The third in the current trilogy of films X-Men: Apocalypse has had a pretty rough go of it from the start. During pre-screenings earlier this month critics were particularly harsh of the mutants’ latest adventure. With a 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, the second lowest for an X-Men movie, reception was so bad some of the overzealous fans blame Disney for paying off reviewers. While I highly doubt they were paid off I couldn’t help but wonder if they were right. Was this really that bad or was this just an overreaction? Well that it’s out it is time for me to find out.
It is 10 years since the emergence of mutants and the world seems peaceful. Mystique is independently saving persecuted mutants, Professor X is teaching a new class of students and Magneto is finally at peace. This is all torn apart when Apocalypse, the first mutant, resurfaces. With his Four Horsemen he plans to take over and remake the world. It is up to Professor X and his new, inexperienced X-Men to stop him.
Like the past couple of films the focus is on Professor X, Mystique and Magneto and in all honesty it is a mixed bag. The worst of it involving Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. No doubt due to her schedule she really isn’t on screen that much to do. Even worse when she is on screen she really isn’t given much to do. Aside from introducing Nightcrawler I could easily see her story line being cut without much needing to change. Only of slightly more consequence is Quicksilver. Like the last movie he is more comedy relief than anything else. Luckily it hit the mark. We even got a very fun, movie stealing, slow motion scene. Sure it is the same thing as the last film but when it is this fun I can’t complain.
More crucial to the plot is Professor X, portrayed by James McAvoy. Now in full Professor X mode he is finally training a school of mutants. While not explored as much as I hoped seeing him be the character I know from the comics was great. While he isn’t a perfect fit like Patrick Stewart he is a good choice for the role. That said far and away the most interesting character of the film is Magneto. 10 years since the last film, Magneto has been living a peaceful life with a wide and child in Poland. His idyllic life if ripped from him when he uses his powers to save a coworker at his job and is exposed as Magneto. While more a means to Magneto hooked up with Apocalypse this subplot has more heart and emotional investment than any other in the movie. A lot of this being a great performance by Michael Fassbender. He made even cliche stuff like yelling “Is this what you want” to god believable. All of this could have easily been it’s own film.
After the series reboot in Days of Future Past one of my biggest questions was how they would reintroduce the original characters. Introducing new heroes is always tough but doubly for roles we have already seen done before. Would their personalities be the same? Could they fill in the for the original stars? Well I am happy to report that all things considered they were handled pretty well. While they were all familiar there were little tweaks done that made them interesting. The best example is how they handled Cyclops. A bit too milquetoast in the previous movies they gave him a bit of a rebellious streak that really helped. Not yet the serious leader of the group moments like him being frustrated about his powers and little things like escaping the mansion to blow off steam made him way more likable than even his comic book counterpart. On the flipside is Nightcrawler who is essentially the same character. Luckily the writers realized that this characterization was good enough that no changes were needed. Bonus points for wearing the Thriller jacket. If there is a weak link it is the young Jean Grey and even then she has her moments. The most experienced of the group she takes the role of leader and not much else. It is all pretty standard until the end before we finally see the Phoenix Force manifest. Teased in past Bryan Singer movies and lackluster in The Last Stand it looks perfect here. More of a tease for future movies than anything else it absolutely worked for me.
I can’t say the same for the new villains. While he is introduced as the first mutant and a major threat Apocalypse comes off pretty bland. All things considered he is a pretty typical villain. A waste of Oscar Isaac at no point did I think he had a better plan of taking over the world than, say, Sebastian Shaw from First Class. The only real plus is that unlike the comic his powers are more well defined. Seeming to be an ability to manipulate sand they show it off in some surprisingly gruesome ways like decapitation and melding people into the ground. It is some surprisingly graphic stuff for a superhero movie. Unfortunately Apocalypse’s Horsemen can’t even get that credit. For the most part the powers are on the basic side. Angel has metal wings, Psylocke can use energy to make a blade and Storm controls the weather. While they could be used in unique ways for the most part it is fairly basic stuff. When it comes to story none of them get much aside from Magneto.
The closest I can thing to development is Storm viewing Mystique as a hero and that is very brief. A big reason for this is how many plots you have in the movie. By my count there are a total of eight storylines going on. Even with two and a half hours there just isn’t enough time to give everything proper development. I know I seem to be harping on it but you could have easily saved the Magneto story for it’s own movie. Or the return of Moira MacTaggert which added absolutely nothing to the movie. There really was no need for her to make a return besides the fact that she appears in the comics. I like the ideas that are brought up and think they could carry a movie. But combined into one movie? It doesn’t work out that well.
The biggest problem with X-Men: Apocalypse is that it should have come out after First Class. One of the best parts of Days of Future Past was that it not only put a capper on not only Bryan Singer’s original films but also the latest iteration. For the most part what we got was a basic plot, a lackluster villain and more setup for the future than anything else. The best way I can describe it is that it definitely had the feel of an Iron Man 2 rathar than a Civil War.
So the question remains, did X-Men: Apocalypse deserve the thrashing it got from the critics? I don’t think so. While far from perfect I do think it had a lot going for it. With some fun characters and some good plots it certainly could have been great. Unfortunately these positives tended to be squandered by a poor villain and trying to pack in way too many things into one film. I can only hope that with the young cast they set up with this film that the ship will be righted next time.