[WARNING – This review of X-Men: Apocalypse contains SPOILERS.]
The year is 1973. Following his assault on President Richard Nixon, ferromancer Erik Lehnsherr became Public Enemy Number One. Shapeshifter Raven Darkholme inadvertently became the face of a movement and a hero to thousands of young people after stopping the assassination attempt. And Charles Xavier, the world’s most powerful telepath, returned home to build a school for gifted youths – mutants with powers, like himself and his former allies, Raven and Erik.
Fast forward ten years. Erik is happily living under an assumed name in his native Poland, with a wife and daughter. Raven is wandering the world, denying that she’s any kind of hero while still helping young mutants to survive. Charles is still running his school, with the aid of his friend Hank McCoy. And the world is enjoying an uneasy peace, though the existence of mutants has been publicly known for a decade and the events of ten years ago are now taught in high-school history classes.
What few suspect and even fewer know is that mutants are not a recent phenomena. Thousands of years ago in Egypt, one existed whose power threatened to enslave humanity for all time. The bold action of a few brave soldiers managed to entrap the god-emperor En Sabah Nur under his pyramid. Or so it was hoped…
Now, En Sabah Nur has been awoken! And he is not pleased with the world that has been built in his absence – a decadent place where the weak exploit the strong with their own rules and laws. It is a world ripe for salvation.
Unfortunately, En Saban Nur’s ideas for salvation are decidedly Old Testament and involve a cleansing fire which will burn the world to ashes, leaving him and his chosen followers to rebuild a better world after the apocalypse. And the only thing that may stop En Sabah Nur and his newly appointed horsemen is an uneasy alliance of old friends and green recruits.
In considering X-Men: Apocalypse, I am reminded of a quote from Oscar Wilde, from when he was visiting the United States and was asked what he thought of it – “There is much to admire here, but on reflection I believe everything admirable was imported from elsewhere.”
Did you enjoy the Quicksilver scene from Days of Future Past? Or the scene where Magneto kills a bunch of people with one small metal object like in X-2? What about the conversation between Xavier and Magneto regarding someone attacking the school from the end of the original X-Men? Good news! You’ll get to see these scenes and more repeated here!
This repetition extends to the characters themselves, as the main cast repeat their character beats from the previous movies. Michael Fassbender rages over the death of his second family and continues to insist that he is beyond saving, until he isn’t. Jennifer Lawrence continues to insist that she isn’t a hero, until the script requires her to do something heroic. And James McAvoy continues to insist that everyone has good in them until they prove him right.
The rest of the ensemble does the best they can with the weak script. Yet most of them have little to do but stand in the background and pose dramatically. This is particularly true of The Four Horsemen, with the exception of Magneto, whose sudden willingness to subvert his will in the name of Apocalypse is never convincingly explained.
The film’s biggest problem is Apocalypse himself. His power levels and abilities have always been vaguely defined and his design was over-the-top in the fashion typical of Dark Age Marvel baddies. One wonders why he needs minions in the first place, given how powerful he is. And while the character’s final appearance doesn’t look quite as bad as the early pictures that drew comparison to Ivan Ooze from Power Rangers The Movie, the design doesn’t work. And any sense of subtlety or menace in Oscar Isaac’s performance is completely lost behind five pounds of make-up and the continual reverb in his auto-tuned voice.
By any fair metric, X-Men: Apocalypse is a terrible movie. The direction is sub-par, with dramatic scenes suddenly interrupted by comedic beats. The story is confusing, even ignoring the many plot holes and contradictions regarding the previous X-Men films. And most of the characters could be replaced by cardboard cut-outs with nothing being lost.
In this, the film effectively (if unintentionally) captures the sensation of reading the average X-Men comic perfectly. The visuals are more important than the story and more effort has been put into making sure Olivia Munn looks like Psylocke than in giving her anything to do. Die-hard X-Fans will be doubtlessly be pleased by this movie but everyone else would do well to skip this one or wait for it to hit their Netflix queue.