Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Simon Kinberg from a story by Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Sophie Turner, Ty Sheridan, Lucas Till, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, Lana Condor, and Olivia Munn
Runtime 144 minutes
The X-Men is one of the most difficult comic book/superhero teams to translate to film. Since its inception in 1963, the team has changed its roster so many times it’s hard to keep track and it also swells in size, sometime incorporating as many as 20 members at a time then can shrink to 5. Translating that to film is difficult because it would be difficult to settle on what team to include at what stage. Moviegoers are somewhat fickler when it comes to consistency in their series, so an ever changing roster like the X-Men (and for that matter, The Avengers) is almost out of the question (unless you do it like they are in the MCU and gradually modifying the team as the films go on). With the X-Men franchise, they seem to just throw mutants at the screen regardless of their origins and standing in the X-universe and hope something works. The best expression of this, and where it actually worked, is X-Men: Days of Future Past from 2014, while the worst expression is X-Men: The Last Stand from 2006 (or perhaps it’s tied with X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and now the eighth X-Men film, X-Men: Apocalypse is somewhere in the middle with most of the rest of the franchise.
The story is set in 1983, ten years after the primary evets in X-Men: Days of Future Past (the parts that Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) time-traveled to, not the parts that he time-traveled from) and Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) finally has the school he’s always wanted, teaching mutants how to control their powers so they can live in society. This calm is interrupted when an ancient mutant, possibly the first one, is awoken by a cult that has been worshiping him for close to 5,000 years is awoken (his burial and ability to transfer his life-force is detailed at the very beginning of the film). He’s discovered in Egypt and researched by Moira Mactaggart (Rose Byrne), a CIA operative that helped the X-Men in X-Men: First Class but to ‘protect’ her, Xavier erased her memory of those events from 1963. So, Xavier and Alex Summers (Lucas Till) (who was a member of the X-Men in 1963 as Havok, left the team but is back now to drop off his little brother Scott (Ty Sheridan), who has developed mutant powers) go to Washington D.C. to see her and pretend that they’ve never met her.
Meanwhile En Sabah Nur, or Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), who is tens of thousands of years old and believes himself to be the rightful ruler of the world, is recruiting his four horsemen, followers to his will that also protect him. For this task he recruits Psylock (Olivia Munn), Angel/Archangel (Ben Hardy), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Magneto has been living a life of obscurity in Poland these last ten years, even got married and had a kid but that all went south when he exhibited his powers and his kid was killed by the police, so he murdered them all and joined up with Apocalypse, whose goal is to rid the world of the weak so the strong can rule, basically kill all humans.
They kidnap Xavier and the rescue team gets sidetracked when Havok blows up Hank/Beast (Nicholas Holt)’s experimental war plane and blows up the mansion as a result. Enter Striker (Josh Helman) who wants the people from the last film to do tests on them. Scott, Jean Grey (Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner) and Kurt/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) stow away and rescue them, then the rescue can take place.
Okay, so that’s a lot going on, right? Too much, really. Writer Simon Kinberg, who wrote X-Men: Days of Future Past, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and is a co-creator of Star Wars: Rebels and is working on one of the Star Wars Anthology films (rumor has it that it is the Han Solo one), but he’s also responsible for X-Men: The Last Stand (which he has said numerous times that he hates and wrote the end of Days of Future Past to rectify his mistakes), the most recent Fantastic Four movie as well as Jumper, so it’s safe to say his results are often mixed. Here, he fills the screenplay with half-baked ideas and so many characters that it is overwhelming to any amount of character development he tries (much like The Last Stand). There is scene after scene after scene of trying to get the band back together and then detouring just so we can go to (spoiler alert) the Weapon X facility and see Wolverine post-bonding process. He never makes Apocalypse the menacing figure that he should be and refashions characters so far outside their source characters that they’re just a name to drop. The screenplay is so bloated, I wanted to throw Gas-X at the screen to see if I could deflate it. Kinberg and Singer even try to recreate the ‘Time in a Bottle’ sequence from Days of Future Past to no avail. The entire sequence (set to the Eurhythmics’ Sweet Dreams) just doesn’t work and feels throughout to be a pale imitation.
The bloat isn’t just Kinberg’s fault, though. Director Bryan Singer is usually competent enough to slim down a film to its basic elements (sometimes too basic) and leave a lot of unnecessary things out. That is what prompted him to cut 20 minutes from Days of Future Past, eliminating Rogue (Anna Paquin) almost entirely because the sequence didn’t work (and it doesn’t, as evidenced by the release of ‘The Rogue Cut’ of the film. It’s okay, but it didn’t need to be there and it killed the momentum of the film). Singer seems to have decided that the reason he walked away from the franchise the first time, the terrible script for The Last Stand (and an opportunity to bring Superman back to the screen) wasn’t an issue here and he didn’t make any decisions for the film at all, just shot it as written.
Then there is the point of time. This film is set 20 years after First Class, yet all of the principals only look about five years older (because they are only five years older). There was absolutely no attempt to age McAvoy, Fassbender, Byrne, Tull or Holt to reflect the passage of time. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) doesn’t age normally because of her shapeshifting power, so the fact that she looks the same is at least explainable. Alex Summers would have to be about 36 by the time this story took place (I won’t get into the fact that he is supposed to be Scott’s younger brother by a couple of years but here is at least 20 years older, or that they’re both adopted because their mother died and their father is a space pirate) and he looks about 26. This is bothersome because it shows the filmmakers don’t care enough to even make their characters fit their passage of time. True, comic book characters never appear to age but that’s because a story arc that takes 12 issues to tell could take place in one week of the character’s life despite taking a year to tell. Movies aren’t like that and when you make it a point to say ten years have passed, you need to make more than the fashions and the music change.
The X-Men franchise is now 16 years old now, and you’d think it’d be old enough to drive itself, but daddy Singer just can’t seem to let go and let the franchise be more independent. It’s true that Singer is responsible for the three best X-Men films (the first two and Days of Future Past) but it’s time for him to move on and let others take over, others that may be able to actually figure out how to utilize the vast and unique characters that populate the X-universe without just throwing them onscreen for the sake of simply including them. First Class seemed to herald that shift, and Days of Future Past continued it (though it did suffer a bit from over-inclusion) but alas it didn’t hold. That’s not to say that X-Men: Apocalypse is bad, it isn’t. it’s just mediocre and coming after the best film in the franchise makes it even more disappointing.