It was without much enthusiasm that I went to the cinemas today to see X-Men Apocalypse. I had loved First Class and somewhat enjoyed Days of Future Past, but the trailers for Apocalypse had not instilled me with a huge amount of confidence. Still, I was willing to give it a shot.
I will not go fully into the plot, but essentially Apocalypse, real name En Sabah Nur has awoken after over 5000 years and seeks to destroy the world. To do this he gathers about him four ‘horsemen’ including Magneto and Storm to realise his goal of world destruction.
On the other side is Charles Xavier, the X-Men and Mystique who naturally try to stop this happening. There is a new raft of characters, in this case many who appear in the original trilogy such as Jean Grey, Cyclops and Nightcrawler.
The story unfortunately is incredibly predictable; Apocalypse begins his genocidal plan by transferring his essence into Xavier and the X-Men must work to thwart him. In the midst of this Magneto and Storm have predictable changes of heart and the villain is defeated when Jean Grey unleashes the Phoenix.
One of the great strengths of the previous two films is that they were based around real-life events and provided an opportunity to tell an ‘alternate’ history of the event. That option was not taken here, and so the 80s setting feels both a bit meaningless and waste. Were it not for the occasional picture of Reagan and the presence of Return of the Jedi in a cinema, you’d hardly know it.
The thing I look for most in a movie, above flashy visuals, is whether the plot and motivations make sense, and I don’t feel they really do here. Apocalypse is a generic all-powerful villain against whom the heroes must strive, even though his plan is rather absurd. His horsemen have little screen time aside from Magneto, and they get little chance to show off their skills. Storm’s introduction and her new actress Alexandra Shipp are capable enough, but her motivations are limited.
The problem in all of this is that this movie tries to do too much. This is typified by Magneto, again played ably by Michael Fassbender. He is setup having a family and normal life in Poland, but the family are there to be killed (and in an absurd manner no less) so he can give up on all humanity…again. He joins Apocalypse knowing that he’ll be wiping out most of the world…yet seems surprised when this is actually turning out to be the case.
His conflict with Xavier, which has always been the most interesting part of the X-Men, therefore feels rather perfunctory and his turn at the end totally unsurprising.
Other newcomers are served to varying degrees. Tye Sheridan provides us the best Cyclops we’ve seen on screen – though this is hardly difficult. Jean Grey though, played by Sophie Turner, feels rather less interesting. Perhaps it was simply the directing or the writing, but she came off as rather bland.
The other returning cast are rather better. James McAvoy is still a great Xavier, though he looks very odd with shaved head. Nicolas Hoult as Beast is also good, though Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique looks a little bored and lacks the role this time to put her talents to best use.
Overall the movie is well made, visually stunning and yet…bland. The plot is quite unsatisfying and I think Bryan Singer has run out of stories to tell. A cameo by Hugh Jackman again confirms this point as we are treated to yet another retelling of Wolverine’s escape from captivity.
Of the three superhero movies I’ve seen in as many months this solidly comes in the middle. It’s not as terribly irritating as Batman v Superman (though the death of Magneto’s family is almost as ludicrous as the Martha scene) but it lacks the fun and good storytelling of Civil War. Overall, the movie was just rather ‘meh’ to me. It didn’t piss me off like The Last Stand did, but it’s not a great movie like First Class. It says something that I was more interested in the trailers than the actual movie. On that level it can said to be a failure.