20th Century Fox announced X-Men Apocalypse in December of 2013, about half a year before Days of Future Past released. With a movie franchise this large that’s fairly normal these days, but back when they started the X-men movies, that would have been inconceivable. Boy superhero movies have changed a lot since 2000.
Releasing in May of 2016, it would be the first time that two X-Men movies released in the same year (Deadpool released in February). This would also be the third movie taking place in the past, starring the earlier X-Men crew. Like how First Class took place in the 60’s and parts of Days of Future Past took place in the 70’s, this one is entirely set in the early 80’s. More specifically, there’s a scene where a bunch of kids are watching Return of the Jedi in theaters, firmly dating this movie in 1983.
Days of Future Past was a busy enough movie that it didn’t have much time to feel like the 70’s, but it still managed by referencing historical moments. It showed Richard Nixon as the president for example, and it took place at the same time that the Vietnam War ended. First class really feels like it belongs in the 60’s, with a great soundtrack, the plot tying directly into historic events and the general feel of the cinematography. That’s one of the movie’s stronger elements. This one, well … it references Return of the Jedi. That’s really the only moment that sets this in any particular decade. Otherwise it could just as easily be taking place in the 90’s.
Directed by Bryan Singer (his fourth X-Men movie), Apocalypse brought in a major X-men villain into the movies for the first time … and promptly wastes his potential. After going through some of my earlier posts on movies, I realized that I actually wrote a long winded rant about the X-Men movies in general, going into quite a bit of detail on Apocalypse. I even tossed in some ideas on how to improve the story, like turning Apocalypse into a trilogy. If you want to read these ideas in detail, check them out here.
Also I couldn’t help but notice that I said I’d never watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine again in that post. I guess I broke that personal vow. But as much as I really don’t like that movie, I’m glad that I watched it again after so many years. That and Wolverine’s scene in this, while it doesn’t contribute much to the main story, is much better than anything in that abomination from 2009.
Like X-Men: The Last Stand before it, Apocalypse just has too much going on for its own sake. The moments focusing on the young mutants work very well, like Cyclops and Jean Grey initially not liking each other, but they start connecting over how they can’t control their powers. Although they don’t develop a romance in this movie, you can tell there’s room for it. Cyclops is also a much more interesting character in this movie than he is in the first two. He’s a relatively straight man and he generally takes things seriously, but he’s got a touch of rebellion in him too. He’s the one who initiates the X-teens trip to the mall. He debates with Jubilee for a bit on which of the first two Star Wars movies are better. And even though cyclops was a fairly straight man even in his teenaged years, I’m ok with this change.
My feelings on Jean Grey in this movie are mixed, but mostly positive. Sophie Turner does a great job at conveying her fear after a horrifying vision during her sleep, her focus when she’s telepathically making her, Cyclops and Nightcrawler invisible, and looking intrigued when she learns what Cyclops’s powers are. Most of the writing behind a young, growing character is also good. The bad comes into play when they shove the phoenix powers into her already. Making the phoenix a part of her natural power set, like in The Last Stand, cheapens the whole phoenix story. Showing her unleash her power to destroy Apocalypse not only removes an insanely powerful threat too early, but it makes this movie’s ending anti-climactic.
Speaking of which, X-Men Apocalypse’s climax is both way over the top and kind of boring. The fights between the X-men and the horsemen are fine. In fact the short duel between Archangel and Nightcrawler is great. It’s also fun seeing Psylocke giving Beast a lot of trouble. But the actual fight against Apocalypse amounts to him standing around while people constantly fire energy and metal at him, and he easily blocks their attacks with a shield. They clearly put a lot of money and effort into the special effects, but it’s boring when it goes on for several minutes. The over the top action that features Magneto tearing apart metal structures all around the globe at once also leaves very little room for the franchise to up its scale. It makes the original movies feel tiny in all the wrong ways.
And on that note, Quicksilver’s sequence isn’t as enjoyable as his scene in Days of Future Past. He almost seems too powerful when he’s whipping around the exploding mansion even while the flames are slowly moving. It’s a bit ridiculous.
Apocalypse is just too big and powerful a threat for these teenaged X-men to face on their very first mission. Like I said in that rant post I linked to above, this should have been a trilogy. Focus the first movie mostly on the mutants, which is clearly the best part of this movie. Don’t even show Apocalypse. Only mention him. Better yet, have Angel join the X-men (he was an original member). Then he loses his wings, turns to the wrong people and becomes Archangel. Boom, you’ve got a movie with a strong emotional core for the climax. Introduce Apocalypse towards the end of the second movie, where they manage to help bring Archangel back to the light, but also introduce not only the four horsemen, but the mythology behind them. Save the giant climax for the third movie, when the X-Men are more experienced, and other mutants have realized Apocalypse is a big enough threat that they just need to join them.
Instead, you’ve got this movie that both feels too long and clearly isn’t long enough. Anyway, the focus on Xavier and Magneto in this movie works fairly well, but Xavier isn’t as interesting as he is in the first two. By this point he’s pretty much where he needs to be as a potential leader and a teacher. He doesn’t really learn or develop much. Magneto on the other hand has a very dramatic story that’s told very well. After the events of Days of Future Past, he’s gone into hiding, and even got married and had a daughter. After he’s caught moving metal to save someone’s life, he’s confronted. By accident, one of the cops kills his wife and daughter with a single arrow. It breaks Magneto to the point where he’s willing to join Apocalypse as one of the horsemen. It’s a tragic moment, and it’s nice to see him wielding powers he’s only shown in the comics before.
The third character in the First Class trinity on the other hand, Mystique, is just boring here. She doesn’t have a character arc, she doesn’t feel like the mutant terrorist from the comics on any level, and Jennifer Lawrence looks like she doesn’t want to be in the movie. There’s a moment near the end where she says “let’s go to war”, and she looks soulless. It’s a far cry from her more energetic performance in First Class where she’s clearly into it.
On top of all that, Psylocke is basically a non character in this. Angel’s portrayal is completely wrong on so many levels. The main one being that his journey to becoming a horseman of apocalypse is a very tragic one in the comics, where after years of working with the X-men, his wings are cut off and he turns to the wrong people for help. He’s then forced to fight against his long-time friends. Here, he doesn’t know any of the X-Men and you simply don’t care about his situation. Caliban’s in the movie enough that you can’t really call it a cameo, but his role is so short that he might as well not be here. And Jubilee shows up for a bit at the school, but you never see her powers, nor is she anywhere to be seen in the second half of the movie. And while Storm’s actress (Tye Sheridan) does have more charisma than Halley Berry, she’s hardly in the movie.
X-2: X-Men United had a sizeable cast, but they managed to make it work. Even Days of Future Past worked at least on the level that most of the future X-Men characters we’ve either seen before, or they’re just here to give us some good action and they don’t affect the story in any major ways. In Apocalypse, we’ve got a bunch of characters involved in the story that aren’t in the movie long enough to have character arcs, and like Apocalypse as a villain, they just feel like wasted opportunity. And how is Jubilee a teenager here when she was also a teenager in Singer’s X2: X-Men United, taking place more than 20 years after this movie?
I thought Days of Future Past was supposed to fix all of these problems, yet one movie later we’re creating a whole bunch of new ones.
I’m not talking too much about the production because talking about this movie’s shortcomings is more interesting. Sure, there are good moments in X-Men: Apocalypse. One of them is only in the deleted scenes, but it’s an extended mall scene that truly feels like it’s from the 80’s. It’s further evidence that this movie should have had a much smaller scale to focus more on the mutants and less on an overblown story. But as for what’s in the movie that I haven’t already mentioned, the Weapon X scene is kind of hardcore. Xavier reconnecting with Moira Mactaggert (as much as I don’t like that she’s a CIA agent instead of a Scottish geneticist) is a nice little subplot. I really like young Nightcrawler’s portrayal here, and Kodi Smith-McPhee does an excellent job with him.
While I do have a lot of complaints about this movie, I think it’s ok. I’d still re-watch this over The Last Stand any day, and even over the first X-Men movie. That said, the movie’s first half is better than its second, which leaves you feeling a bit empty when it’s over. Instead of leaving you wanting more, it makes you wonder where this franchise can possibly go from here. That’s not the feeling you want to leave your audience. Even The Last Stand left at least some room to move forward. As much as I don’t want Fox or Disney to reboot this entire series, I’ll admit that this movie is an argument in favour of a reboot.
If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I’m not sure whether I’d recommend it or not. What I do know is that I’d sooner recommend the third and fourth season of X-Men Evolution over this. That show handled the Apocalypse story very well. The 90’s cartoon handled Apocalypse much better than this as well.
There’s one more movie in this blogathon. Like with my Disney blogathon, I’ll also write a post at some point ordering all the X-Men movies from favourite to least favourite. When that’ll be partly depends on how distracted I am with The Last Jedi, which I’m seeing on opening night. Until then, enjoy.