Had X-Men: Apocalypse been released a decade ago, it would have perhaps been met with fan boy praise and a strong critical reception. However, with the recent resurgence of the superhero genre, the bar has been considerably raised. Subsequently, the only thing that is exceptional about Apocalypse is how tedious it is. It’s a film of no consequence—though some might argue this is refreshing in the current era of connected franchises and constant sequel baiting—it leaves the third part of Fox’s X-Men prequel series feeling about as deep as the underwhelming new mutants added to the bloated cast.
Although the titular Apocalypse has a reasonably intriguing backstory which is set up quite effectively in the film’s opening moments, there’s little else of note about the villain. As a supposedly all-powerful being hell-bent on destroying the world for little reason other than because he can, Apocalypse is very much from the same mold as countless other comic book movie villains. The biblical parallels are obvious, between his world cleansing motives and his four horseman followers, but this aspect of the movie feels decidedly cheap and a tad gimmicky. Oscar Isaac may be riding a post-Star Wars high but he brings almost nothing unique to the growling blue bad guy. Apocalypse, like so many before him, is a comic book villain that is frequently described as a threat, but the film bares little evidence to substantiate such claims.
There’s little else to the film other than Apocalypse’s return, after being buried under rubble for centuries beforehand along with his plan for humanity’s annihilation. The first two-thirds of the film are spent assembling his team while the X-Men just sort of mope around. Then you’re treated to probably the most anticlimactic final showdown since Fantastic Four. The film’s narrative is as conventional as comic book movies comes with director Bryan Singer taking absolutely zero creative risks.
There’s an ill-judged return to the Weapon X facility around halfway through, which is the very embodiment of padding. This detour is clearly a cheap way to get Wolverine briefly into the film because it’s apparently impossible to make an X-Men film without some form of appearance from Hugh Jackman. X-2 handled the Stryker/Weapon X element perfectly, so returning to it here feels pointless when compared to the franchise’s previous exertion into the sinister corporation.
There are plenty of new mutants on display, from younger incarnations of Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), to newcomers Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Angel (Ben Hardy). Turner’s respectable take on Jean aside, all of them are either irritating or so poorly fleshed out that you’ll struggle to name them. In the case of Psylocke, she’s given so little to do that her inclusion is genuinely puzzling. A large focus is placed on the trio of young mutants, but both Nightcrawler and Cyclops feel like little more than fan service, which is a shame because the former was a highlight of X-2.
It’s the returning CIA agent Moria MacTaggert (Rose Bryne) that embodies the film’s approach to character inclusion. Bryne’s Moria is nothing more than set dressing, and unfortunately she’s not the only member of the cast condemned to this fate. It’s clear that the decision to simply throw as many mutants and characters into Apocalypse as possible was made presumably with the misguided assumption that more always equals better
Mystique has always had an unnecessarily large role in this prequel series, probably due to the general star power and bankability of Jennifer Lawrence, and that trend continues here. The blue shapeshifter starts the film liberating oppressed mutants and by the end is giving rousing speeches to the largely forgettable crew of X-Men. Lawrence has made no secret of her desire to exit the X-Men franchise once her contracted three movies are up, and her phoned in performance here is simply more proof of that. Though her scenes with Beast (Nicholas Hoult) are rather sweet, despite their brevity.
James McAvoy returns as a slightly wiser Professor X, though it’s his newly shaved head that is probably most memorable about his third outing as the telepathic mutant. Michael Fassbender is once again this franchise’s saving grace as the conflicted Magneto. As per usual, his tragic backstory is touched upon. Although it’s already familiar, it’s one of the few elements of the film that emotionally resonates. The opening sees Magneto attempt to live a normal life while hiding for his crimes in Days of Future Past. The audience, of course, knows this domestic family life is fleeting but it affords an already complex character a little more substance. Without Fassbender it’s fair to say that there would be absolutely no reason to suffer through Apocalypse.
After his endlessly over-hyped part in Days of Future Past, Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is given a meatier role this time around. There’s a very similar scene of him moving around at supersonic speed set to equally cheesy music that feels pandering and more than a little derivative. Quicksilver is basically a walking deus ex machina, which creates a real problem as there’s the constant sense that every conflict could easily be fixed by him. Thankfully Bryan Singer gets around this by giving Apocalypse basically any super power that the situation demands with no real rhyme or reason.
The expired cherry on top of this Sundae of disappointment is that for such a big budget feature much of the film looks and sounds cheap. The effects are particularly ropy in the final action sequence which stops Apocalypse from even being passable as a slice of blockbuster escapism. For the eighth entry in the X-Men franchise, ninth if you include Deadpool from earlier this year, it’s remarkable how amateurish Apocalypse feels. The effects are at times laughable, the choreography alarmingly flat, and some of the dialogue during the third act is so poorly written and poorly delivered that it feels like an X-Men fan film. Some of the flaws could be forgiven if this was Fox’s first bite of the apple, but at this point they’ve eaten practically the whole thing, and such a lacklustre effort cannot be so easily forgiven.
X-Men: Apocalypse is almost a greatest hits of superhero genre tropes, bringing absolutely nothing new to a very crowded table. The new characters are generally underwhelming while the inclusion of much of the returning cast feels forced. The villain, who initially seems interesting, quickly descends into a boring clichéd brute. X-Men: Apocalypse does feel like a suitable third entry to Fox’s prequel series, though that’s purely because it continues the trend of being worse than its predecessor.