X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Dir: Bryan Singer
“We can all agree the 3rd movie is always the worst”… Why oh why would you write that line into your movie? It’s sadly all too often true and I must agree, this is the worst of the three!
Ancient mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘) is awoken and freed after thousands of years, determined to complete his plan of world domination, turning some mutants to his side and facing off against the X-Men in the 1980’s.
Bryan Singer has been at the helm of more X-Men movies than anyone else, for good reason. He seems to have a grasp on the characters and material, as well as what the audience want. However, this is not his best. That’s not to say it’s a failure, by no means is it the disaster that was ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’, it’s more of a dip, without doubt more acutely feeling that way because it follows the high-point that was ‘Days of Future Past‘.
The opening reminded me more than a little of ‘Stargate’ being set as it is in ancient Egypt, lavishly setting the scene for villain En Sabah Nur (or as he’s later known, Apocalypse). After the opening credits we’re a decade on from ‘Future Past’ now in the 1980’s and quickly catch up with some key characters to see where they are at, though there’s no explanation given for how little they have aged in 10 years (for a few of them their mutation would help explain it). The film also starts quickly introducing the new characters, or to be more accurate the new versions of old characters including Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). This era is the opportunity to reintroduce these fan-favourite characters with new younger casting and slightly altered styles, and while some of these actors have considerable recognition, they don’t all immediately feel like they will inhabit their roles as iconically as their predecessors.
We also get brought up to date with the ongoing cast, one thread of which is seeing that Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has mellowed and hidden himself away to live a quiet life with his family. Most of this part of the film worked for me, it was emotional even if certain parts crossed over into melodramatic. Some of Magneto’s storyline does feel a bit like going over the same motivations and emotions of revenge and loss that he’s experienced before, even at one point revisiting Auchwitz. As he’s not being presented as an un-redeemable villain in these films, giving him reason for his future actions isn’t the worst idea just I’d have preferred to go deeper with his motivation rather than keep going over the same issues yet again.
Wolverine has his customary cameo, which this time feels a little undercooked and perfunctory as well as being really tricky to work out exactly how and where it fits in the complex chronology of the franchise. Logan was active in two eras in ‘Future Past’ while there’s also his own series of films, so I’d really have to sit down and think it through to be sure how it all fits together, I know roughly, but I’d like to get straight in my head exactly what’s going on with him at the point in time this cameo occurs. The weirdest bit with his small role though is how he interacts a with Jean, who of course goes on to become his romantic interest. He looks in his forties here though we know with his regenerative abilities he’s much older and she is very clearly meant to be in her teens. It’s a little awkward to watch future chemistry hinted at while her character is so young, maybe it’s a nod too far at the future?
Some characters such as Moira MacTaggert and Alex Summers (whose role in ‘Future Past’ was minimal) are brought back to reprise their roles from ‘First Class’, with more than just brief reappearances, in fact, you could easily say that everything that happens in this film is all Moira’s fault! Quicksilver (Evan Peters) also makes a very welcome return from ‘Future Past’, after having the most memorable scene of the last film there was clear anticipation for another scene showcasing his abilities. Being teased in tweets and interviews his moment comes and doesn’t disappoint (though it may surprise a little less as we’ve seen the effect before), getting the mix of special visual effects with his personality and humour right again.
Apocalypse’s powers are many and varied, he has a few that are not explained just used. His main one seems to be moving earth, which looks quite spectacular when used at certain times. His threat is to the whole world, not just a nation or humankind, so that’s an escalation that suggests the writers wanted to go big with this film, though I’m not sure it pays off. Apocalypse poses a completely different threat to the Sentinels, he is hugely powerful and selects other powerful mutants to fight alongside him, yet I don’t think we get much beyond the basics of wanting power and ruling from him. I like Oscar Isaac very much and so there was potential for some excellent complexity, yet under the weight (literally, it was apparently very heavy) of his costume he turned out to be a less compelling villain that I was hoping for. In the end he’s defeated (I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that he is, the threats usually are by the end of an X-Men movie) with the power of teamwork, as you’d expect but for a little change the climactic battle occurs both in reality and within minds, which is a clever use of certain telepathic powers but needs some concentration to follow. I’m not sure the way it’s cut together is really the best it could’ve been, I’d have liked a little more inventiveness or flare when you’ve opened up the door to possibilities with an idea like that, there was scope for something stunning once you’ve set something beyond the bounds of physical reality.
I do like how the franchise is moving through decades, covering time periods that were hardly touched upon by the first trilogy. This does bring with it a little hard work in keeping up as to where we are in the stream of time and simultaneously holding on to different versions of the same characters. Certain elements and characters that were last used in ‘The Last Stand’ are brought back and reworked, almost as if Bryan Singer is trying to give his take on those things, such as Jean Grey and the extent of her powers, and even the character of Angel. I felt as if he was trying to prove that he could make a better third film, to make up for not being the director of the third film before.
The biggest problem is that the film feels quite disjointed, especially in the first half there’s far too much hopping from one character and place to another. Surely there would have been a better way to arrange and edit these scenes so they flow and build instead of puzzle-piecing together as they do. There’s also a visit to the mall that must have been largely cut out as it seems to serve absolutely no purpose other than move a handful of characters away from the school for a brief time and give some suggestion of bonding, yet apparently it was shot with hundreds of extras fully dressed in 80’s outfits. Maybe I need to explore my Blu-Ray’s deleted scenes but I’d have liked it better worked into the finished films and not having to work out why it was there for myself. All this hints at another case of considerable changes being made in the edit suite, just as the last film had a large enough section taken out as to call for an alternative ‘Rogue Cut’, though that’s not coming here I do feel like something similar would be completely possible.
Critically and commercially this has been seen as a bit of a failure, though I made good profits they were $200m down on ‘Future Past’ and $240m less than ‘Deadpool’ which was made on a third of the budget! It was enough of a success though to make sure another film will be made, albeit with somewhat of a shake-up apparently in the focus of the cast as well as a new director.
It would be a slight shame for the current roster of X-Men actors to end their tenure with this, I think there’s a better movie to be had from them and hopefully it’s on the way. Before that we have Hugh Jackman’s final Wolverine solo movie which is looking like it will stand out from the crowd, maybe even for the right reasons this time. Although it won’t be Bryan Singer returning to the director’s chair with this current cast as he’s pursuing other things, it would be nice to see another director draw on the assembled talent in a way that returns this strong franchise to its absolute best once again. It has been done before, I’d love to see it happen once again.
Until then, the X-Men franchise is spinning off into new territory, not only with the ‘Deadpool’ sequel in production but now with at least two television series based on the comics. ‘Legion’ is set to air in February and looks quite promising with a great cast, while another show featuring mutants is also apparently in development though currently untitled.