The X-Men franchise, seven films deep now including this one, is possibly the most varied in movie history in terms of quality. From the heady heights of X2 and Days of Future Past to the depth plumbing lows of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, with some decidedly average entries in between. X-Men Apocalypse certainly has the most ambition of the series but sadly ends up nearer the bottom of the pile.
Set 10 years after the events of Days of Future Past mutants are common knowledge after the events on the White House lawn but still hated and feared as per usual because this is an X-Men movie after all. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is still full of hope, running his school for mutants, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has gone underground to mope and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has gone off the grid, living with a wife and child in Poland. Meanwhile the first mutant, god complex-botherer Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac, buried under prosthetics), awakens after thousands of years, following a pre credits snafu that ended with him buried under a pyramid, and vows to cleanse the world after watching some 80’s TV.
It’s been a while since a summer blockbuster has been this forgettable and felt so inconsequential especially when you consider the stakes have never been higher. There have been similar superhero blockbusters this year that have been bad but at least that film had some memorable sequences. And a Batmobile. Apocalypse just feels like a great big nothing, and for the most part feels very silly even for an X-Men film. The mostly terrible script, plods along from A to B with efficiency rather than anything approaching excitement (not to mention commits the sin of repeatedly telling far more than showing), with every story beat as predictable and by the numbers as you’d expect an early 90’s superhero film to be. Not one in this golden age of comic book movies and certainly not from the seventh film in a franchise.
New characters, or younger versions of old characters if we’re being pedantic, are swiftly introduced yet with so many mutants in the film already are given precious little to do and make no impact. Storm, Psylocke and Angel (recruited remarkably quickly, along with Magneto, to be Apocalypse’s mostly superfluous Horsemen) at least look cool, the same of which cannot be said for Jean Grey and Cyclops, both of whom have nary an ounce of charisma between them. And as big bad Apocalypse, Oscar Isaac tries to imbue him with some gravitas but despite everything the film has him do never feels like that dangerous a threat. Maybe it’s the Ivan ooze getup. Even a “cameo” fails to liven up proceedings. At least Nightcrawler is fun.
The returning cast don’t fare much better with Fassbender and Lawrence in particular phoning it in with a ‘contractually obliged’ look on their faces, which is a real shame when you remember how good both of them have been in the previous films. The ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ scene in First Class springs to mind, and the film does itself no favours when it flashes back to that movie late on in the third act. McAvoy comes off better although isn’t given much to do beyond look perturbed at various points. And the return of Quiksilver is welcome even if lightning doesn’t strike twice.
By the time the CGI overload finale comes, which takes places essentially within a massive dust cloud for about 20 minutes, you’ll just want it to end. And when it does it’s the same ending as a lot of the other X-Men films have had, with one character telling an assorted group that they’re now X-Men, teasing the beginning of a group that’s been teased countless times before.
The X-Men films have been a lot of things over the years, but they’ve never been boring. Sadly while Apocalypse isn’t awful, it is criminally boring.