have been altered quite a bit throughout the six films.
There’s a scene in the film when Jubilee, Jean, Scott, and Nightcrawler are walking out of a movie theater showing Return of the Jedi and they comment on how the third film is always the worst. It’s as if Kinberg already knew that he was writing a mediocre script that couldn’t compare to the other films. I was already having that thought before this scene, and Kinberg’s analysis basically cemented that idea for me. Was he trying to be clever or just point out the obvious? It’s an extremely choppy script as he’s constantly jumping from one scene to the next to fit all the characters in and feel like they’re given ample screen time. The film begins with everyone literally all over the map so it takes some energy and effort to get them all back under one roof. All of this quick back and forth doesn’t give enough quality time with any one character or subplot to really feel any weight or emotion. Many characters often feel like they were added just to please fans without any decent justification. So much of the humanity and heart within these characters is missing.
One of the aspects I loved about the other films in the franchise is that the X-Men were treated like regular human characters who just happen to be gifted with special powers. They were placed in a real life setting where they had to learn how to control and use those powers for good. Take Days of Future Past for example, the ‘70s timeframe led to President Nixon being a character with the villain standing by him during the climax. The placement in reality is basically thrown out the window here. I’m not saying we need real historical figures to make that happen, but Apocalypse becomes so reliant on CGI that it tonally doesn’t seem to fit what has come before. I am not as familiar with the actual comic books, but this film definitely feels the most cartoonish and colorful film in the franchise. Is this all coming from the decision to use Apocalypse as the main villain? He is a core character, so it was only a matter of time before he came into play, but his swirling, shifting, spinning powers make the film feel more like Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy than an X-Men film. Maybe die-hard comic book fans will rejoice in how they treat the character, but like many CGI laden films watched through 3D glasses, it just looks cheap to me.
I mentioned my adoration of Oscar Isaac previously, but even he can’t save the title character. It just seems so odd to me as he becomes totally lost underneath a purple prosthetic make-up design. He’s downright unrecognizable and not given quality material to play with for an actor of his stature and the unique qualities he usually can bring to a character. There’s also some auto-tune done with his voice, which continually left me scratching me head in every scene. He’s too good of an actor to be buried underneath this character. There has been hype surrounding Olivia Munn (The Newsroom) who is also new to the series playing Psylocke, one of Apocalypse’s right hand associates. I feel like she could have been a cool character as she thrashes her purple electric whip around and uses an electric blade, but she’s basically reduced to evil stares into the camera.
The core to all three of these films belongs to Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, and James McAvoy. While they are not completely wasted in this film, there’s this overriding feeling like maybe they are too big now for this franchise. Lawrence and Fassbender have multiple Oscar nominations under their belt with Lawrence having won as well. She has to give a few motivational speeches in the film to some of the other X-Men, but I winced a few times with the cheesy dialogue she is forced to deliver. Fassbender is given some nice moments with his family in the Poland scenes before he is forced back into his Magneto helmet. Evan Peters is back as Quicksilver, the comic relief of the film. He provides some good laughs and is given another slo-mo action sequence to capitalize on his powers. It’s one of the biggest and best scenes in the whole film.
This is the third superhero film this year following Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War. All three are well over the two-hour marker and all three are heavy on subplots trying to fit a plethora of characters together. X-Men: Apocalypse takes on way too much and just doesn’t know how to make it all work. Frankly, I found myself not caring most of the time, which is shame, as I really do love these characters and actors. Bryan Singer has been the original head honcho on this franchise since day one, and it just feels like a let down to see it come to this.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Sadly this film won’t win over anyone new to the characters.
RATING: 2 out of 5 TICKET STUBS