Alexandra Shipp, Angel, Apocalypse, Beast, Ben Hardy, Cinema, Comic, Comic Book Movies, Cyclops, Days of Future Past, Film, First Class, Game of Thrones, Guardians of the Galaxy, Hugh Jackman, Iron Man, James McAvoy, Jean Grey, Jennifer Lawrence, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Last Stand, Lee Pace, Magneto, Marvel, Michael Fassbender, Movie Review, Mystique, Nicholas Hoult, Nightcrawler, Olivia Munn, Oscar Isaac, Professor X, Professor Xavier, Psylocke, Raven, Ronan, Sophie Turner, Storm, Superhero Movie, Superheroes, The Dark Knight, Tye Sheridan, Wolverine, X-Men, X-Men : Apocalypse, X-Men : Days of Future Past, X-Men : First Class, X-Men : Last Stand
“X-Men: Apocalypse” is the third film in the latest “X-Men” trilogy, and maintains the tradition of the third film in a franchise being the worst. In the original trilogy “Last Stand” was heavily criticised for being a poorly written and character-polluted film, and sadly the same can be said of “Apocalypse”. Whilst it has moments of quality, and some memorable action set pieces, it fails to capitalise on what made the previous films in the franchise successful and thus ends up becoming a generic superhero movie.
“First Class” and “Days of Future Past” were both exceptionally good superhero films so expectations were high for “Apocalypse”. It started promisingly; the first half of the movie was fine, even though Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) as a character wasn’t fully-developed or particularly interesting, and I was hopeful that with a satisfying conclusion it would be an acceptable way to cap the trilogy. However, the second half of “Apocalypse” was a shoddily written and action heavy escapade which crushed previous character development for important figures like Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), and it also clumsily showcased the abilities of the new mutants.
What made the first two films in the trilogy so successful was; 1) the quality of the actors involved – Fassbender, McAvoy, Lawrence, Hoult, etc.; and 2) the dynamic between Xavier (James McAvoy), Erik, and Raven. Sadly, this film offers nothing to that dynamic, and rather than building on its characters it pushes them down, muddying their motivations.
The only real moment of character development for the pre-existing cast of characters is given to Magneto, who in the years since “Days of Future Past” had formed a rather normal life for himself. When the film begins he has a daughter and a wife, and by all accounts he lives a peaceful existence, yet by the halfway point he’s back to being a one-note villain. This is a real shame, because whilst it makes sense that Erik’s tragedy would lead him back to villainy, his complete U-turn isn’t believable. In my opinion his change of character is an insult to both the character and Michael Fassbender, because Erik is intelligent and frequently compassionate despite his violent tendencies, and Fassbender has the acting ability to portray complex and multi-layered motivations and emotions.
The “new” characters are afforded slightly more time to establish themselves, particularly Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), although this doesn’t make them any more compelling. I’ve read certain publications that’ve praised the way that the new characters were introduced, as well as the performances of the actors playing them such as Sophie Turner and Kodi Smit-McPhee, but I have to say that I don’t share these sentiments.
The characters themselves are visually striking and fit my expectations for how they should look on screen, but apart from that there’s very little to like. Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is unnecessarily used for comic relief, Cyclops is okay but isn’t very interesting, and the accents of Sophie Turner and Alexandra Shipp (Storm) are woeful. I love Sophie Turner in “Game of Thrones” and I think she looks great as Jean Grey, but the problem is that her accent is obviously put-on and it doesn’t kick in until the third word of every sentence!
Still, the new X-Men definitely aren’t the worst thing about the film; Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse takes that prize. Isaac is another great actor, but he can’t save the character because there’s no effort made to flesh out his motivations or why he feels that the world needs to be cleansed. This is a massive shame coming off of a film like “Days of Future Past”, which portrayed a malicious but physically diminutive human as the real villain of the piece rather than Magneto, and took away from the message of the previous films in the series which was that whilst mutants are powerful they face constant ridicule because they’re different.
The villains in “First Class” and “Days of Future Past” forced the characters to come to terms with who they were and what they wanted to be, and the protagonist’s motivations were informed by the pain that their mutations had caused them over the years. In contrast, the only lasting implication that the villain in this film will have on the “X-Men” universe is to bring Storm into the fold.
There are numerous issues with Apocalypse as a character, so to go through them all would be laborious and excessive, but I’d feel remised if I didn’t at least mention a few:
- The physical design of the character was awful and made him look like a knock-off version of Ronan (Lee Pace) from “Guardians of the Galaxy”. Whilst he looked physically imposing because of his size, the make-up for Apocalypse looked silly and cheap, and made it difficult to feel worried for the protagonists.
- Apocalypse chose the wrong mutants to act as his horsemen. Firstly, he chose them far too quickly and there was no method to his madness; but secondly, and more importantly, the process was one of the least interesting parts of the movie when it should’ve been the best. By having Apocalypse search for followers the writers were able to give mutants like Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) more screen time, but this only made the film feel convoluted and busy. Instead of Apocalypse asking Psylocke which mutants to search for, a far more reasonable way to move the story forward would’ve been for him to bump into Storm (because she was in the same location as him) and then Psylocke (because she provided a means of transportation) just as he did in the film. But then, rather than going for Angel who was completely useless, he should’ve gone for Magneto because he’d already decided that he wanted him – if he’d done that then he could’ve asked Magneto for advice on who to recruit next, and thus he would’ve known that there was a veritable vegetable patch of powerful mutants out there waiting to be picked in the form of Xavier’s school! This would’ve cut time from a film which dragged significantly, because there would’ve been no Angel recruitment scene, and would’ve also been easy to execute as Apocalypse went to the school anyway!
- Apocalypse’s powers were poorly established and underutilised. At points in the movie Apocalypse turns people to sand with a flick of his wrist, thus rendering him unstoppable, yet when the time comes for him to fight the protagonists he forgets all about this ability. If he’d wanted to, Apocalypse could’ve killed all of his enemies in an instant and left the world powerless to stop him, but instead he leaves the fighting to his horsemen who are clearly less powerful than his enemies! This made no sense, and begs the question as to why the writers bothered to give Apocalypse the powers that they did at all.
So, at best “X-Men: Apocalypse” is a disappointment and at worst it’s a franchise-killer. Personally, I don’t think that it’s the latter, but I do think that the introduction of the new X-Men leaves the series in a precarious place. If the series is going in the direction of the initial trilogy by establishing the main cast as Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Nightcrawler, Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique (with Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters, who is brilliant), then it risks becoming irrelevant. The great thing about the first two films in this series was that they felt fresh because they introduced several new mutants whilst still focusing on a couple of established characters, and also that they took place on a historical backdrop (the Cuban Missile Crisis in “First Class”, and the Vietnam War in “Days of Future Past”), but “Apocalypse” seemingly forgot this and thus lost focus. It feels like a pre-“Iron Man”/”Dark Knight” superhero movie, as it focuses far too heavily on a hollow and predictable villain and not on character development. Hopefully, the next film in the franchise will return to what made these characters relevant again – i.e. the relationships that they share and the issues that being a mutant creates.