Review: X-Men: Apocalypse
Director: Bryan Singer
By Rhys Tarling
Warning: minor spoilers included
X-Men: Apocalypse, the prequel/sequel/whatever-the-fuck-quel, is the sixth instalment in what has been an intermittently rocky road of a franchise. Bryan Singer, the director who started it all with X-Men (2000), restored the series to respectability with X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).
What does he follow that up with? An average flick that is annoyingly content to coast on the performance of its great cast, a nonsensical whirlwind of middling visual effects, and some story-less fan-service. What a waste.
Apocalypse, the Mutant villain played by a misused Oscar Isaac, is the first villain in this series who wants nothing less– and nothing less generic– than the end of the world.
The X-men films, for the most part, contain antagonists who are just as sympathetic and understandable as the outcast titular heroes themselves—they’re usually a little more complex than a cartoon blue person who endlessly pontificates and espouses shallow, meaningless philosophies.
But I guess ideas must be running dry because Bryan Singer and crew have thrown their arms up in the air and screamed ‘fuck it!’ So now it has come to a cartoon blue person who endlessly pontificates and espouses shallow, meaningless philosophies.
He awakens from his thousand year slumber and is displeased that ‘the weak’ rule the world. He amplifies the powers of four Mutant followers, including Magneto, and with them he plans to cleanse the Earth and herald a new age for the strongest. Or something. His plan isn’t that much more elaborate than using a depressed Magneto as a colossally destructive vacuum cleaner. It is exactly as stupid as it sounds. And it’s a mystery why these four Mutants were following him or why this omnipotent Mutant god needed them other than that fight scenes must occur.
It sucks that fight scenes must occur because that is so not where Bryan Singer’s strengths as a director lie. He’s far better at establishing a compellingly moody and freakish atmosphere and sketching sympathetic, realistic characters. Singer is in his element when it comes to charting Magneto’s endlessly tragic arc, or showing us the new X-Men kids (Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Jean Gray, and Quicksilver) hanging out and getting to know one another. The chemistry between the new Mutant kids is palpable and wonderful, even though their parts are underwritten. Their stories have been largely shortchanged in the name of trying to deliver bombastic spectacle. The problem with that is bombastic spectacle doesn’t amount to a hill of shit if we don’t have a connection to the main characters.
The ambitious attempt to craft an epic action/disaster story fails on a technical level because the CGI compositions are flat and horrible. It also fails on a story level. There’s no proper build up to the destruction in the third act; the first act is competent set-up, the second stalls with a pointless, though shallowly awesome, fan-service detour, and the third is a big dumb boring battle.
For comic book fans such as myself there were a couple of fantastic moments in the final act, but I had to concede that these moments were incongruent with the story so what the hell was it worth? Really, who cares if you put Psylocke in a comic book perfect outfit if she has no personality or even reason for swinging her glowing purple sword around? What does it matter if we get to see Phoenix in all her fiery and fierce glory if it comes right the fuck out of nowhere? So what if we get a glimpse of a truly unleashed and violent Barry Windsor Smith-esque Wolverine, metal headgear and all, when it adds up to the sum of zero on a narrative and thematic level?
There were a few things that worked like gangbusters. Michael Fassbender continues to imbue the terrorist Mutant Magneto with dignity and tenderness, and James Mccavoy continues to prove to be a great Professor Xavier; one who is both the benevolent, kindly teacher and a bit of a mischievous scoundrel.
They’re performances are so good that even when they’re treading well-treaded territory they convincingly sell it—these guys are great actors and they clearly take it seriously, bless their hearts. Evan Peters as Quicksilver is the breakout X-Man (X-Kid?). He brings a third dimension to the playful Quicksilver – he’s cool and kind of pathetic and awkward at the same time.
Unfortunately the actor who was the biggest perpetuator of bullshit was the immensely talented Jennifer Lawrence as the Mutant freedom fighter Raven. Good gravy, she just isn’t even trying anymore. It’s a performance so lifeless and wooden that it comes across as barely hidden contempt for the material. And given that she’s been saddled with at least a third of the emotional heavy lifting to do, her boring performance actually harms the film.
Ultimately, X-Men: Apocalypse is a frustrating experience. The potential for greatness has been wilfully buried under enormous gobs of CGI noise, a generic story, and an uncharacteristically dull turn by Jennifer Lawrence.