X-Men: Apocalypse fails as a decent conclusion to the First Class trilogy, with a disappointing titular villain who has so much potential but only presents himself as a bland force of nature.
Set 10 years after the D.C. incident in Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse, once again led by the X-Men veteran director Bryan Singer, carries along a lot of hopes as well as pressures before its premiere. Not only must Apocalypse attain a certain accomplishment as one stand-alone flick (featuring one of the most threatening and notorious villains from the Children of the Atom’s rogue gallery) to effectively guide Fox through 2016’s superheroes fatigue, it should serve a crucial purpose of cleverly wrapping up the First Class trilogy AND turning to a whole new page of mutants’ history for the younger generation introduced.
Then perhaps because of this overwhelming mission brought upon its shoulder, Apocalypse didn’t actually tick any of those bullet points, even though it still performed well at the box office. The main villain, portrayed to the best he could by Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac, gets an awful and somewhat underfunded look, offers us unimpressive and one-dimensional character arc with his primal motivation for conquering, and last but not least, a falsely executed action plan. Several characters are just irresponsibly thrown in, which at first seemed like (as we geeks refer) “respectful nods to the source material”; in fact, they receive little-to-no development, and only the main mutants manage to show some chemistry to each other.
The film opens in the ancient Egypt with what could be called “the fall of Apocalypse’s reign”. Considering his magnitude in the world of mutants, the quality of characters and set pieces in this sequence totally deserves praises and also manages to re-envision an epic and detailed setup. Fun fact: among his Four Horsemen, there are three who possess the same superpowers as members of the Fantastic Four. Well played Fox, well played.
After that, viewers are taken to the present time with our beloved trio: Professor X – Mystique – Magneto. Each one of them has paved their own path and seems to be content with the lifestyles. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is now finally granted his life-long wish, which is to build a school/safe haven for the younger mutants. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) leads the life of a wanderer and, every now and then, lends a helping hand for those that are in need of assistance to break out of the whips and chains from cruel homo sapiens individuals. Then we have Erik (Michael Fassbender). After all the hatred, murder, and domination, Erik has settled down and buried the hatchet. Oh wait, in fact, he still uses one only to chop firewoods, but also gets himself a decent job at a local factory, one decent house in the woods and most importantly, a woman who gives him love and a beautiful daughter. One day, Charles’s old flame from the past, US agent Moira McTaggert, incidentally stumbles upon the wake of Apocalypse after thousands of years trapped under his tomb. The aforementioned status quo is no more.
This time, the story still makes an effort to get its audience invested in the trio’s complex struggles, which lasted for two decades, about the collective assurance of Homo superior’s basic civil rights against the discrimination, disgust, and fear from Homo sapiens. Thing is, they all have fallen on the wrong side of 40; thus, if not for any necessary confrontation, Charles, Raven, and Erik are on their own and would not get into others’ way, seemingly with no bother and obviously not with any of the previous passion for ideals that they, more than once, trusted their lives in. The ending is another story, as the team-up kind of rekindles their old spark.
As stated above, Bryan Singer’s cinematic rendition of one of the most powerful mutants ever – Apocalypse, lives up to neither the original menace from X-Men’s comic pages nor his important role of the ultimate adversary in the trilogy’s last installment. The reason is quite simple if you look close enough: amongst all previous X-Men flicks, regardless of their individual quality, the chief malefactors always stand on a morally gray ground. No matter how much of a vicious extremist each of them was, the character is still as fleshed out as any protagonist and manages to convey sufficient emotional depths and motivations. Old Man Magneto and William Stryker are willing to commit murders (or even genocidal acts) and to rise up to bring down the system with one sole purpose; it is to prove their beliefs in some kind of “greater good” that is, in their own sense, clarified by past tragedies or perpetual sufferings we, as audience, can get behind. They are definitely not blood-thirsty monsters who keep boasting about mutant kind’s triumphant dominance over the weaker species as “nature” has arranged. Even Sebastian Shaw is driven by his solid credence in the impossibility of a harmonic future between humans and mutants. Here, Oscar Isaac’s acting caliber was criminally wasted under Apocalypse’s mediocre make-up and costume. The actor is forced to transform himself into such a pompous evil with a plain and primitive sense of abomination. The most memorable moment we can cherish from him, if any, is when the quick-witted tyrant gains access to Professor X through Magneto.
If the supposedly baneful Four Horsemen of Apocalypse were as compelling and charismatic apprentices as the way the appearances jammed their flamboyance in our eyes, this movie in general and Apocalypse himself in particular, would not fail to impress both critics and part of the mainstream moviegoers. They, however, mostly popped up into the scene like additional elements through inadequate filler shots and, the worst of all, lazily arranged and choreographed battle sequences. Except for Magneto, obviously. Apart from what were shown in the trailer where she did a flip and cut a car in half, Psylocke (Olivia Munn) is just… there, to be the eye-candy for viewers. Mumbling three lines at most, the supposed femme fatale who hacks and slashes through that final battlefield would have been considered the most useless Horseman, if not for the participation of Angel and Storm. The tight-lipped, feathered blondie gets the most bad-ass “upgrade” among Apocalypse’s associates: blades shooting from large metal wings, not to mention ancient, rune-y tattoos, then somehow he still manages to get outplayed by the most underrated X-Men newbie – Nightcrawler. This is kind of an insult to the original Warren Worthington III, which is a recurring member of the deadly squad X-Force. And we have Storm, possibly the most underwritten character of all. In the final act, it is just assumed that she would stand up for the ideal instilled by Mystique. That is simply the perfect moment to prove her worthiness and to attain some development (as well as the slightest of our sympathy). Yet, not until almost every powerhouse gets involved does she decide to blast some lightning strokes towards an already weakened Apocalypse.
The most developed Horseman is undoubtedly Magneto, as he has always secured a spot in the heart of every X-Men film ever. Despite constantly being depicted as a villain who never sees eye to eye with Charles, Erik maintains a certain level of respect to the X-Men in general and his old pal in particular. This is firmly based on their shared starting point, which is the hope to bring about the best changes to their species. For all that, when it comes to the baddies, Apocalypse’s recruitment proves to be pulled off too perfunctorily and irresponsibly, by which relegates his true value and renders him one of the most monotonous protagonists in A-class superheroes movies.
On the other side of the battlefield, the old-timer Charles Xavier still retains his calm vibe and total dedication for the kids, even in the face of global predicaments, while Raven takes less initiative than in the previous ones, more like leaning into the background to give the kids her encouragement, except for that one time she goes offense mode on Apocalypse because it is the matter of life or death. The new recruits, noticeably Cyclops/Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), Phoenix/Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Jubilee (Lana Condor) and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler(Kodi Smit-McPhee) bring some fresh air along with the old-timers, but only Smit-McPhee shows one truly impressive performance. Audiences just love it when he trembles and prays with anxiety and low self-respect as a young Morlock orphan would do.
Of course, we could not leave out two show-stealers that get the most talk around here. Quicksilver once again put the viewers on the edge of their seats with another rescue sequence on synth-pop background of Sweet Dreams, but also has quite a character arc as he finally faces Magneto who, as all we know, is his biological father, warranting him a more involving role in sequels (which would be a shame to cut him out). The other cameo is the universally adored Wolverine with the task of filling our eyes with his trademark primitive rage in a brutal fight sequence.
In the end, X-Men: Apocalypse failed to serve as a decent conclusion to the First Class trilogy, with a disappointing titular villain who has so much potential but only presents himself as a force of nature that is so bland and unrelatable. Let’s hope the new ensemble of young mutants can inherit the best of their legacies and be parts of a more compelling and loveable generation spawned from this franchise.
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