Everything they built will fall
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: X-Men is one of the most unnecessary modern franchises in theaters. 2016 isn’t even halfway over, and Apocalypse is the fourth major superhero release of the year. It’s also a disappointment. After predecessor Days of Future Past reinvigorated the dying series, the ninth installment demotes its mutants to nothing more than a CGI spectacle riding the current superhero trend. The series only survived this long in the increasingly crowded genre due to the surprising quality of its predecessors. A step back like Apocalypse could spell out doom for the series.
Bryan Singer is ambitious to a fault this time around. This is his fourth time directing an X-Men movie, and he’s throwing too much at the screen to continue raising the stakes. The movie attempts to continue the saga that started 16(!) years ago while introducing new mutants and stories. The series has already rebooted itself in its previous installment, so that many of the characters in this film are just new versions of characters in the original trilogy. The end result is a mess of plot lines following old, new, and “new” characters, too much exposition, and too little action.
This time around, the world’s first ever mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is reborn after being dormant for hundreds of years. Apocalypse’s mutant power is enhancing the powers of other mutants. He assembles a team of motivation-free, super-powered plot devices to help him destroy the world and recreate it in his own vision. Meanwhile, returning mutants Mystique, Beast, Professor Xavier, Magneto and Quicksilver (Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy, Michael Fassebender and Evan Peters) are all off doing whatever on their own until the plot mercifully calls them all together again to do something interesting. At least 5 other mutants are introduced too, and I think we’re supposed to care about them.
For a superhero movie, the 144-minute runtime is surprisingly free of action. Much of the script is spent establishing exposition, though it’s never close to boring thanks to the strength of its cast – Fassbender and Peters being the clear highlights. One of the film’s few action scenes, and also its unquestionable highlight, is a slow motion scene from the super-speeded perspective of Peters’ Quicksilver, whose role was significantly boosted after his runaway popularity in DoFP. This time he’s saving dozens of victims from an incoming explosion, set to an iconic Eurythmics tracks. I know how that sounds, but trust me, it works.
Interestingly enough, Apocalypse follows a similar story structure to the year’s other major superhero team-up releases, Batman V. Superman and Captain America: Civil War. Each film spends its first act introducing unrelated storylines, trusting the audience will hold tight until the second act for the payoff. Civil War succeeded on the novelty that it was a culmination of 8 years’ worth of story and characters. BvS failed, because it tried to set up a world as expansive as its competitors in just one film. X-Men falls somewhere in the middle. The series has been going on twice as long as the MCU, but with its number of reboots, new heroes and villain-of-the-week storylines, can’t create a story as immersive as it wanted to be.
That’s why it’s disappointing that, following the completely entertaining predecessors, Apocalypse falls short on everything the series had tried to create. If the box office has taught us anything in 2016 in terms of superhero movies, it’s that audiences are getting pickier and straying away from releases that aren’t top quality. Apocalypse is already tracking far behind DoFP. One more hit like this, and everything the franchise built could fall.