The Reviewinator: X-Men – Apocalypse (2016)

xmenapocalypse

Eight movies in, not counting Deadpool, and any franchise would start to feel stale. They’ve already travelled through time once, so what’s to stop them from doing it again? It’s created a sort of “nothing matters anymore” kind of feel to it, stripping off any and all suspense, and robbing any surprises of their impact. Alternate timelines aside, this movie takes place in 1983, twenty-one years after X-Men: First Class. And these characters are still as baby-faced as they were back then? (Maybe they hoped we wouldn’t notice.) And with post-credits scenes practically a requirement for comic book movies these days, “apocalypse”, i.e. “the end”, may be the opposite of what X-Men has in mind for itself.

Starting in 3600 B.C., mutant “god” Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is betrayed by his Egyptian worshippers and buried underground. Flash-forward to 1983, and Professor X (James McAvoy) is teaching students at his school, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is living a quiet life in Poland, and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is out rescuing enslaved mutants. But when Apocalypse is resurrected in a world where no one worships him or thinks of him as a god, he’s determined to right that wrong, and he’s willing to destroy everything and everyone in order to do it. Now the mutants, both good and bad, must overcome their differences (again), finally form the X-Men (again), and stop this “god” from laying waste to everything they hold dear.

Apocalypse focuses more on overflowing the screen with special effects than explaining what kind of mutant its villain really is. I get that millions of tiny CG pieces on one screen may be something a VFX crew would be proud of, but doing it over and over again in a 2hr.-24-minute movie is beyond mind-numbing. And unless you’ve seen all the previous movies or read the comics, certain mutants’ powers will feel random or almost like a deus ex machina. The longer a franchise runs, the more story should matter. You can’t distract a pre-existing fanbase with special effects alone, and you can’t improve on a one-dimensional villain by making every scene with him a chance to flex your VFX muscles. Unless he’s talking. Man does he talk. It gets very boring very fast. And showing how sad and misunderstood mutants are for the umpteenth time doesn’t inspire sympathy, just more boredom. At this point the mutants should either band together or go to war. Charles once again trying to talk Erik out of taking his anger out on humans feels like they’ve made no progress in 16 years.

To say that continuity isn’t a factor anymore would be an understatement. After Days of Future Past effectively erased every X-Men movie save for First Class, the writers can pretty much do whatever they want. But when only three movies matter in an eight-movie franchise, it feels like they’re just hiding a reboot inside of a trio of prequel-sequels. Characters are introduced or meet each other very differently from before, reminding us that everything we loved about the early movies is gone forever. Not even a Wolverine cameo can comfort those of us that miss how things used to be. And by adding more mutants than they know what to do with, we’re left with a lot of noisy and overlong action scenes without a shred of substance to make it mean anything. When someone like Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) goes from noobie psychic to Phoenix in a matter of hours, it renders her transformation insignificant, rather than the epic story it should be. And don’t get me started on Storm (Alexandra Shipp). Or the fact that Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) looks like a blue Michael Jackson. Such lack of depth made me realize just how many blue mutants this series has. In the older movies, each of the characters had a purpose. Here, they’re mostly fan service. Except for Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Quicksilver’s awesome.

X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t a bad movie per se, but thanks to Days of Future Past, the franchise is struggling to keep up with itself. They expect us to remember the old movies while simultaneously reminding us that in this universe they never happened. We’re meant to accept these less-compelling, younger counterparts, with their overly-brief transformations, as if they’re suitable replacements for the originals, when all they do is make us miss the originals like dear friends who’ve moved away. Then they resort to jabs at Brett Ratner, more awkward fan service, and enough global devastation to rival Independence Day. It’s obvious that this franchise will continue well into double-digits, but I for one wish it had ended a long time ago. And after the CG-slathered blandness of Apocalypse, I certainly feel like I was right.

2 out of 5

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