Review: Bryan Singer's 'X-Men: Apocalypse' is a Scattered & Stale Mess
by Jeremy Kirk
May 27, 2016
16 years and 8 films have passed since the beginning of the X-Men series. It's hard to believe director Bryan Singer is still trying his hand in this particular cinematic universe, but the X-Men series has created something of a wheelhouse for the filmmaker who has left and returned to it. You'd think his voice would be ever-present even in offshoots like The Wolverine and Deadpool. Alas, X-Men: Apocalypse, the latest entry helmed by Singer, is a mess, a hodgepodge of generic ideas, paint-by-numbers action, and a continuity that will leave anyone who has followed along with the previous 8 films slapping themselves in the forehead. Singer can't even pull convincing performances out of the staggering cast built up throughout the franchise, and X-Men: Apocalypse quickly proves itself to be a stale and blasé entry into this once-promising series.
It doesn't help that aspects like setting add to the film's convoluted nature. In Apocalypse, the X-MCU finds itself in 1983. It's been 10 years since mutants were outed to the public, 20 years after Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) pieced his initial team of mutants together, and a few thousand years since the imprisonment of the eponymous mutant who some consider to be the first mutant in existence. Apocalypse or En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is an ancient being who can transfer his consciousness into anyone, human or mutant, and take on their respective powers. He wishes to remake the world in his own, perfect image. In order to remake the world, you naturally have to destroy the present one, and, after awakening from his slumber, this is exactly what Apocalypse sets out to do. Of course, in the 1983 X-MCU there are any number of individuals with mutant abilities to either face off against the would-be ruler or join him in his quest for dominance. Commence boatloads of computer generated shit flying around all four corners of the screen.
It really is a very simple premise at work in X-Men: Apocalypse, one that certainly doesn't justify the film's 144-minute runtime. That isn't stopping Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg from jamming all 144 of those minutes with as much build-up, exposition, and development as they can without a care in the world if any of it is easy to follow or even makes sense in the already established world (remember - 8 other films before this). A number of aspects in X-Men: Apocalypse are either repetitive or flat out contradictory to the franchise's continuity. It's almost as if the people behind this latest film had never seen any of the previous films let alone been the driving force behind most of them.
They take their time moving all the mutant pieces around this particular chess board, the film's tone seeming to shift course with each, passing scene. Before he's recruited by Apocalypse, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is living a peaceful existence with a wife and daughter. Before she takes up arms against Apocalypse alongside Professor X, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is traveling through Europe uncovering various mutants who are hiding there. The main players are given full-fledged backstories to catch us up on the 10 years that have taken place since Days of Future Past, not that any of it matters in the long run. They all encounter the inevitable conflict, even tragedy, that sets them in motion for the final battle, but, once again, everything runs an obvious course and plays out in incredibly predictable fashion.
As with the output by Singer & Kinberg, most of the actors are going through the motions of their respective character, Fassbender and Lawrence looking downright bored for much of the film. McAvoy seems slightly more interested in what he's doing with Professor X this time around but only slightly. Nicholas Hoult as Beast and Rose Byrne as Moira Mactaggert reprise their respective roles with minimal excitement. As far as the returning players go, only Evan Peters stands out, but that probably has something to do with how ridiculous - and ridiculously fun - his turn as Quicksilver is this go-around. We could always hope for a Quicksilver stand-alone movie (eventually), but you know as well as I how those projects usually end up.
X-Men: Apocalypse boasts a massive amount of new mutants added to the mix, but few of them barely register a blip on the radar. Olivia Munn gives an apathetic performance as Psylocke. The same can be said for Alexandra Shipp as Storm and Tye Sheridan as Cyclops. Sophie Turner takes on the role of young Jean Grey, and the actress dominates in every scene in which she appears, not that that's a difficult challenge to take on here. Here's hoping she has more of a role to take on in the next film. Unfortunately, Oscar Isaac as the films eponymous villain is drowned out by the gallons of makeup he has plastered on his face and around his head. He's such a gifted actor, but Singer seems content letting Apocalypse be the typical villain in a typical superhero story who gives long-winded speeches that amount to very little. Based on the knowledge of what he could have brought to this particular table, it's even more of a crime that Apocalypse ends up being one of the weakest villains the world of comic book movies has ever seen.
It's not as if the X-Men franchise has passed a point of no return with this latest entry. It isn't even the worst film of this particular franchise, thanks very much, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. This series of films has had its fair share of ups and downs alike, but X-Men: Apocalypse seems to be the point where those behind these films have hit their point of fatigue. It's an action-heavy entry, one that can't seem to go five minutes without blowing something up or causing some kind of cataclysmic event. A sense of indifference seems to have set in, though, one that is felt in every scene and every performance in the film. With the next entry already in the works - and already established with X-Men: Apocalypse's obligatory, post-credits scene - that apathy isn't stopping the franchise from continuing to expand. We can only hope the next film brings back the enthusiasm and focus that once made the X-Men franchise worthwhile.