I didn’t expect to like X-Men: Apocalypse, but I was unprepared for how soul-crushingly awful it would be. Everything is either a rehash of something done better in a previous X-movie or monstrously inept. I had to scrawl a list of grievances on my diner placemat like a professional just to keep track of them all. This movie is so inbred that it unequivocally demands Bryan Singer & Simon Kinberg be removed from the franchise.
Here’s my group review with The Wages of Cinema followed by my SPOILERY rant, which probably isn’t spoilery if you live in one of the many countries that got it a week early, about everything else from my placemat.
The film opens by homaging Stargate. Apocalypse transfers his consciousness into new mutant hosts (a retcon I’ve never liked in the comics) to gain additional powers. This is accomplished via alien technology, which is never explained to viewers. He inexplicably let traitors erect giant booby traps to lock him in his pyramid right outside the front door. He’s even more conveniently awakened thousands of years later by descendants of his followers while Moira Mactaggert is watching when sunlight touches him because he’s a reverse Dracula.
Despite being the title villain, Apocalypse has little presence. Rather than fomenting a perpetual eugenics war based on a misunderstanding of Herbert Spencer, he has a vague destroy the world scheme. Oscar Isaac tries to imbue the character with understated menace, but that’s the wrong direction for Apocalypse. He needs to be a grandiose threat in every aspect. His only memorable line of dialogue was quoted from the original animated series, which they should’ve cribbed more from. The movie needed to devote less time to callbacks & more to making Apocalypse a compelling adversary. Apocalypse would’ve been more threatening if he opposed the veteran X-Men instead of their earlier selves so there would be the risk that someone important could die.
In the comics, Apocalypse’s vaguely defined suite of powers stem from his ability to control every molecule in his body. Some regeneration aside, this seems to be one of few powers he doesn’t have in the movie. The cool sequence of him thrashing Xavier as a giant only occurs on the Astral Plane. He does a lot of sand manipulation because they confused him with Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep. He catches up on thousands of years of history by touching a TV to assimilate every news report & documentary. Which is worse: that that isn’t how 80’s televisions work, or that there was an ancient mutant with the worthless power to absorb electromagnetic media? Despite all his powers, Apocalypse undermines himself by delegating much of his wrath to Magneto.
Magneto upstages Apocalypse in his own movie. Michael Fassbender continues to be riveting even when the script isn’t. To explain why Magneto hasn’t been toppling human governments in the decade since the last movie took place, he’s retired from politics with his new family. This is actually a part of his backstory that should’ve happened before First Class. It’s unintentionally hilarious that his wife & daughter (named Nina here instead of Anya) are fridged by an archer who’s not even aiming at them. Magneto’s a wonderful character, but the franchise really needs to give other foes a chance to shine.
After (Green) Arrow’s fourth finale, I’m pleasantly surprised Apocalypse disarmed the world’s nuclear arsenal in an “act of peace” (I’m not sure that’s a thing, newscaster) instead of trying to nuke everything. At least all of Cairo is destroyed later on, however, because this year’s superhero movies (sans Deadpool, the year’s best Marvel adaptation) have it out for Africans. The film probably has an even higher global death toll, but it was impossible to feel the enormity of the stakes with Magneto swirling metallic gravel around through the sky that somehow destabilizes all the world’s industrialized cities. It would’ve made more sense if Apocalypse had recruited Avalanche to stimulate all the tectonic planes simultaneously. He doesn’t double down on destruction by having Storm upset global weather systems because then they’d have to acknowledge Storm.
I thought Apocalypse would be mind-controlling Storm, but it doesn’t seem to be so. She willingly joins him because she’s a Mystique fangirl. This only makes sense if Mystique was the ruthless killer from the comics & not the one famous for saving President Tricky Dick in the altered timeline. She betrays Apocalypse for choking her heroine but only after Magneto does. After her introductory scene, she stops getting dialogue because this franchise hates Storm.
Due to wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey of Days of Future Past, Jubilee, Psylocke, & Archangel have been born decades before they would’ve been in the original X-Men trilogy. Mucking up the franchise’s already tenuous timeline further wasn’t worth it given how they’re non-entities here. Jubilee’s biggest scene is making a meta-joke that the third movie is always the worst (the real Jubilee would dig Ewoks), which is supposed to be a jab at The Last Stand but it also applies here as the third in the prequel trilogy. Non-telepathic Psylocke gets more to do than her last appearance, but I still don’t understand her character. She only exists in this movie as an afterthought inspired by fan art. As the only Horse(wo)man that can’t fly, they miss an opportunity to have her ride a flying robot horse.
The most egregious is Archangel. As the most famous of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, it makes sense to include him … if they’d bothered to give him a character arc. The crippled former X-Man transformed into a killing machine struggling to regain his humanity is the emotional engine of one of Apocalypse’s seminal tales. There’s no conflict of pathos here, as he’s an antagonist throughout. The original cartoon showed he could still be a tragic sympathetic character without having been an X-Man, so there’s no excuse for this. After getting his taloned wings fried in a cage match akin to Wolverine’s introduction in the original movie, Apocalypse makes him instantly sprout new metal wings just by touching him because cybernetically grafting them on would be too realistic. After all the effort of crowbarring him into the movie, his most noticeable contribution is dying in a plane crash as a callback to Darwin’s nonsensical death in First Class.
The movie takes a big detour in the middle to revisit the Weapon X Project. We get to see Wolverine escape for the third time in the film series, so it’s becoming the mutie equivalent of shooting Batman’s parents, but now with more blood than was shown in The Wolverine’s entirety. This time they finally referenced his Weapon X gear. Just like Apocalypse’s pyramid, I think it was bad planning for Stryker to put his cage in the base’s generator room. The dude vacuuming up all the wasted bullets from the base is the film’s breakout character. The X-Men don’t invite Wolverine along for the rest of their mission, much like Quicksilver in the prior movie, but it does leave open the possibility of him joining Alpha Flight. It still doesn’t explain why Mystique impersonated Stryker to hand him over to Weapon X at the end of Days of Future Past in the first place.
This movie finally reveals the secret origin of Xavier’s baldness! It’s a side effect of Apocalypse trying to possess his body to gain telepathy. And you thought it was going to be something simple like natural hair loss due to aging to indicate it’s been two decades since First Class! Apocalypse attempts this only after making him deliver a global psychic message which Xavier sabotages, instead of doing the transference immediately to deliver it properly himself.
Two parental Chekov’s guns aren’t fired. Quicksilver’s arc is about connecting with his illegitimate father, Magneto. When he confronts him during the climax, he chooses not to tell him about their relation. Jubilee referenced The Empire Strikes Back earlier so I was expecting a “Magneto, I am your son. Search your feelings. You know it to be true” moment. Magneto still decides to betray Apocalypse to save his family, even though he believes his whole family had been wiped out. The key motivation for his change of heart was right there, & they didn’t use it! Despite Mystique going out of her way to rescue Nightcrawler, she never reveals he’s her son by Azazel either.
Jean was the Phoenix all along! Jeanix deues ex machinas Apocalypse away. At least we finally got to see the Phoenix Force aura, which was conspicuously absent from Famke Janssen.
The two best parts are Quicksilver & Beethoven’s Zardoz music. Quicksilver isn’t the arrogant impatient European from the comics, but I’m letting that slide since he’s as exuberant as DC’s Impulse. Him rescuing every non-mutanty looking student from the X-Mansion as it explodes set to Eurythmics’s “Sweet Dreams” is head & shoulders above the rest of the film even though it’s a retread of his previous big scene. Why can’t these movies ever let Jubilee do anything as fun as that?
Unlike the last two prequels, there story isn’t linked to any major 80’s event that would necessitate this being a prequel. It’s implied that the non-Communist world now likes mutants because Mystique saved the President. So why is Mystique so ashamed of her celebrity that she chooses to look like Jennifer Lawrence in front of her mutant friends? Meanwhile Nightcrawler can stroll through a mall apparently without Jean psychically concealing him from human onlookers. While I’m frustrated with mutants always being feared & hated unlike other Marvel superhumans, it doesn’t feel earned that mutants became so accepted instantly. In the original timeline, there was plenty of anti-mutant hysteria even before Magneto struck at the world’s politicians.
Even worse, there’s no repercussions from Apocalypse’s scheme. The news even praises Magneto as a hero while completely ignoring he was responsible for most of the destruction. He probably killed millions of people across the globe, not to mention all the cities he wrecked. Whereas even BvS: DoJ acknowledges that destroying a single city is a tragedy, worldwide devastation that should be catastrophic for civilization is just shrugged off here. Xavier happily lets Magneto walk away with no punishment aside from helping rebuild his house with no wheelchair access. Professor Xavier is a jerk!
Actual Horseman Caliban is in this without being an actual Horseman. They cut Dazzler’s album, which would’ve been the best Easter Egg. Blob’s cameo is worse than X-Men Origins: Wolverine. A photo of Moira MacTaggert’s son got me excited for a Proteus Saga movie until I realized that his movie mom is more like Valerie Cooper & it probably wouldn’t be set set in Scotland. A scene is wasted introducing Beast’s new Blackbird right before Havok explodes it. Its epilogue confirms Mr. Sinister, probably played by Richard E. Grant, will be butchered next.
I actually like Apocalypse’s design from the shoulders down, which is the polite way of saying they failed at his head. Psylocke would’ve had the best costume in the movie if they hadn’t given her an unnecessarily inaccurate cleavage window. Mystique & Beast spend half the movie not being blue, which completely undermines the allegorical message. Archangel isn’t blue period. Nightcrawler gets to be blue all the way through except he still has scars instead of velvety fur. The X-Men manage to wear black uniforms that are even more generic than before, but I’ll leave it to this fine gentleman to elucidate you on why this is terrible:
The team finally get individual costumes with limited color in the last scene right before a Danger Room exercise. The Danger Room was only seen on film in The Last Stand & isn’t explained here, so if you’re unfamiliar with X-Men lore, it looks like Professor X locked his students in a room to be killed by Sentinels.
For a movie made of rehashes that’s still fun to watch & makes better use of Oscar Isaac, watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens again.
Remember at Toy Fair when Hasbro revealed it’d be making a non-exclusive Marvel Legends X-Men wave? Well the final figure is going to be Wolverine. Not X-23 as the new Wolverine (why does her version of his costume cover up her hairy arms?) mind you, but another Logan in his brown & tan duds. The BAF will be another Juggernaut. I hate you so much right now, Hasbro!
The last time Hasbro made an X-Men line, it at least gave us the first Marvel Legends of Jubilee … in her horrible new costume as a BAF. So not only did I have to resort to ebay for most of parts as I only wanted Stryfe, I had to customize her into her classic attire. Her Marvel Universe figure was sculpted with rolled up sleeves, gloves, belt, & earrings, which would’ve made things easier had they carried over to this version too.
To synergize with Iron Man v. Captain America: Dawn of Vengeance, Steve Rogers has returned to the role of Captain America to undermine his successor, the Falcon. Marvel also revealed Steve Rogers has been a HYDRA agent since he was a youngling. Marvel won’t make him bisexual, but it’s totally cool with Captain America being a secret Nazi all along. They sure know their fanbase! You can tell he’s evil because his new costume hasn’t got wings on his temples. I’m saying no to Captain HYDRA because he’s been a monstrously inept double agent over the past several decades.
Last call for THE DOLOROUS ADVENTURE OF BROTHER BANENOSE! It’ll be out of print on June 1, so hopefully you’ll have clicked the previous hyperlink before then! Thank you very much in advance for your punctual patronage.