To the average movie-gover, X-Men: Apocalypse is probably an okay movie. If you’re the type of person who found the quality between X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: First Class indistinguishable, than this is the film for you (especially considering the former made more money than the latter). For anyone who takes a more critical approach to their film-watching experience, it’s easy to be down on X-Men: Apocalypse. It’s a film that ended, and although I wouldn’t say I immediately disliked it, I’ve found I have nothing but bad things to say about it. Most criticisms come from watching better action movies, or if you want to get more specific, better superhero movies. But since we’re at the ninth X-Men film, a lot of these thoughts come from watching better X-Men movies, and the truth is Apocalypse ranks closer to X3: The Last Stand than any other installment.
The first issue with Apocalypse is that the plot is all over the place and there’s no main character to center your focus. Magneto is trying to live a normal life, Mystique is saving mutants, Charles continues to have his school, a young Cyclops discovers his powers and gets introduced to Charles, and while all this is going on there’s a villain being discovered by CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) in Egypt. This isn’t even all of the dangling threads and I can’t possibly explain in a succinct paragraph how they all converge but the short answer is: poorly, and it takes well over an hour for things to get moving. Whereas previous films like X2 or First Class were typically centered on Charles and company, or Days of Future’s Past was uniquely anchored by Wolverine, Apocalypse has no such center point. There was an outcry in some circles that Mystique, a typical “villain” character in the franchise, would be headlining as the hero of the film due to Jennifer Lawrence’s popularity, but even her character struggles to remain relevant. There’s no one leading the charge to get the band back together. The film floats from scene to scene without a real purpose. At the same time it feels like every character’s moment is rushed so we can get to the next one, but none of them end up getting significant developments.
If any character gets a huge amount of screen time it’s the villain Apocalypse, which is to the detriment of the film since he’s easily one of the lamest villains in superhero history. His backstory is explained as a mutant whose ability is transferring his consciousness into other mutants. When he transfers he keeps all his old powers and gains whatever power the new host possesses. He apparently did this for thousands of years back when the date ended in “BC,” so he has quite a few now. This might sound cool for comic-book readers but in terms of dramatic storytelling it amounts to Apocalypse singing “anything you can do, I can do better,” the entire movie. Every confrontation with him is dull specifically because Apocalypse is so overpowered. Apocalypse can warp across the globe in an instant, he has a bubble shield that protect him from every projectile that could possibly be thrown at him, he can deflect all forms of telekinesis, and he can repair damaged limbs. The X-Men never come close to making a dent. Until they do of course, but by that point it just feels like movie is saying “well, it’s been two hours, we better wrap this up.” It doesn’t feel like a natural conclusion, but rather one done out of necessity.
In fact, most of the subplots feel forced. X-Men: Apocalypse sees most of the cast of characters more divided than ever before, but they come together faster than previous films, likely because the film didn’t know how to naturally make that evolution occur. Characters like Magneto start off on a dark note, probably the darkest in the entire franchise. You’d think they’d have to dedicate the rest of the film to pull him out of the hole he’s sunk into. Instead, he’s handled half-assedly. Repeating themes from the previous films, without introducing anything new. He’s barely an element in the final few scenes, and in fact the conclusion to his “arc” (if you can call it that) isn’t even handled by new footage, but rather archive footage from First Class. They literally couldn’t be bothered to develop his character with this new film. It really is a joke.
This can also be said for Moira MacTaggert and her relationship with Charles. It’s mentioned that her memory was wiped since the previous film, so even though she’s interacting with the X-Men again, she doesn’t actually know who they are. Although there’s some dodgy mentions of their past relationship at the beginning of the film, the subplot is dropped, and then suddenly brought back up again at the very end. The whole thing feels like an afterthought, as if to say “Oh crap, we forgot to have a romance storyline in this movie!” The character arcs and plot has always been the best part of the X-Men franchise, as proven by its installments such as X2, First Class, and Days of Future Past. Apocalypse undoubtedly suffers the most because its storyline is half-baked at every level.
If you’re coming to X-Men for anything but story, I think you’ve already messed up, because the action sequences in this film are lackluster at best. Compared to films like Captain America: Civil War, which I was a huge fan of, X-Men: Apocalypse looks like amateur’s work. None of the sequences feel like they take advantage of the mutant powers. Even the fights between Nightcrawler and Angel, which have every reason to be some of the most thrilling experiences in cinema history, are simply satisfactory at best. I don’t know how you make a fight between a teleporter and a flying-guy who throws blades seem mediocre. X-Men: Apocalypse was directed by Bryan Singer, the same director that did X2 and brought us this Nightcrawler sequence which I would argue is the precursor to the fantastic action choreography we see in all the marvel films today. He has the capability and resources to create the spectacle that superhero films are all about. If a film can’t deliver on an effective storyline, the least they can do is make an action sequence that’s worth a damn.
With all this in mind it’s important to keep perspective. Most of these complaints could also be leveled against X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and most people didn’t have a problem with that movie. Really, I didn’t even mind X-Men: Apocalypse that much, but I find it hard to say anything good about it. Even the good things are marred by further critiques. Take for example one of the best moments of the film: the Quicksilver sequence. Quicksilver arrives on scene and zips around saving people from an explosion. It’s a humorous and fun sequence… but it’s bookended by a character’s death and a dramatically draining scene. The choice to put the Quicksilver scene at that moment reminds me of the tonal issues in Thor: The Dark World, another lackluster superhero film. If that type of criticism means anything to you, than X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t worth your time. Otherwise, it’s an average film that you probably won’t think that much about.