X-Men Apocalypse: Overwhelmingly Underwhelming
X-Men: Apocalypse is the highly anticipated follow-up to the excellent (and far superior) X-Men: Days of Future Past. Film critics are divided on it. Some love it, some hate it. As I’m writing this, it has a 48% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Frankly, I’m divided right down the middle. There are things I really liked about this movie, but there were too many elements keeping me from loving it.
Below is the trailer, in case you missed it. Right off the bat, you can see there are LOTS of new/rebooted characters in this movie. There’s not enough screen time to develop all the new characters. However, I don’t think they all needed to be fully fleshed out. I have no problem with having a large cast of supporting characters. (Lots of critics disagree with me on this point.)
Though the source material is superhero comic books, the X-Men movies (for the most part) have avoided the “villain of the week” template. The ensemble movies have been about themes like bigotry, power dynamics, fear, isolation, and friendship. Deadpool and The Wolverine were character studies. The thematic elements have been the series’ strengths, but Apocalypse largely forgoes any sort of overarching theme and lowers itself to a “villain of the week” movie. For me, this is the biggest flaw.
That’s not to say I hated this movie. There’s lots to like and appreciate in this film.
- Magneto and Xavier. Once again, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are outstanding as the famed arch-frenemies. Fassbender especially steals the show and has the best dramatic scene in the movie. It’s heartbreaking. This pro comes with a couple caveats, though. Unlike the other X-Men movies, the relationship between Magneto and Xavier is not developed in any meaningful way, and they don’t really share much screentime. Also, Magneto goes from compelling to “meh” once he’s recruited by Apocalypse.
- Real stakes. People die in this movie. One of my biggest pet peeves with the Marvel movies is that the audience knows that no one can die. Not so in the X-Men universe. Even though these mutants have powers, they are mortal. There’s no tension if your characters are immortal, and this movie wisely avoids that route. Death is real, and heartbreaking.
- Quicksilver. I mentioned that Magneto has the best dramatic scene in the movie. Well, his son has the best comedic scene. Quicksilver in action was the show stealer in the last movie, and he does it again here. Evan Peters has a lot of charisma and his comedic timing is on point. Some critics liked the Quicksilver scene in this movie better than the last. I disagree, but it’s still a lot of fun and I’m glad that he was given more to do this time around.
- The effects. Visually, this is a feast for the eyes. The final battle, although a bit cheesy, looks beautiful. It’s shot well and the CGI is almost totally integrated.
I mentioned that this movie had problems. It had quite a few, but I’ll just touch on the main ones. There’s a scene in the middle of the movie that pokes fun at X-Men 3, in which a character states, “the third one is always the worst.” Well, this is the third movie featuring the new cast. Pot, meet kettle. (Awkward.)
- The villain. Oscar Isaac is fine, it’s not a criticism of his acting. It’s how the character of Apocalypse was written/portrayed. First, he needed to be a bit taller/bigger to give him more of a physically intimidating presence. Second, his motivation was never made clear, nor was his plan.
- Too much padding. Way too much time is spent collecting the “four horsemen.” (And it ruined Magneto.) The trip to the Alkali Lake facility was completely unnecessary. The whole point of including it was so the filmmakers could include Weapon X. The movie needed a stronger focus; ditch the rabbit trails.
- The setting. First Class took place in 1963, Days of Future Past in 1973, so this one takes place in 1983. Aside from the leggings, neon, a Reagan poster, and a Ms. Pac Man arcade game, the era wasn’t really explored like in the previous movies. It really could have happened at any time. Also, it’s only been five years (real time) since the first movie was released. We’re expected to believe that these characters are all twenty years older? Please.
- The acting. Fassbender and McAvoy are terrific. Oscar Isaac, though his character was a bit thinly drawn, was fine. Jennifer Lawrence seemed like she phoned in her performance. I’m usually a fan of hers. She can do a great job, which is why this was so striking and disappointing. A couple lines I found myself questioning, “That was the best take?” Olivia Munn looked amazing, but her acting wasn’t great. I didn’t care for Archangel, either.
- The apocalypse. The entire destruction scene was shown in wide shots. We needed to see people in fear, panicking, so we could relate to the terror being unleashed.
If you’re a fan of the X-Men universe, I think you’ll probably enjoy this movie for what it is. If you’re more of a casual fan, I suggest steering clear. It’s much better than the Wolverine Origins movie and X-Men 3, but it’s not as good as any of the others in the series, making it 7th best out of 9 films. That’s not great. X-Men: Apocalypse is not a bad movie by any means, but it’s not a particularly good one either. Go see The Nice Guys instead.
Story: ★★ of 5
Action: ★★★½ of 5
Visuals: ★★★★ of 5
Overall: ★★★ of 5
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