‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ Falls Short of New Trilogy Greatness
Two years ago, X-Men: Days of Future Past gave a glimmer that all was right and well in the X-Men universe. With Brian Singer back at the helm for the first time since X2, the slate was wiped clean. Long story short – the atrocities in the form of X-Men: The Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine were eliminated in the new timeline.
Unless you stayed during the post-credits scene at the end of Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse throws a curve ball out of the gate, opening up in Ancient Egypt like we’re watching one of those mummy movies. But that’s hardly the case as we’re introduced to En Sabah Nur, a powerful being believed to be the first mutant. Obsessed with his own immortality, he and his four lieutenants start the process preserving his essence into a younger body only to be betrayed by his worshipers and entombed.
Apocalypse jumps ahead to 1983, a decade later since the previous film’s time-altering events. CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) begins poking around in Egypt only to discover that En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac) has been resurrected by contemporary devout followers. Disgusted with what the world has turned into, En Sabah Nur plots to destroy it and remake it in his own vision alongside a new mutant quartet of Four Horsemen (Storm, Magneto, Angel and Psylocke). In his third outing, Fassbender’s Magento remains the only one of four with any character development. The others are limited to scowling or skimpy outfits.
Despite being a catalyst for near-disaster in Days of Future Past, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) re-aligns herself with her childhood friend Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and other mutants at his ever-growing school to put a stop to En Sabah Nur’s rise. And Xavier’s school begins to start feeling like the good old days from the original trilogy. Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) return, albeit much younger versions than their original counterparts. A younger version of Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) also joins the team after being recruited by Mystique in East Berlin. At this point in the franchise, it’s a necessity the bridge the gap between trilogies, but the newer actors don’t have enough time to develop any substantial chemistry.
How ironic it is, especially since Apocalypse clocks in at almost two-and-a-half hours – a trend we’ve seen earlier this year with other superhero flicks such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War. Instead, the overloaded screenplay written by Simon Kinberg highlights Xavier, Mystique and an always conflicted Magneto, who’s desperately trying to live a normal life in Poland. Fassbender transforms the character with ease to his most sympathetic levels since assuming the mantle in First Class.
A good 15 minutes could have been chopped from Apocalypse if Kinberg’s screenplay didn’t abruptly shove in an action sequence that’s only there to drag a certain hero out of captivity. Fortunately, other action set pieces compensate, most particular a second round of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) manipulating situations in slow motion. There’s no doubt, this raises the bar and stakes from the Pentagon prison break in Days of Future Past, but there remains a lingering sense of artificiality present.
But what Apocalypse struggles the most with is its titular villain. Despite reaching levels of god mode, Oscar Isaac’s En Sabbah Nur is hardly a compelling foe. Isaac is a fine actor, showing off his talents most recently in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Ex Machina, yet here he’s wasted with much of the grunt work handed out to his Horsemen. It doesn’t help that he resembles a cartoon character right out of a 90s Power Rangers film.
X-Men: Apocalypse in itself is a self-fulfilling prophecy as at one point of the film, a character points out that third films drop the ball a bit in a trilogy after seeing Return of the Jedi. While Singer and Kinberg are pointing the finger more at X-Men: The Last Stand, they should be looking just as long at their own Apocalypse.
If there’s any takeaway from X-Men: Apocalypse, though despite all of the mediocrity present, there is at least enough substantial and satisfying closure to the current trilogy. From First Class to Days of Future Past and now Apocalypse, we’ve seen these characters evolve from fresh mutants to seasoned superheros over two decades.
We’re not quite at the end of days for the X-Men franchise. Still after stumbling a bit for welcome in Apocalypse, it wouldn’t be too much to ask to bring back Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Kingsman: The Secret Service) to the helm.