"X-Men: Apocalypse" finds "Days of Future Past" a tough act to follow
“X-Men: Apocalypse” is the ninth film to come out in the X-Men film series, but it's hard to tell exactly where it stands within the overall storyline. It's the third movie made with the cast that made its first appearance in “X-Men First Class” so it's would be tempting to call it finale of a trilogy. But with the interweaving of the new cast, playing the younger versions of the characters, and the original cast in the last movie, it can be difficult to draw a strict dividing line between the six ensemble movies. To add to the confusion, the timeline is completely screwed, leaving you wondering if the events of the original three movies are null and void. After the excellent “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” everything became unclear. The source material seems to have been completely chucked out of the passenger side window, giving free reign to the writers to advance the plot as they choose.
So with this scrambling of any continuity comes “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Apocalypse, also called En Sabah Nur, is the world’s first mutant. He ruled ancient Egypt with his Four Horseman, mutants whose powers he amplifies, before being betrayed during a “transference” ritual where he transfers his consciousness to a new, younger body, absorbing that body’s power in the process. The betrayal leaves him buried deep beneath a destroyed pyramid for a few millennia until being discovered by a cult who prays him back to life.
Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) awakens to find the world full of weakness. And a badass mutant god like Apocalypse cannot abide this to continue. So he sets out to recruit four new horseman and “cleanse” the world of its weakness.
Meanwhile, at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) is discovered and recruited into the academy where he meets a young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), showing the beginning of their future love story (maybe). Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) returns, after rescuing Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) from a mutant cage-fighting ring, to inform Xavier (James McAvoy) that Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has disappeared after being linked to a mass murder of cops in Poland.
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The story suffers from inconsistent pacing. It’s long periods of slow sipping followed by huge gulps, which make for some exciting moments, but can leave you feeling bored in between. The humor that made “Days of Future Past” so fun to watch was also noticeably absent. Aside from a couple funny moments provided by Quicksilver (Evan Peters), no other lines had more than a couple people in the theatre laughing. It felt like they tried to write it into the dialogue, but the jokes failed to land as they were too familiar and rehashed. This left little to contrast the dark and bloody overall tone of the movie.
It’s hard to believe that a two and a half hour movie can suffer from dilution of content, but the plot can feel a bit thin at times. Trying to connect all these characters and develop motivation for them feels a bit rushed, and the story ends up falling into a typical “save the world from destruction by an evil being” story. Even though this can be said of most superhero movies, “Apocalypse” fails to put any kind of unique twist on it.
Magneto starts the movie posing as your everyday, run-of-the-mill steel worker in Poland. He has a wife and daughter that he loves more than anything and all he wants to do is live a normal, average life with his family. But of course, the family has to be killed in order to get Magneto mad enough to be a bad guy for 65 percent of another movie.
The connection between him and his wife feels forced from the start and makes it hard to develop any connection when they do bite the dust. The setup feels cliche, and to make that worse, Magneto lets out the typical dramatic scream: “Nooooooooo!” I just wish he had a gun to aimlessly fire into the sky. These deaths give him reason to join Apocalypse in his quest for the end of humanity.
Apocalypse himself, one of the cooler comic book villains, feels shoddily written. For someone who is supposed to be god-like, his dialogue feels far too human and banal. He’s easily lumped together with every other typical comic villain, and Isaac doesn’t give a performance that would make him stand out the way that a performance like Heath Ledger’s did as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” This leaves a feeling of disappointment with a character who failed to live up to the hype of being an ultimate villain.
Turner, as Jean Grey, showed flashes of a great performance, but was unable to keep it up consistently. Her American accent was also particularly hard to deal with. Sheridan, who was great in “Mud” and “Joe,” didn’t feel like the right person to play the young, cocky Cyclops. He did a serviceable job, but felt miscast.
The standouts were Peters and Smit-Mcphee. Peters came back as Quicksilver and delivered his punchlines with the same clarity and precision as he did in “Days of Future Past.” It probably helps that Quicksilver is one of the coolest characters in the series and is given the signature scene where he does a ton of cool things in the span of two seconds. Smit-Mcphee portrays a teenage Nightcrawler and provides the laughs that Peters leaves over. Playing the awkward, teenage foreigner, he plays on that innocence to create a funny and likeable character.
The tightly written and fun ride that “Days of Future Past” provided probably made me judge this movie a bit more harshly than I normally would. But when you’re trying to put the bow on a huge series like this, with an epic villain like Apocalypse, you should come with your best. “Apocalypse” is not a bad movie. I enjoyed it. But it’s not a great movie, and it very well could have been.