X-Men: Apocalypse Director: Bryan Singer
Screenwriter: Simon Kinberg
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till, Evan Peters, Hugh Jackman
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 | 147 Minutes
Release Date: May 27, 2016
“Mutation: it is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, and normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward.”
If there’s one thing director Bryan Singer achieves with X-Men: Apocalypse, it’s channeling the excess and indulgence of the 1980s. The ninth installment in the X-Men series has too much of everything, including thinly written characters, stale end-of-the-world scenarios, and overblown CGI annihilation.
Written by X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days of Future Past scribe Simon Kinberg, Apocalypse begins in 3600 BC. En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) — the world’s first mutant — rules over Ancient Egypt as Ra, King of the Gods. Those loyal to Egypt see him for what he really is: Apocalypse, a false god who absorbs the abilities of other mutants to make himself an immortal, all-powerful being. A coup d’état prematurely ends Apocalypse’s reign, entombing him in the ruins of a pyramid for millennia.
5,000 years later in 1983, a young Scott Summers (Cyclops, Tye Sheridan) is struggling to control his newfound mutant abilities. His brother, Alex (Havok, Lucas Till), brings him to Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters, where he meets Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and Professor X (James McAvoy), as well as future X-Men like Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Jubilee (Lana Condor).
Back in Cairo, CIA operative Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) discovers a terrifying truth: Apocalypse has been resurrected by cultists who still worship the self-designated god. Enraged by what the world has become, Apocalypse seeks to cleanse it by exterminating the weak: humanity. It’s an idea we’ve seen countless times, whether it’s Ozymandias in Watchmen, Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron, or Magneto in X-Men, there’s always a villain who thinks the only way to save the world is an extinction level event.
Meanwhile, in East Berlin, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is a mutant savior, fighting against the human exploitation of mutants and saving those still being persecuted. After rescuing a young Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from an underground fight club, she meets up with Quicksilver (Evan Peters) to find the lightning-fast mutant’s father, Magneto (Michael Fassbender).
Magneto has already been found, however, by Apocalypse. As part of the Four Horsemen, Magneto will unleash a divine destruction upon the world. Joining him are Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), and newcomer Psylocke (Olivia Munn). I wish I could tell you more about these characters and their motivations, but they’re nothing more than misguided minions; cardboard cutouts that exist only as showcases for superpowers.
Psylocke, for example, starts as a bodyguard for Caliban, a mutant tracker. When Apocalypse shows up, he upgrades her powers and suddenly she’s ready to destroy the world without so much as a second thought. The weather-wielding Storm is an orphan raised as a thief on the streets of Cairo. She idolizes Mystique, yet joins Apocalypse in destroying everything the freedom fighter symbolizes. Why? Because Apocalypse gifts her with a white mohawk. Angel? He’s a cage fighter who listens to Metallica. Apocalypse takes his broken wings and teaches him to fly again – to live so free (you’re welcome). In a 147-minute movie, you’d think there would be time to explore characters and give meaning to their actions, but nope, that’s not happening here.
As Apocalypse and his Horsemen level cities to ash, Mystique and Professor X lead a team of young X-Men in an overblown, computer-generated finale that would make Roland Emmerich roll his eyes. Once the villains started turning landmarks into pixel-dust, I ceased to care. It’s funny how, by making the stakes so big — the scale so epic — the action on screen is next to meaningless. The X-Men series is at its best when the conflicts are personal. It’s why we love characters like Charles Xavier, Erik Lensherr, and Wolverine. It’s never been about their super powers; it’s about their struggles and shortcomings. Singer’s latest film is overloaded with action and computer-generated mayhem to conceal its own shortcomings: it has nothing to say.
A mostly lifeless affair, X-Men: Apocalypse is a waste of the titular villain and Oscar Isaac, who has to emote under layers of rubbery makeup. Apocalypse looks like a Big Bad Beetleborgs villain; a poorly conceived, over-designed relic of the ’90s superhero movie. Fassbender, McAvoy, and Lawrence deliver quality performances, but then again they’re the only ones allowed to. For the most part, every other character in Apocalypse is a glorified cameo. They show up, say a line or two, shoot laser beams out of their eyes or some other cool thing, and disappear. Evan Peters and Hugh Jackman steal the show (again) with two brief sequences that muster more fun and excitement than the rest of the film’s runtime.
As someone who loved First Class and Days of Future Past, I’m disappointed to see the X-men franchise moving in the wrong direction (again). Apocalypse isn’t the end of everything we know, but it doesn’t add much to the already convoluted chronology either. While not as bad as X-Men: The Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine (what could be?), it’s far from the rich storytelling we received in Singer’s first two X-outings. Charles Xavier is always talking about how mutation is the key to our evolution. If Apocalypse is any indication, however, it seems that the X-Men movies are devolving.