Have you ever been at the tail-end of a relationship? You know the point? It's like you're still in the relationship, but you're already so done and over it that you can't even begin to fake being interested in it?
It's a painful and awkward and kind of embarrassing place to be in a relationship. It's like both of you know the relationship is over, but sometimes you just keep on hangin' on because sometimes something is better than nothing. Right?
That's how I felt while watching X-Men: Apocalypse, a "not bad" cinematic adventure that is instead even worse than "not bad" - it's an embarrassingly bland journey into a Marvel Universe that should be anything but bland and anything but embarrassing. While I've never fancied myself a devotee of the X-Men films, even with my far lesser knowledge of how the X-Men universe is structured I found myself struck by the familiarity of this entire journey as director Bryan Singer seemed to toss cinematic leftovers into his celluloid stew and come out with an interesting but not even remotely palatable dish that resembles the kind of dish I typically toss aside when it accidentally finds its way into my house.
The film centers around the world's first mutant, Apocalypse (an unrecognizable Oscar Isaac), who amassed the powers of many other mutants and became, in essence, immortal and invincible. After centuries of having lain in relative dormancy, Apocalypse rises from the bowels of the Earth and is fairly pissed off about having been betrayed and returning to a world that has gone to hell in his absence. Determined to reclaim power over the world that he believes to be rightfully his, not unlike Donald Trump, Apocalypse recruits a team of powerful mutants, including the always morally ambiguous Magneto (Michael Fassbender), whose recent attempts at living as a relatively normal human are shown to have failed miserably. Magneto is joined by a younger Storm (Alexandra Shipp), the sword-wielding Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and the metallic-winged Angel (Ben Hardy). With the fate of this new world older in the balance, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Professor X (James McAvoy) will be forced to lead a team of young X-men into a battle that will determine the fate of the world.
The truth here is that Bryan Singer seems to be proposing several different ways that X-Men: Apocalypse could play out while choosing the road most traveled, sort of like choosing to walk around your inner-city block when there's a beautiful lake with perfect trails just a mile away left virtually untouched. Instead of giving us anything worthy of all the technology amassed for this 3-D production, Singer basically serves up the Donald Trump of cinema with promises to make cinema great again while actually dumbing it down and spoon-feeding it to the masses like a keg o' Kool-Aid from the Jim Jones school of life.
In what may have seemed like a grand idea on paper, Singer and his woeful collection of writers even manage to taint the memory of Auschwitz by weaving its meaning into the fabric of this story. It's a slightly, perhaps more than slightly, offensive choice that may be the only thing in X-Men: Apocalypse that resembles bold filmmaking.
While the timeframe in the X-Men films has always shapeshifted more than any mutant, Apocalypse takes place about ten years after the events in Days of Future Past, though if you try to look for any consistency regarding this in the film you'll likely end up frustrated and disappointed. Despite having been in battle for a couple of decades now, these mutants haven't aged a bit, a fact that Singer at least has the decency to reference at one point with Rose Byrne's Moira McTaggart. Quicksilver (Evan Peters) still lives in his mom's basement and the middle-aged Havok (Lucas Till) has a teenaged brother, Scott Summers, aka Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, taking over for James Marsden). There's also a younger Jean Grey, formerly played by Famke Janssen and now by Game of Thrones' Sophie Turner.
There's a slight gravitas afforded to Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique given that in the years since her first appearance in the series she has gone from a newcomer to an Academy Award-winning actress and America's clutzy sweetheart. While the gravitas is fine, we all know Lawrence can act, the truth is that she seems at least modestly disinterested here and I could never tell if she was selling mops or preparing for another Hunger Games. My hope is that Lawrence will think long and hard before signing on for more X-Men films even if they're likely going to throw a slew of money at her to bring her back.
Speaking of phoning it in, when did Professor X start looking like Bob Geldof? I half expected Apocalypse to break out into a version of "I Don't Like Mondays" while I started singing the great song of indifference about halfway through the film. I suppose McAvoy is fine here, though these days I can't see a character in a wheelchair without wondering why Hollywood doesn't bother to use some of it's real life paraplegic and disabled actors.
On the flip side, Michael Fassbender's morally complex turn as Magneto is without question one of the highlights of the film. Fassbender's attempt at normalcy is deeply moving and his transition into grief and rage gives the film what little emotional resonance it possesses. Evan Peters' Quicksilver is another of the film's highlights and offers the film some of its most entertaining and humorous moments. While most of the newcomers make a good show of it, Olivia Munn's obvious discomfort as the bikini-clad Psylocke puts a major damper on any fun we might have with the character.
X-Men: Apocalypse isn't a bad film. It's also not a good film. With a word like apocalypse in the title, one would expect a film to be larger than life and, quite reasonably, we expect a film that Bryan Singer never delivers. I can't help but think it's a film that would disappoint Apocalypse...and we all know what happens when Apocalypse gets disappointed.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic