X-Men: Apocalypse Review: Is the third one always the worst?

Hey, Everybody and Welcome to another review from Flickmuncher.com! I apologize for taking so long to put up another review on this blog but things have been really crazy lately as I’ve been getting ready to move as well as working on writing my book and a couple other major projects. As such I haven’t had as much time to pay attention to this blog. However, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to start providing a steadier stream of reviews again in the coming months. With that said, let’s get right into the review. This is X-Men: Apocalypse.

 

 

WARNING – THERE WILL BE SPOILERS

 

 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the X-Men franchise, they are a group of movies based off the Marvel heroes of the same name who are mutants in a world where they are feared and hated by the people they are trying to protect.

Now, to give a bit of background, it’s important to understand that though the X-Men were created under the Marvel Comics banner, they have absolutely nothing to do with Iron Man, Captain America or the other heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The reason for this is that back in the 1990s, Marvel was on the verge of bankruptcy. To avoid this, they agreed to sell the film rights to some of their biggest characters to some of the movie studios. At the time, Spiderman and the X-Men were considered to be the most marketable characters that Marvel had. Spiderman ended up going to Sony Pictures, while 20th Century Fox picked up the rights to the Fantastic Four and the X-Men.

The result was the first X-Men movie (directed by Brian Singer) which was released in 2001. It was a modest hit and Fox continued to make them and the X-Men franchise is the longest running superhero franchise in history. So what’s the story?

The movie starts in 1983, ten years after the events of the previous movie, Days of Future Past. The world is quiet and Professor Charles Xavier is quietly tending his “school for gifted youngsters” in Westchester, New York, taking on several new students including a young Scott Summers (Cyclops) and Jean Grey. Meanwhile, Xavier’s long-time frenemy Magneto is living a quiet life in Poland with a wife and daughter. All seems well with the world. But that peace is doomed when an evil awakens from the ancient past in the form of the first mutant, Apocalypse, who wishes to tear down man’s entire world and raise himself up as its new ruler.

If it sounds to you like the premise is a bit generic as superhero fare goes then I would definitely agree with you. This is one of the movie’s largest flaws. In a day and age when superhero movies have started exploring stories beyond the simple save-the-world scenario, this movie’s story seems rather rote. Surprisingly so actually, given that the X-Men have some of the most interesting stories to tell, an inherent trait of the “persecuted heroes” concept that they champion. I won’t say that the save-the-world plot shouldn’t be done at all, it’s been done really well in such films as Superman-The Movie and The Avengers. But the X-Men have always worked best when focusing on the characters and their struggles with being the protectors of people who hate them. That is the core strength of the X-Men as a whole. And while this movie touches on that struggle it is not the focus. Rather the story is about stopping the bad guy who is bent on destroying the planet. I’ll get to my thoughts on Apocalypse in a little bit.

Please don’t misunderstand me though, there are a number of things in this movie that I really liked and I think are great about both the X-Men movies and the X-Men in general. The biggest of these is Magneto’s (Michael Fassbender) subplot. I mentioned in the story summary that Magneto has settled down to live a quiet life with his new wife and daughter while working in a steel-mill. What happens to cause him to return to his alter-ego is heartbreaking and chilling. Much of this is carried by Fassbender’s performance. You see the weight of everything he’s done, everything he’s lost, and all the anger and resentment he holds, just through the expressions in his eyes. That is the indication of a truly good performance where the actor is truly doing everything he can to get the right emotions out of the scene.

In contrast, we have Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). I’ve heard a number of people refer to her performance in this movie as “phoned in” and I tend to agree. Phoning it in is a Hollywood term for a particularly wooden performance, as though they’re doing little more than reciting words from the script. There’s very little emotion involved in what they’re doing. I understand that Jennifer Lawrence is a popular award-winning actress but even the best actors have bad performances and this is one where Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t look like she wants to be there, at all. This affects the film because so much of it revolves around her character. She is one of the major moving pieces that the plot needs to get where it’s going. Because Lawrence’s performance is so wooden it’s tough to believe in what the character is doing or what she’s after and the movie as a whole suffers for it.

One of the major points about this film is that its bringing in younger versions of the original X-Men films with Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). This was really exciting for me because while they appeared in the original movies, they were always outshone by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) who was the real focus of those films in spite of the fact that they were called, y’know, X-Men movies. I still hold that Fox should rename the originals The Wolverine Trilogy, with appearances by the X-Men but I digress.

The three I just mentioned have always been the X-Men to me. And this was the first film that I felt actually made good use of them as characters. Admittedly they do take a backseat to Magneto, Professor X (James McAvoy), and Mystique but I enjoyed seeing them work together using their powers. There’s even a sequence where they have to infiltrate a military base to rescue their teachers. I could watch a whole movie just of that. It’s really fun to watch and the acting by the three is great, especially Sophie Turner as Jean Grey though she does get the most to do of all three.

On the flipside, we have Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen: Magneto, Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Storm (Alexandra Shipp). The Horsemen are supposed to be the most powerful mutants on the planet with their abilities augmented by Apocalypse’s own power. But really, aside from Magneto, none of them are given any but the barest of backstory and personality. Olivia Munn as Psylocke only gets two lines in the whole movie. Furthermore, their reasons for joining Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) aren’t made clear beyond simply becoming more powerful. This makes them feel more like standard henchmen than true threats in their own right.

This brings me to Apocalypse himself. To give some context to his place in X-lore, while Magneto may be the X-Men’s most well-known villain, Apocalypse is their greatest foe. His very name is enough to inspire dread in even the most powerful of mutants. He is Magneto’s agenda taken to its ultimate extreme. For while Magneto desires a world where mutants are dominant, Apocalypse wants a world where only the strongest of mutants survive, wiping humanity out entirely. The X-Men have faced him multiple times in the comics and each time have only just succeeded. He is their ultimate threat.

Which is why I find it so odd that this version of Apocalypse doesn’t feel very threatening. He is uber-powerful and he does kill a lot of people but those he kills are either people we want to see die, or people we didn’t care about. Magneto probably kills more people in this movie than Apocalypse does. Part of the reason for this is he never really harms any character that we really care about so it makes him seem like less of a threat. Even his mental battle with Professor X is unthreatening because he’s only getting bigger. His costume doesn’t help things. I give Oscar Isaac (who incidentally plays Poe Dameron in Star Wars VII) full credit for doing his best to act beneath all those prosthetics and makeup but there’s only so much he can do to mask how cumbersome the costume looks. At times it almost seems like he’s ready to fall over on one of his Horsemen. This leads me to think that despite the filmmakers’ desire to do Apocalypse practically he might have worked better and been more impressive if they’d used motion-capture, the technique used to create Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Obviously this can’t change but it is disappointing because Apocalypse is a villain whose talents and goals are usually so massive in scope and yet here he feels surprisingly small.

That metaphor could also be applied to the action in this movie. There is a setpiece with Quicksilver saving everyone in the school as it explodes which is easily a highlight of the entire film, and the sequence I mentioned earlier where Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler infiltrate the Weapon X facility. These are both really enjoyable sequences but aside from them the action is decidedly lacking in creativity and narrative weight. Especially the climax which seems remarkably isolated for an apocalyptic event. I don’t think I saw one innocent bystander at all during the fight. That’s not to say you should always have bystander’s in the fight but when Apocalypse is planning to control the entire population of Earth using Professor X and our heroes are the only ones doing anything about it, it makes it feel less important than it should be. At least in Man of Steel and The Avengers they showed the armed forces doing something to help the situation.

The one thing I did really like about the climactic battle was the reveal of Jean Grey as the Phoenix firebird. That moment was just as awe inspiring as it should have been and I’m hopeful that we’ll get to see the Dark Phoenix Saga from the comics done right in a future entry.

Finally, one last thing I’d like to address is Professor X constantly letting Magneto walk away. It’s becoming a bit irritating to see this happen time and again where Magneto does something bad that endangers or kills hundreds of people and yet the Professor lets him walk because…they’re friends. This time was even worse because Magneto, thanks to Apocalypse’s augmentation, levels half the cities around the globe at one time. They never say how many people died or were injured because of this but you can’t tell me no one got hurt in that catastrophe. Even my suspension of disbelief only stretches so far. Magneto should be an even more hunted criminal than before.

This extends to Storm as well who started out as a Horseman and yet by the end is a welcomed member of the team in spite of the fact that she only helped them out at the very end of the climax and was aide to the destruction of thousands of lives. To quote Commodore Norrington from the Pirates of the Caribbean, “One good deed does not redeem a man from a lifetime of wickedness”. There have to be consequences and to see these characters misuse their powers and walk away without any repercussion or even welcomed into the fold is a very unwise thing to do. I get that Magneto is an anti-hero with an understandable perspective but that doesn’t justify his actions or Professor X condoning his actions by letting him go. It makes his and the X-Men’s crusade to protect people from mutants using their power irresponsibly seem foolhardy, especially when that person has shown time and again that he’s just going to go back to the same old routines. It’s like cleaning up a drug addict and then dropping him off on the same street where his dealer works, it won’t change him. I only hope that they address this in future X-films.

 

Conclusion: My rant aside, this is still a movie that has an upside in that it actually makes you think about things and it’s the closest thing we’ve gotten to an actual X-Men film so far. However, this upside is buried beneath the poor execution of the film itself. Sabotaged by poor creative choices, wooden acting, a sub-par villain, and an ultimately uninteresting story, it fails to live up to the potential that everyone could see.

There’s a scene in the movie where the kids come out of a showing for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Jean Grey says the line, “Well, I think we can all agree that the third movie is always the worst.” I find that a bit ironic since this is the third film in its line and while its meant to be a slam against the abysmal X-Men: The Last Stand, it also ends up slamming itself in the process as the third film in its line. While I don’t think that X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past are masterpieces, I do think that they are both better than this one. They have better conflicts, better acting, more interesting characters, and are just put together much more solidly.

This movie does set up a lot of interesting potential for the future with the return of the classic X-Men and the possibility of the Dark Phoenix but until we see those things realized in another movie it remains just that, potential. As it stands X-Men: Apocalypse is a fun but disappointing entry into the franchise. If you’re a real fan of the series or the X-Men in general, you’ll find plenty to enjoy but if you are on the fence I’d recommend saving your money for a rental.

 

Recommendation: Rental Worthy

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