The most interesting aspect of the recent iteration of the X-Men series was not its technical skill or groundbreaking directing, but its emphasis on the smaller scale conflicts. First Class works because of its personal stakes between its main characters Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) because they quarreled over their ideological differences, but also had a bounty of affection for each other.
This stayed relatively the same (but with a bigger budget) in Days of Future Past, but is completely forgotten about in the latest entry, Apocalypse, for a grander and more asinine plot about a returning all-powerful mutant (played by blue Oscar Isaac) and his quest to cleanse the Earth.
What is misguided about this latest installment is not the bigger scale and additions of more characters (because it is the nature of superhero movies to become more expansive over time), but that it forgot about its core relationship that not only is the most effective story point this franchise has going for it, but the one that allows for the rest of this franchise to explore and motivate with its other ambitions.
Following the emergence of this super-superhero(?), the X-Men must assemble with the additions of young newcomers Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to bring back Professor Xavier, who was taken by Apocalypse (Issac) to help bring his plot into motion. Led by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the group must save the world from its impending doom.
Apocalypse is nothing if not formulaic in its endeavors. Much like many other world-dominating affairs, this one is expecting us to find more nuance out of the god-like abilities of its main villain, who actually is about as hollow and uninteresting as this story is. Apocalypse feels like yet another forgettable superhero villain — one with no individualistic qualities or reasons to side with him unless you’re some anarchistic cult follower. Isaac does his best acting inside his steroid-infused smurf costume, but the lack of real depth seeps through.
Surrounding him are his four horsemen — Magneto (Fassbender), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Angel (Ben Hardy) — who attempt to find some semblance of individuality as well. Magneto is an established character, but the others feel like figures that we are expected to believe have higher aspirations than just side pieces in this villain’s game, but the lack of any interest in giving them personalities makes them as forgettable as their leader.
In his fourth outing, director Bryan Singer continues to try and make this franchise bigger and bigger in an attempt to compete with the Batman, Superman, Iron Man, and Captain Americas of the world, but this may be his weakest entry yet. In what seems to be a cross-over lesson for all of these major team-up movies, the lack of time focused on the characters that matter hurts the overall product and Apocalypse forgets what made the X-Men series interesting — the friendship between Xavier and Erik.
Once we get to the portion of the movie where that becomes prevalent, it is forced into the overstuffed monotony of global conquest and feels more like a callback to previous (and successful) entries rather than a continued exploration into what makes these two characters tick. Not only that, but it is yet another retread into the plot beats that have been hit over the course of this franchise’s run (Erik losing people he loves, Xavier wanting to fight for the greater good) and doesn’t have the decency to dig deeper. It seems very obvious with this movie that maybe it is time for Singer to move on from this franchise and allow new voices to take over the reigns.
This technique worked when Matthew Vaughn took over for First Class, which may be one of (if not the best) entry in the series, and could help to re-energize these characters moving forward. With the success of Deadpool, and a very unknown future, this may be the best time to move around what made the series great in the past and try to establish a new structure for the future and one that isn’t as tired and overdone as what Singer has been coming out with.
X-Men: Apocalypse is not the lowest point in the franchise’s history, but it is a warning sign that this very rich background is starting to become stale and worn. It is apparent on the tired face of Jennifer Lawrence, who has made a point of phoning in this role for two movies now, and it is apparent on this reviewer who just can’t stomach anymore lazy efforts out of blockbuster filmmaking.
Entries like this give blockbusters and superhero movies a bad name, and something needs to be done. Apocalypse got one thing right when he said that there needs to be a cleansing, but it seems like that may be more internal rather than on a global scale.