X-Men: Apocalypse is plagued with problems but the new blood shine, even if some of the old guard (Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence) look pretty bored
Director Bryan Singer’s 2014 return to the X-Men franchise, X-Men: Days of Future Past, was a superhero movie about rebooting superhero movies – the notion of pop eating itself epitomised on the big screen. For Singer’s fourth turn at the mutant bat, X-Men: Apocalypse, the concern seems to be with running with the free rein afforded by the prior movie’s timeline fuckery, giving us new origins for younger incarnations of famous characters from the early 2000s films (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Storm) that don’t quite match up with their backgrounds as previously presented. This approach extends to taking the winged character of Angel from the 2000s-set final film of the original trilogy and placing him in the new entry’s 1983 setting at roughly the same age, while also turning him into an (ineffectual) antagonist.
Perhaps incompatibly, Singer and his writers also seem concerned with providing something of a capper to the prequel trilogy kicked off by 2011’s X-Men: First Class, or at least a finale for the (now) A-listers contractually obligated to appear for a third time – Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence have rarely seemed so disinterested onscreen as they do for much of this. And then there’s the matter of squeezing in yet another momentum-destroying cameo from a certain series mainstay, forcing the film into prequel mode yet again instead of letting this new continuity be its own thing.
So, to put it mildly, X-Men: Apocalypse is something of a mess, but while its saving graces are not enough to keep the sinking ship steady, there’s enough appeal to some of the film’s more bug nuts diversions and sequences to offer a recommendation with reservations for franchise completists. For one thing, those of the new blood that actually get character beats to work with make for charismatic players and appealing leads for future movies. You’ll likely wish more time was spent with them than with the eponymous villain, an ancient evil delivering the same generic monologue about reaping the Earth over and over again, played by a near unrecognisable Oscar Isaac under layers of prosthetics and with numerous voice modifications that make it difficult to discern whether it's the performance that's bad or just the technology bringing the character to the screen.
Bar a finale that descends into a cacophony of swirling CG dust and bluster, Singer maintains his reliability with being one of the better directors of lucid displays of superpowers. That said, many of the action scenes, too, are plagued by so many distracting problems: some of the most powerful mutants just hang around without hindrance during big brawls until it’s the ideal time for them to do something cool (looking at you, Magneto); Evan Peters’ slacker speedster Quicksilver gets a reprisal of his memorable action scene from the last film, except the comedic tone of the rescue scene is jarring given that it begins mere seconds after a fatality; and players that are cosplay costumes more than actual characters (Olivia Munn’s Psylocke is given maybe four lines of dialogue), who wander off screen with the promise of a return in a sequel or spin-off, despite providing absolutely no reason for us to care.
You can say this for Psylocke, though: turning up to Auschwitz in fetishised swimsuit gear is probably the most memorably inappropriate conduct at a Holocaust memorial site since Justin Bieber’s visit to the Anne Frank Museum. Well, until Magneto destroys the place – fun for all the family.