There is a scene in X-Men Apocalypse where, as a group of students are leaving Return of the Jedi, Jean Grey states “But we can all agree the third movie is always the worst.” It is a pretty clear shot at X-Men: The Last Stand. That was the movie Apocalypse Director Bryan Singer skipped and is pretty widely seen as a disappointment after X2. Except, whether they realized it or not, the joke is kind of a jinx.
See, X-Men: First Class and X-Men:Days of Future Past? They were quite good. They are entertaining and filled with terrific performances and nice use of characters from the vast history of the X-Men Comics. After the Last stand and the damage done by X-Men Origins: Wolverine the series went back to the beginning. Introducing us to Young Charles Xavier and Magneto. McAvoy and Fassbender brought characters we knew as aging leaders to young men trying to make the world a better play, but always coming to odds with how to do that. Then, in Days of Futures Past, they brought the past and future together, to try and fix the timeline, fixing the flaws of Last Stand and Wolverine.
And this brings us to X-Men Apocalypse. I was looking forward to it, as it was most of the team that brought us the last two installments. Yet again, the central focus is the relationship between Xavier (McAvoy), Magneto (Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Beast (Nicholas Hoult) retuns, as does Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne). We are also introduced to a younger Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), young Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Jubilee (Lana Condor). Of course, smartly, the film brings back Evan Peters as Quicksilver…and he steals the show a lot…again.
First, the good. Again, as I said, Quicksilver is just fantastic. Yeah, he is not really like his counterpart from the comics. In the comics, he is arrogant, impatient and snippy. This is explained in the comics by Quicksilver essentially seeing life as being a continuous wait at the DMV, at least when he has to move at the rest of the worlds pace. Evans approach is more of a lighthearted goofball who enjoys and savors his speed. And it really works.
The performers are good choices. I like that they kept the faith element for Nightcrawler. I know his creator never cared for that addition…but I always liked the combo of swashbuckler swordsman Christian who happens to look like a demon. Setting young Storm in Cairo was a nice touch, acknowledging her history from the comics. There are a lot of great visuals. And yet…
The story is just a mess. There is so much going on, so many introductions, characters get lost. Jubliee, who was a pretty big character in the comics for over a decade is barely a side character. We never even see her mutant powers in action. Angel is just a random passerby in the film, for all intents and purposes. Both he and Psylock (Olivia Munn) get precious little to do and zero character development. The film routinely feels like it is advertising “There will be a deleted scene on the blu-ray fans!” as it transitions from moment to moment. Maybe those deleted scenes will make Apocalypse feel threatening. When some of us expressed concern about the pictures of Apocalypse on Entertainment Weekly’s cover last year, we were told to not assume this was the final look, they will Fix It In Post, so to speak.They did not. Or at least not enough. In spite of hiring a terrific actor (Oscar Isaac), Apocalypse just never feels as frightening as the film keeps telling us he is.
And it is clear the film is going for epic. But it just never feels that way…because the film takes forever to get through it’s big dramatic moments. There is a sequence that is supposed to be the big Jean Grey moment. She walks dramatically into battle towards Apocalypse. There is a standoff going on the mental plane involving the psychic characters…and the film spends a ridiculous amount of time on dramatic shots of Jean Grey walking. And walking. And walking. Instead of being thrilled by a big moment, I was just wanting them to get to the moment.
And there is a dramatic image from the trailers…that turns out to be the filmmakers taking a cue from Superman IV: the Quest for Peace. The film just shambles along from scene to scene, never feeling coherent or particularly great. And after the last two films? A pretty big disappointment. I mean, it is okay, but it was a real drop after the last two films. And Deadpool. It is okay for an X-Men movie means it might be slightly better than the Last Stand.