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X-MEN: Apocalypse

The team take on the original mutant in this overstuffed and overblown third instalment to the prequel series. ★★☆☆☆

X-MEN: Apocalypse20th Century Fox (2016)

Dir: Bryan Singer

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, 

Genre: Superhero, Action, Thriller

By the time Jean Grey declares that “The third one is always the worst” about half way through X-MEN: Apocalypse, it is the final confirmation that what you are watching is, for all intents and purposes, exactly what you didn’t want to see.

Carrying on with the tradition of recent years, X-MEN Apocalypse begins one decade on from 2014’s Days Of Future Past. This is the 1980’s, and it feels it; aesthetically a little tacky or – if you prefer – style over substance. Apocalypse tries to be the full-throttle summer blockbuster that you so fondly recall from your childhood – which is fine, if executed correctly, and as unfortunate as it is to state, there is much about this film that falls short of the high bar set by its recent predecessors in the franchise.

One has to wonder what director Bryan Singer was thinking when he chose Apocalypse as the main antagonist following Days Of Future Past. The conflict in the latter film was largely devoid of a full-scale Big Bad assault. It was an internal affair, with the mutants uniting in the future timeline to rectify their failings in the past, ultimately to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating President Nixon (this was the 70s, guys) and adding fuel to the fire of Dr. Bolivar Trask’s (Peter Dinklage) anti-mutant defence programme: The Sentinels.

“A ham-fisted attempt to drag the franchise back from the savvier prequels to the cheesy, tongue-in-cheek fun of the noughties trilogy.”

This was an intelligent plot and more complex than your average superhero film. The same cannot be said here, so much so that the world and characters in Apocalypse may as well exist in an entirely alternate universe to that of First Class (2011) and Days Of Future Past. This may as well apply to the director too, for despite being at the helm of both Days Of Future Past and Apocalypse, at no point does it feel like Bryan Singer is responsible for both. He commits considerable gaffes to his previous work in the franchise such as abandoning interesting plot threads (read: Mystique posing as William Stryker and fishing Wolverine out of the river) that were left hanging from the previous film completely.

From the introductory scene it is apparent that Singer is erring on the side of comic-book-schtick instead of realistic AU, and what follows feels like a ham-fisted attempt to drag the franchise back from the savvier prequels to the cheesy, tongue-in-cheek fun of the noughties trilogy. We begin in ancient Cairo, where En Sabah Nur – aka. Apocalypse – is entrapped in a pyramid in the middle of transferring his consciousness into the body of actor Oscar Isaac and buried quite conveniently until 1983, when he awakens and sets about recruiting a new bunch of henchmen, better known as the Four Horsemen.

Elsewhere, and our favourite prequel trio are scattered; Raven (Lawrence) is trawling through Berlin rescuing mutants like Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from less desirable fates whilst Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) lives in rural Poland with his wife and 10-year-old daughter enjoying the simple life as a machinist. Over in the U.S and Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) School For Gifted Youngsters is up and running and we meet many a familiar face; Xavier and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) are the old hands teaching/mentoring young pupils including the iconic characters Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and of course, before long, all Havok breaks loose (I’m so sorry) and we are dragged from a mundane bliss back into a hyperbolical fray that – somehow – manages to out-do each and every one that we have seen before.

It is not long before Apocalypse capitalises on Magneto’s » SPOILER – rage – END SPOILER « and scouts him out to bring the ‘war’ to his horsemen ensemble including Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and a grossly reconstructed Angel (Ben Hardy). Together they wreak widespread destruction intent of bringing the end of the world, for Apocalypse does not like human worship of “false gods” and intends to build his empire of worshippers again – from scratch. You may notice here that there was quite a jump in regards to narrative description, but in all honesty, not much of importance is being omitted, for Apocalypse is all filler and – if we’re being generous – some killer, though that is more in ambition than actual fulfilment.

“All filler and… some killer, though that is more in ambition than actual fulfilment.”

The lack of a real second act means that you have next to no emotional attachment from the characters outside of what is carried over from the previous films. You are interested in Mystique because she is a bit of a loose cannon – not that you would know it from this film though, for Lawrence is given literally nothing to chew. The same goes for Magneto, though where Lawrence looks as if – for the first time in her career – she is just going through the motions of her contract, Fassbender at least manages to salvage the dregs of his character in the moments where he has more to do than look a tad emo (though McAvoy is easily the star of this show).

The younger cast don’t fare so well as, once again, there are simply not enough scraps or screen-time to go around. They may do much of the running about, but you definitely to not believe in – or care – for Jean Grey, Scott Summers and their apparent burgeoning romance, and talking of care, there is simply not enough of it put into constructing this film. The horsemen have no real motives for being such, Nightcrawler – despite being a convenient escape route – has little purpose outside of comic relief, the CGI (and Isaac’s Ivan Ooze-like make-up) is hammy at best, and all of this is before we get to those aforementioned loose threads (and the loss of Xavier’s hair).

The aping of past instalments is used to add some merit; the return of Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) is welcome but done out of convenience more than anything else, whilst the reprise of Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) time-lapse jaunt, albeit on a much grandiose scale, provides mild amusement despite feeling a tad lazy – though not so much as a certain cameo we are treated to later on. It is hard not to compare it to recent superhero films when this is the fourth to be released already this year. For the most part, it feels old-fashioned following the likes of Deadpool and Mavel’s curveball of Captain America: Civil War and Apocalypse can sit alongside Batman V Superman in regards to being self-consciously extravagant although altogether less unintentionally amusing.

By the time you get to the truly cataclysmic fight scene (half the world dies) you have already self-posed the query as to whether or not you actually care. If the answer is yes, then yes, you will be satisfied with the kitsch throwback battle that is set to ensue, but if the answer is no then you are left wondering how this became the unexpected nail in the coffin of the X-MEN film franchise. Metaphorically of course; Apocalypse is a dead-set cash cow, though if Singer’s frankly bonkers train of thought is set to permeate the next instalment, you can bet on the disembarking of many a stalwart swifter than you can say “Quicksilver”.


Watch if:

  • You enjoy simplistic standoffs that are borderline tacky.
  • You like 3D CGI more than cohesive plot.
  • You enjoyed Batman V Superman more than Captain America: Civil War.
  • You’ve always wondered exactly how Professor Xavier went bald…

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