Superhero fatigue is a very real condition quickly striking the critical masses. Remember the terror that was Batman v Superman? Hopefully not. What about the bombastic extravaganza that was Captain America: Civil War? Feels like it was only yesterday that it came out. Now, not to be forgotten, X-Men: Apocalypse stomps onto the scene. We continue with the majority of the cast from X-Men: First Class as they are once again forced to don conveniently available leather suits into battle against another mutant trying to destroy the civilized world.
X-Men continues its partial relatability by tempering some of their most fantastical elements with re-appropriated historical, political actions meant to mirror real life civil rights politics. For a comic book world that is meant to be representative of the many marginalized groups and minorities in our world, the X-Men film universe, with X-Men: Apocalypse in particular, tends to lack the diversity it was originally meant to promote. The extended universe itself is full of diverse characters from various cultural and racial backgrounds, but that has yet to be translated to the big screen. Instead, we get morally gray characters like Raven/Mystique taking the mantle of revolutionary leader and freedom fighter.
Mystique’s (Jennifer Lawrence) choice in appearance, much like Superman’s alter-ego Clark Kent, is chosen because of how innocuous and inoffensive it is to society. That ends up being a reflection of what is deemed socially acceptable or “normal.” That is the extent that diversity and societal perception are explored in a franchise that should be known for championing inclusion and promoting diversity. The caliber of the veteran cast is almost enough to make you forget this, but there is little else to think about as the pacing’s inconsistency creates several lulls through this overlong superhero sequel. This becomes obvious with two of the most recent additions to group that are meant to round out this mostly white cast.
Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Jubilee (Lana Condor) each get about 10 lines each in the entire film, and that’s a generous estimation. We have seen Storm before in past films, but that doesn’t mean her character shouldn’t get the same amount of development as the other revisited characters. The biggest upset as a fan of the comics was their treatment of Jubilee. My anticipation for her and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) were part of the main motivation of seeing the film. I didn’t realize going in that there would be a trade-off, having one show off their abilities but having a handful of dialogue, while the other has slightly more dialogue but never once shows us her ability. Jubilee not even getting a chance to show her powers at least once reinforces her position in the film as nothing more than a nostalgic set piece.
That wasn’t the only character problems with the film. As a super villain, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) doesn’t even need to move a finger to fight. As you can imagine, all but one of the fighting scenes involve the four horsemen he’s conscripted. This is probably because if he were to actually fight, he would win within minutes all while standing there motionless and staring intensely. There’s no sense of real danger with a villain who isn’t really putting up a fight physically or even mentally throughout the entire film. He only really gets his astral hands dirty when he is forced into a psychic battle that ultimately even proves to be no challenge to him. Isaac’s talent is wasted in a role that could have been played by anyone, but you won’t pay too much attention when you have powerhouse talents like Lawrence, Fassbender, Jackman, McAvoy and Hoult stealing the screen from even the new talent.
The gorgeous explosion of CGI on-screen is impressive, especially how they were able to flawlessly convert all the sand-like elements into fluid flowing 3D graphics. This destruction level in this film verges on the border of destruction porn, almost in league with a Roland Emmerich wet dream. There is terrifying extinction-level disintegration all around, but there is also a fair amount of beauty in the universe they’ve set up. The costume design gloriously brings to life the characters by recreating their style almost directly from the comics.
The X-Men film franchise has always been ficklely inconsistent, sometimes opting to cater to purists rather than a general audience and vice versa. With plot holes being enough to bury the Blob in, writer Simon Kinberg doesn’t do enough to keep this film from falling into the trilogy curse that plagued the original trilogy, including his first X-Men screenplay with X-Men: The Last Stand. Bryan Singer continues to direct this franchise with diminishing fervor, delivering more thrills than substance this time around. I like annihilation as much as the next fanboy, but I would have easily exchanged the entertaining explosions for greater character development when it came to the new cast. Singer throws in a couple of new tricks into the film, but also relies on more than a few of the old ones to bring the film to life. This includes a revisiting of the immeasurably popular Quicksilver scene, but done on a greater scale. As the trailers have already spoiled for you, Jackman’s Wolverine makes a grisly appearance in the film, which could potentially be his last. It was great to see his ferocity on-screen, even though this would have been the perfect opportunity to introduce a new Wolverine since the character will inevitably have to be recast for the following film.
X-Men: Apocalypse serves as a mostly satisfying follow-up to X-Men: Days of Future Past, which saw the retcon of everything that happened in the original trilogy, including the abysmal third film. This film was meant as a way to pass the cinematic baton from the First Class-ers to the all-new X-Men. While trying to wrap up their story lines, the story sacrificed the character development of the new blood for the older one. That meant that we got to once again enjoy Lawrence’s bloated importance in the film as the mockingjay of the mutants, while newbies like Turner and Sheridan only had their surface lightly scratched. The X-Men franchise has pulled off a feat previously thought impossible and rose up from its own ash-hole like a renewed phoenix. This hat trick proved to pay off with the time-trotting Days of Future Past. X-Men: Apocalypse had the inevitable task of winding up the story’s revisionist vision. Although it was very messy, the results proved to be essential and satiating. The important thing about powers is not what they are, but what you do with them. Will all the changes be worth it or is this the beginning of the franchises own apocalypse? I’ll let you know after the next film.
Rating: ★★★★★★ (6/10 stars)