Length: 144 mins
Writers: Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Dir.: Bryan Singer
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne
Spoiler Warning: while everything discussed here can be seen in the trailers, if you don’t want to know anything about the movie, don’t read this review!
I absolutely loved Days of Future Past – not only was it entertaining in and of itself, but I thought it was genuinely impressive in terms of story and execution. I mean, the movie had two large casts (with an impressive roster of actors in each) from two ostensibly different versions of the same franchise telling a relatively complicated time-travel story that resolved nearly all of the issues with the series… What’s not to like?! It was always going to be a tough act to follow, but is Apocalypse a worthy sequel? Well… not really.
It’s hard to explain really. There’s nothing wrong with the movie – there are no bad performances, the story is (relatively) easy to follow and well paced and the film is certainly entertaining. It just feels like something is missing, but I’m not sure what.
As far as the plot goes, the eponymous villain Apocalypse – an immortal god-mutant – awakes from several millennia of sort-of hibernation to a world he barely recognises (i.e. the 80s). Immediately cheesed that he is no longer worshiped as a literal deity, he resolves to destroy the world and rebuild it anew – enlisting the aid of four powerful mutants who serve as his ‘horsemen’. He launches all of the world’s nuclear weapons into space (like in Superman IV), kidnaps Professor X in order to steal his powers and control the world, and it’s up to a new team of teenage X-men to save the day. It’s all pretty straight-forward, but becomes infinitely more complicated when all the subplots are taken into account.
Acting-wise, everyone is on top form. In particular, McAvoy and Fassbender give surprisingly nuanced performances and play off each other well. Isaac is clearly having a tonne-o-fun as Apocalypse, and all of the supporting cast do well (despite having comparatively little to work off). Whilst Jennifer Lawrence gives a good performance as Raven/Mystique – playing her as a reluctant hero – something about her delivery seemed a little off, though that might just be me. All of the characters naturally come with their own narrative baggage and, unfortunately, not all of these side-stories are fully developed. This is especially true of the ‘new’ supporting characters who barely get a look-in when it comes to arcs or progression – the film seems to rely more on the assumption that the audience has seen the other movies and will fill in the blanks. I can’t go into specifics without spoiling the plot, but there are moments where I thought more explanation was needed.
The most frustrating aspect of this is that there would be more than enough time for these things to be properly addressed if the movie stopped referencing the older films. The odd name drop or whatever is fine (there is one gem of a joke about the first trilogy you should watch out for) but at times it was actually quite grating. There is a section towards the end (just before the climactic show down) where – without wishing to spoil – the characters find themselves in a familiar location and the audience is treated to the now obligatory Wolverine cameo (it’s in the trailer). The scene is reasonably well done and Wolverine gets to be a total bad-ass (more so than usual actually), but I couldn’t help feel that it was a bit contrived. You get the sense that this whole sequence was included just to reference the old movies and get Hugh Jackman in the picture – it serves no real narrative purpose other than that. It’s probably just a case of Bryan Singer being self-indulgent – he did make the good ones after all – but it’s frustrating when this came at the expense of the actual story and character development.
Incidentally, there are several aspects of the story that seem a little too convenient – and this smacks of fundamentally poor writing and can occasionally lead to massive plot holes. While I can’t go into specifics, I can tell you that I laughed at some of the explanations the film tried to get away with. You have been warned.
One of the chief strengths of Days of Future Past was that it effectively tied-up the stories of the old X-men movies and freed the new franchise from any narrative constraints or obligations associated with those films. This was a good thing. The problem with Apocalypse is that much of the story feels like a retread of things that we’ve already seen. Pretty much the only new character we’re introduced to – aside from the main villain himself – is Olivia Munn as Psylocke, who has about three lines, if memory serves. Everyone else is either from the First Class crew, or is a new version of a character from the original trilogy. The X-men universe has a wealth of cool characters to choose from and a bit of variety would have been nice – something to really distinguish it from the other films in the series.
All that sounds like I’m pretty down on the movie, but I’m really not. I enjoyed it immensely when I was watching it and it kept me rapt for all of its surprisingly long run-time. It was only afterwards that I became aware of these issues. For me, though, X-Men: Apocalypse was an entertaining watch – but it could have been so much more. Considering the other comic-book movies that have come out this year, Apocalypse doesn’t really do much to distinguish itself. The bar was set pretty high at the start of the year with the surprise hit of the Deadpool movie (another Fox title) and was raised even higher by the satisfyingly grown-up Captain America: Civil War – and while this latest X-Men movie falls short of these in terms of execution, Apocalypse is still a damn fine movie in its own right. A tighter story, less self-indulgence and a wider variety of characters would have gone a long way to making it even better.