Back in 2011 Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class stunned this reviewer by delivering a jolt of giddy energy to an exhausted series. Integrating real historical crisis and fantastical superhero action, the film was a stunning rebirth for the series. And then in 2014 Bryan Singer returned with the ambitious, engaging and very complex X-Men: Days Of Future Past (a film held highly as the series’ best by many and called a mind spanking muddle by others). Point is, that after the initial X-Men trilogy a few years back, eyes were on Singer’s Apocalypse to see if all could be brought to a brilliantly high stakes climax. Sadly, while fun in part, Apocalypse is a dip in quality.
The film picks up in the early ‘80s as an excavation awakens an ancient evil in En Sabah Nur (aka Apocalypse) (Oscar Isaac), the world’s first mutant. Naturally his intentions are sinister, as he seeks out the most powerful mutants to lead a hostile takeover of the entire world. The only thing that can stop him is the X-Men, led by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). You know the drill by now surely but anyway, that is the layout for this film, which is fun, flashy, effects filled and yet, fails to strike the same chords as what came before. Singer’s film never holds up on the action sequences and scale but in the process feels lacking in the same handling of character and the same interesting blend of fictional blockbuster narrative and socio-political history, that were the best features of the last two films.
Based in part on arcs of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s comics, this film features some moments of excellence amidst some quite hectic storytelling, lacking emotion and thrills. The Magneto sub-plot is brilliant, with the character undergoing more tragedy and there is a mid-film cameo by a certain someone that is undoubtedly fantastic too. In fact Singer’s film and Kinberg’s script features a few enjoyable moments, with the opening sequence feeling torn straight from X-Men: The Animated series and once again Evan Peters excelling as Quicksilver. To that point, a few characters stand out with Jennifer Lawrence being great again as Mystique, Kodi-Smit McPhee making a genuinely funny Nightcrawler and James McAvoy gets undoubtedly the most depth to play with as Professor X. There are also strong turns by Tye Sheridon as Scott “Cyclops” Summers and Sophie Turner as Jean Grey.
Sadly the film comes apart as it fails to develop many aspects of its plot or supporting characters, with Magneto’s appearance (aforementioned sub-plot aside) feeling inconsequentially handled, and his fellow horseman of Apocalypse all just being there and you’ll need to Google them to remember them. In fact the whole of the supporting cast give it their best shot but never really get chance to flex their mutant muscles as much as you’d like. Though the worst hand dealt is that of the main villain role, in which Oscar Isaac exudes menace but his clichéd big bad - in an era of supervillain films, cool heroes and deep antagonists - feels over familiar and ineffective.
As well as this the film’s nuclear panic themes feel tacked on and are not integrated into the narrative as seamlessly as the Cuban Missile Crisis in First Class or state fears/political assassination in Days of Future Past. In all, the film really does not have as much to say, minus using Auschwitz as a set piece (a reckless move some, obviously, did not take kindly to). It’s very serious and doomy and yet the stakes don’t really feel all that high, true there are big sequences that carry you along but Apocalypse is uneven and while funny at times (Magneto’s first meeting with Apocalypse) and badass at others (the prison break sequence), it is not consistent.
So while certainly not a dreadful (hell, its fine superhero genre stuff) Apocalypse cannot help but feel like a disappointment by association with its previous two installments. The film feels like it would have been a landmark picture 10 or more years ago (or at least its flaws would not have stood out so much) but with the superhero genre getting ballsier (Deadpool), riskier (Suicide Squad), changing the formula (Captain America: Civil War) or becoming more sophisticated (the Dark Knight Trilogy), this film feels like it is playing catch up. The energetic moments within, mostly indebted to the much loved animated series, do ensure that Apocalypse is not a bore but cannot help the film become anything more than spectacle and potential. Fun in part, flawed in others and no match for what came before.
Special Features: Deleted/Extended Scenes / Concept Art and Photo Gallery / Documentary / Wrap Party Video / Audio Commentary / Gag Reel
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE/ CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: BRYAN SINGER / SCREENPLAY: SIMON KINBERG / STARRING: MICHAEL FASSBENDER, JAMES MCAVOY, JENNIFER LAWRENCE, OSCAR ISAAC, EVAN PETERS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (DIGITAL RELEASE), OCTOBER 4TH (DVD, BLU-RAY)