The “X-Men” franchise has been one of the most highly sustained superhero films for sixteen years now. Six movies later, and there’s still some awe involved. In comparison to other films of its genre, and to other superhero characters in general, the X-men are probably the most relatable. The fact that they’re mutants fighting for equality speaks to a lot of the social issues that are still very relevant today. However, as a film, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is not the weakest movie of the franchise (that place is still held by “X3: X-Men United”), but the magnitude and character journeys aren’t as potent as they have been with its predecessors. “Apocalypse” is still entertaining and has some pretty good developments, but it isn’t as exciting as it touts itself to be and Oscar Isaac’s talent is wasted on a mediocre villain.
It’s been ten years since the events of “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and most everyone has gone their separate ways. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is now living the life of a normal man. He’s got a wife and daughter and works at a factory, his powers and hatred toward non-mutants seemingly set aside. Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) has opened up his home to serve as a school for mutants, Beast (Nicholas Hoult) still loyally by his side. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is working with other mutants, trying to help certain ones (like Nightcrawler, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) escape cruel treatment.
Aside from the old crew of mutants, there are new ones in the fold. Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) has just developed powers, and so his brother Alex (Lucas Till) takes him to Xavier’s school where he can hone them and be a part of a community that accepts him. There, he meets Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), a powerful, but developing, telepath. Everything seems fine, but when CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) is investigating a long-dead and very, very powerful mutant called Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) in Egypt, things take a turn for the worse when he is reawakened. One of the first mutants and a man who can absorb and use the powers of others, Apocalypse wants a new world order and wishes to throw the Earth into chaos in order to create a better one. Recruiting four mutants he calls Horsemen–Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Magneto–to help do his bidding, Xavier, Mystique and the rest must band together to try and stop him.
The film has a lot going on. There is the introduction of the new generation of mutants, the introduction of a new villain, and a reinstatement of Magneto as a character with motive. Some plot lines are wonderful, others eat up screen time without actually adding a whole lot to the overarching story. If you’ve been watching from the beginning, you know that Magneto (and his friendship with Xavier) has always been part of why the X-Men films worked. There was gravitas to his story, reason behind his actions, and a weight to his decisions. However, Apocalypse has almost formally renounced all of these things.
Having said that, several of the older generation of mutants (Mystique, Magneto, Beast) have tapped out in a way, and it’s easy to assume that they’ve all played their parts long enough and now’s the time to move forward with the new mutants and their stories. I don’t want to continue seeing a washed-up Magneto, as there’s no more interest and no more purpose to the story to present him in this way any longer. The “X-Men” films have always been strong on the whole. “Apocalypse” retains entertainment value, introduces us to interesting characters, and has some action-packed scenes that please (the fight in the midst of the astral plane is fantastic!).
However, the pitfalls of the film lie with Apocalypse as a villain. He isn’t very enthralling and lacks the sinister-like traits that have been promoted in the trailers. It’s the end of the world when Apocalypse shows up, but everything he does, from recruiting the Four Horsemen, to causing chaos, falls short and is underwhelming. The role isn’t as multifaceted and it’s hard to ultimately care about Apocalypse’s actions when they aren’t very clearly tied to the other characters in a personal way. Apocalypse is just kind of there and his presence never warrants any excitement.
This is not to say that every aspect of “Apocalypse” is underwhelming. There is still plenty to enjoy. The introduction of Scott, Jean, Nightcrawler, and Storm rings in a new era of mutants. Their background stories are given a bit more weight than they ever were given in the first round of films. Jean, in comparison to the older version we first meet in “X-Men,” is a much more powerful psychic, and the film teases the botched Phoenix story from “X3.” By the looks of it, it’s the beginning stages of this arc (although how well it’ll play on the big screen without involving certain other elements is yet to be seen). The new recruits are the best part of the film. Their potential as a team is touched upon here and definitely sets up their teamwork and further character development moving forward.
“X-Men: Apocalypse” isn’t the event many may expect it to be, but it does introduce enough new characters and possible story lines for the next adventure. As for this film, the action is fun, the astral plane fight wonderful, the new mutants great, but the villain (and his plan) ultimately falls flat. It is the weakest film since “X-Men: First Class” and there are a lot of moments that are meant to be poignant that don’t follow through in terms of emotional impact or investment. Bryan Singer has potential to make the next film better, but until then, “Apocalypse” settles at being average.
"X-Men: Apocalypse" lacks a thorough emotional investment in the apocalyptic events happening in the film and the villain is underwhelming, but the new mutants and some of the action prove to be enough to redeem some of the downsides.