X-Men: Apocalypse AKA X-Men: Arbitrary Stuff. AKA X-Men: Male Pattern Baldness. AKA X-Men: We Have No Faith In You.
These are all viable titles for Bryan Singer’s fourth entry in what is ostensibly his X-Franchise. Singer deserves a lot of credit for shooting this period of superhero films into the stratosphere with his original two X-Men movies. The problems those movies have derive mostly from being products of their time and show the fear of putting a lot of this truly weird material into a mega-budget Hollywood blockbuster.
That was sixteen years ago at this point. When you make a movie that takes everything back to the problems of that first generation of mutant movies, not only is it irresponsible filmmaking, it’s a stupid decision.
“But Bryan Singer made X-Men: Days of Future Past“, you might say. DoFP is a decent and fun movie with incredible themes at play and characters making decisions from real places of experience.
We got lucky.
Singer made DoFP a movie that could reconnect this new franchise with the one he created in the early 2000s. It doesn’t hurt that there was literally the best source material in comic form to bridge this gap. I’m not saying DoFP was a home run from the get-go, but it was totally a ground-rule double. There is a comic beat in Apocalypse where a character discusses Return of the Jedi and mentions that the third movie is always the worst. In this case it’s honest truth but I don’t think Singer is suggesting Apocalypse is the third movie here. He’s talking about X-Men: The Last Stand, full stop. He chose to not make that movie and is now riding on the shoulders of giants (Matthew Vaughn) to lay claim that this new series of movies outdoes the calamity that is The Last Stand. This movie is worse that that.
With X-Men: Apocalypse, we’re left with pushing our characters into the ’80s (because why not?) and featuring a villain who shows up because he’s a big enough reason to have everyone eventually team up to defeat him (spoiler: they team up to defeat him). Apocalypse, as a character, has no motivations or qualities that make him an interesting counterpoint to our heroes strengths. When this is the crux of the movie, the ideal situation would be to place our heroes in thematically relevant opposition with each other*. That material was there because we’ve spent two movies breaking these people who love each other apart. Except X-Men: Apocalypse decides to actually eject all of that emotionally resonant material and metaphorically hits the reset button.
The movie doesn’t understand its own characters. Why would Erik decide to go off into the backwoods of Poland and create a family and work in a steel mill? Nothing in his character suggests he would just leave the events of DoFP behind entirely to do this. Ok, even if I could accept that he would, what weight is given to his family that is eventually killed so that he can just go back to the point he was in the last movie? Did we really need this subplot as a reminder? We understand that Erik is Charles Xavier but angry. Please allow us to be conflicted about a character.
X-Men: Apocalypse actually wants us to do zero work of our own. Every action is backed up by a line of dialogue further enforcing the previous action. Do you wonder why Quicksilver can’t quite catch up to his real problems? Of course you don’t but he’ll tell you anyway. Apocalypse knows only how to placate its audience, with the most entertaining scene being the exact same one from DoFP but extended by two minutes.
If Bryan Singer is the father of the X-Franchise, Simon Kinberg is the kooky uncle. Kinberg has now written four of these movies and is a producer on all Fox-owned Marvel content. I think it’s very telling that X-Men: First Class didn’t involve any credited writing from Kinberg and he’s done a great job since of erasing all the good will of that film. Kinberg writes these movies with a jackhammer for a pen and breaks the story entirely with plot and circumstance.
Nothing in Apocalypse happens because characters are playing off of one another. When Scott Summers’ brother, Alex AKA Havok, is killed whilst trying to defend Xavier, it doesn’t resonate like an actual family death should (also, could the only mutant death in the film have been more clearly telegraphed?). It serves only to place Scott, Jean and Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner into position so they can save our main heroes later in Stryker’s den. Good writing is using the plot to move these situations forward but relying on emotion and character habits to do so. The impact of Alex’s death is nonexistent and in a movie where being a “team” or a “family” is paramount to winning the day, this is expressly the problem.
Apocalypse feels entirely like bad fan-service. The great character development and storytelling of the first two entries in this iteration of X-characters are thrown to the wayside to tell a story where we can introduce Storm and Cyclops and Jean and Psylocke, etc. Singer and co. have so little creative juices in their X-veins here that they resort to f***ing Weapon X and Col. Stryker to drive the entire middle portion of the film. Singer had the entirety of his second X-movie, X2: X-Men United, to handle this storyline but still feels the need to incorporate these boring elements into this new timeline. We seriously don’t need anymore Stryker (especially the bad-acting-meathead version) or anymore Wolverine in this timeline**. This also brings to question why even create the new timeline in DoFP at all?
The last X-movie ended in such a way that freed these stories from the initial trilogy and also from some of the canon of the comics. This is interesting ground zero stuff! Instead of doing interesting things with this playground, Apocalypse goes the route of Star Trek Into Darkness (another total piece of shit) and shoehorns the characters into their molds anyway. Mystique controlling Stryker at the end of DoFP was an interesting twist. I know that Wolverine getting his adamantium skeleton is integral to his character but it doesn’t mean he has to do so in exactly one way. The doors left open by DoFP were slammed shut in our faces and without anything remotely close to an explanation.
The story, characters and entire reasoning behind X-Men: Apocalypse*** are entirely broken. I truly love the work these actors did in the last two X-movies and I want to see them move forward in their relationships. Apocalypse is such a misfire because it neglects exactly what made those films special. I believe the heart of the problem lies with Bryan Singer. Look, this man can make good movies. We’ve seen a couple of them. Still, he is not right for this universe or these continuing themes and stories. He has proven to fall back upon the worst cinematic crutches to give us something old, stale and reheated. Hell, he even resorted to giving our heroes the terrible black leather uniforms circa 2000 in the most idiotic way possible****. The comic book movie world has greatly advanced in the last 16 years. It’s time Fox makes the smart decision in regard to their only Marvel cash cow and deliver the X-Men into the hands of someone who is truly capable of letting their freak flag fly.
For a man who knows exactly what it’s like being an outcast in certain sects of society, Bryan Singer has no clue what to do with the X-Men and I’m done with it.
*Exactly why Zemo works in Captain America: Civil War.
**The violence in Wolverine’s escape was truly jarring. Apocalypse already treads the line of R-rated murder but this scene truly puts it over the top. It totally fits the character and his emotions, but doesn’t at all fit the tone of this movie.
***You also have the honor of being the first movie that entirely wastes the amazing Oscar Isaac. Great job.
****And please try to explain to me that all those “random flight suits” are meant to fit each actor’s body perfectly. What a crazy coincidence!