Just a few weeks after I praised Captain America: Civil War for going away from the “all-powerful baddie trying to destroy the world” model of blockbuster film, now comes X-Men: Apocalypse, which falls into that very same trap. There are quite a few other reasons why this latest entry in the saga doesn’t work, but fatigue with the end of human civilization is weighing heavily on it.
Set in 1983, this installment begins with Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) living in retirement in the Polish woods while the CIA’s Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) alerts Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) that some idiots in Egypt have raised an ancient deity named En Sabah Nur, a.k.a. Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), who’s out to exterminate all the world’s non-mutants with four mutants acting as his lieutenants. Magneto’s keen to sign up after some incompetent Polish cops kill his family.
Once again, this is about Charles pulling Erik back from the dark side, and their homoerotic love-hate relationship feels like it’s gone dry. Magneto himself is reduced to a mere pawn, Apocalypse is a boring villain despite Isaac’s best efforts, and we’re barely introduced to the big bad’s other three recruits (Olivia Munn, Alexandra Shipp, and Ben Hardy). Director Bryan Singer makes no use of the 1980s setting other than a flat joke about how nobody seems to have aged despite these events taking place 21 years after X-Men: First Class. Worst of all is that the action sequences rank among Singer’s weakest and least imaginative.
The best things here involve the youngsters: The romance between Jean Grey and Scott “Cyclops” Summers (Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan) has a freshness when recast as a teen romance, and the actors have a chemistry that Famke Janssen and James Marsden never had. Quicksilver (Evan Peters) remains the funniest member and now gets a revelation that gives him an emotional hook into the story, and the scene where he rescues Xavier’s students from an explosion at their school (set to “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This”) is the most entertaining bit, even if it repeats the gag from X-Men: Days of Future Past. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) reluctantly returns to Xavier’s fold and finds herself thrust into a leadership position with the students, and it’s no surprise that Lawrence takes well to this development. Also no surprise is the believable awkwardness between her and Nicholas Hoult as Beast, given that the two actors used to date in real life.
These, however, are no more than incidental pleasures that can’t make up for the overall movie’s lack of resonance. The X-Men series has found some promising new blood in front of the camera, but it’s sorely in need of some behind it as well.
Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence. Directed by Bryan Singer. Written by Simon Kinberg. Rated PG-13.[/box_info]