Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Olivia Munn, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Lucas Till, Josh Helman, Lana Condor, Ben Hardy
Runtime: 2 hrs 25 mins
Rating: PG13 (Violence & Brief Coarse Language)
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Opening Day: 19 May 2016
Synopsis: Following the critically acclaimed global smash hit X-Men: Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer returns with X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. Since the dawn of civilization, he was worshipped as a god. Apocalypse, the first and most powerful mutant from Marvel’s X-Men universe, amassed the powers of many other mutants, becoming immortal and invincible. Upon awakening after thousands of years, he is disillusioned with the world as he finds it and recruits a team of powerful mutants, including a disheartened Magneto (Michael Fassbender), to cleanse mankind and create a new world order, over which he will reign. As the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) with the help of Professor X (James McAvoy) must lead a team of young X-Men to stop their greatest nemesis and save mankind from complete destruction.
Before Apocalypse unleashes the end of the world, there is a moment when the gifted youngsters of Professor Charles Xavier’s school for mutants sneak out to the cinema to see ‘Return of the Jedi’. Following a debate which of the original ‘Star Wars’ films is the best, a teenage Jean Grey gets the final word with the following remark: “Well, at least we can all agree, the third one is always the worst”. Though clearly intended as a dig at Brett Ratner’s oft-criticised ‘The Last Stand’, it is an equally prescient remark about the third superhero-versus-superhero showdown of this year, a loud, empty, overblown CGI-fest that possesses not the depth or excitement of the eminently superior ‘Captain America: Civil War’ nor even the grand operatic ambition of the flawed ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’.
As promising as it may be to underscore the ideological divide among the mutants of waging war or making peace by introducing an all-powerful deity meant to be the first of their kind, that premise never quite comes to fruition here. Aside from world domination (which pretty much sums up describes what every other comic book villain is after), there is no purpose or motivation to Apocalypse’s plan to scorch everything on the planet. Try though Oscar Isaac does, the usually charismatic actor struggles to bring much conviction to his character’s monologues about restoring the strong in their rightful place atop society, not least because the actor is buried under slathered-on makeup, facial prosthetics and a costume that would make Thanos embarrassed.
Seeing as how Apocalypse proves to be a disappointingly generic villain, it once again falls to James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto/ Erik Lensherr to provide the dramatic conflict on which the showdown between good and evil is based. Following his failed assassination of President Nixon in the last instalment, Erik has since retreated to Poland, where he lives happily under an assumed identity as a steel worker with a wife and young child. His cover is blown when he uses his powers to save a co-worker from an industrial accident, precipitating a tragic chain of events which will lead him to forgo anonymity and declare war once again on humanity. And yet that tension between Charles’ man of reason and hope versus Magneto’s darker impulses has been fought so many times that it feels familiar and undercooked here, especially considering how its immediate predecessor had fleshed out the same complex relationship out so much more beautifully.
That essentially reduces ‘Apocalypse’ to yet another superhero round-up much like the first ‘X-Men’ or ‘X-Men: First Class’, and so, for the first hour, we are introduced to newcomers Tye Sheridan’s laser-sighted Scott Summers a.k.a. Cyclops, Sophie Turner’s telekinetic Jean Grey and Teutonic teleporter Kurt Wagner a.k.a. Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). They will eventually join forces with ‘First Class’ regulars Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank McCoy a.k.a. Beast (Nicholas Hoult) to go head to head with Apocalypse’s ‘Four Horsemen’ recruits – weather-controller Storm (Alexandra Shipp), energy-manipulator Psylocke (Olivia Munn), flight-enabled Angel (Ben Hardy) and last but not least, Magneto. News about the latter will also prompt the son he doesn’t yet know about, Quiksilver (Evan Peters), to enlist in Professor Xavier’s school, where he will put his fleet-footed powers to save all the students within from an explosion ripping the building apart.
Given how that sequence set to Eurythmics’ period-appropriate synth-jam ‘Sweet Dreams’ is by and large an exact copy of the crowdpleasing scene-stealing sequence in ‘Days of Future Past’, there is more than a nagging suspicion that director Bryan Singer (who marks his fourth ‘X-Men’ outing with this movie) has pretty much run out of ideas. As if compensating for an attention-deficit audience, Singer and his screenwriter Simon Kinberg cut from subplot to subplot without ever letting their audience get involved in any one storyline or character. Even though the ‘X-Men’ movies have always been an ensemble, Singer has always grounded them in their struggles to emerge from wealth or poverty, acceptance or rejection, confidence or self-hatred; yet this latest dumbs down their humanity in favour of pure spectacle, which proves an ultimately foolhardy choice in this era where there are just too many superheroes fighting for our attention.
Even as a superhero slugfest, the action is frankly disappointing. It says a lot when Quiksilver’s cheeky slo-mo turns out to be the highlight of a film that promises no less than the end of the world. At any and every opportunity, every other character reminds us of what is at stake, but the large-scale catastrophe consists of nothing more than unimpressive shots of capital cities (including New York, Sydney and Cairo) reduced to swirling CGI-dust with little sense of tragedy or consequence. The climax itself is packed with plenty of sound and fury, but comes off shockingly dull. Rather than have the Horsemen take apart the good guys as a team, Singer splits the fight into a series of mini-skirmishes that hardly do the characters or their superpowers justice. By the time Apocalypse (finally) steps into the fray after a way-too-long buildup, the battle has shifted into his mind (which, as we suspect, turns out to be pretty blank), but that change of setting barely unleashes any creative possibility for Singer to think out of this world.
And coming off ‘Days of Future Past’, ‘Apocalypse’ is undoubtedly a tragic letdown. There are so many characters that even Charles and Magneto become no more than supporting acts, their perennial disagreement treated as an afterthought than the dramatic dynamo of the film. The titular villain may seem like great potential as an antagonist, but ends up vague, underwhelming and insignificant. And most notably, what used to be potent allegory about the civil rights movement or coming out in the LGBT community has now been diminished to standard, sometimes sub-standard, superhero melee, so much so that it even fails to make good use of its vibrant 1980s setting except for a couple of recognisable tunes. It may not be the apocalypse of the ‘X-Men’ franchise, but this dreadfully boring and derivative entry could very well portent its end.
(Loud, dumb and derivative, thie empty CGI showcase is by far the worst superhero movie this year)