I don’t know what I really expected from a guy named Apocalypse, but I can tell you that my imagination built up a much more imposing character than what his movie was able to deliver. I mean, he’s alright as villains go. In his early scenes, he’s got the presence and the demeanor and the wardrobe of a Sith Lord, but somehow I figured that a guy named Apocalypse would be 20 feet tall and would speak with the baritone of a certain former stutterer from Mississippi.
According to the movie which bears his name, Apocalypse is an immortal though I’ll be damned if I could tell you what his actual powers are. He’s the world’s first mutant, born thousands of years ago who stays alive by transferring his consciousness into a fresh, functional body when the old one wears out. He’s a mutant with the ability to live on and on but, based on his outfit, I expected a hulking behemoth that could crush skyscrapers with his eyelashes. Yet, when I see Apocalypse standing in the midst of the other characters in X-Men: Apocalypse, he looks like everybody else; he’s the same size, he has almost the same powers and he has an even-tempered voice, out of which he is persistently spewing biblical platitudes (the most ‘on the nose’ of which is “Come and See!”). Casting is key here because if Apocalypse weren’t occupied by Hollywood’s current hunk du jour Oscar Isaacs then the character might have been a complete snore.
X-Men: Apocalypse is not a complete snore but it is a movie that probably works best if you don’t think about it. It’s a spectacle, as all of these brobdingnagian superhero tent pole romper stompers tend to be, with world-ending special effects that are top drawer and a script that is bottom drawer.
When Apocalypse employs Magneto to recombobulate an entire city into a giant iron pyramid, it is pretty spectacular; but it’s at the service of a story that is shoddy and bloated and crippled by plot holes and inconsistencies. Character motivations are started and then dropped; characters arrive at key locations completely by coincidence; and director Bryan Singer jumps between nine different subplots with such a breakneck speed that we can’t really ever get involved in any one thing. It’s a script that offers a whole lot of very little.
The movie begins in ancient Egypt where Apocalypse (Isaacs) rules supreme, and is currently in the midst of transferring his mind into the body of some poor, unworthy slob (also Isaacs). But his plan goes all wonky when some haters foil his plan and start a revolution that leaves him in a catatonic state until he is awakened, for some strange reason, in 1983.
Cut to ‘83, we catch up with the young Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) in a long, boring series of catch-up scenes that go on and on and on. They’re all are trying to get on with their lives in the wake of shaking up the Nixon administration in the previous movie. Some have gone into hiding, others are aiding in the formation of Xavier’s School for gifted mutants, and much of the first hour of the movie is devoted to scouting new students like Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). The dialogue establishes plot points, updates us on characters and tells us things we already knew by the second movie in this series (this is the 10th if you count the recent Deadpool). We’re introduced to young incarnations of Jean Grey, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Angel and Havoc but since we already know their fate, the dialogue is more or less pointless.
In fact, a lot of this movie is pointless. There are scenes that have nothing to do with anything. For example, the movie goes out of its way to have three characters exit a movie theater after seeing Return of the Jedi. Jean makes the point that “The third in a series is always the worst.” That’s a sly dig at the much hated X-Men: Last Stand but since X-Men Apocalypse is really the third in a prequel trilogy, the joke is really on them.
The most jarring problem with X-Men: Apocalypse is that it suffers from a massive tone problem. It moves from jokey scenes like the Jedi reference to moments of dead serious drama with such a jerk that the movie jangles your senses. At one moment, Apocalypse is tearing the world apart, and the very next minute we get a scene with Quicksilver having fun with super speed. The most uncomfortable moment takes place when Apocalypse launches all of the world’s nuclear payloads and, in this dark, heavy moment, Bryan Singer throws in a Stan Lee cameo. The audience in my theater laughed nervously, unsure of how to react. Um . . . excelsior?
The movie has a dozen headache-inducing moments like that. Characters show up for no reason in places out of convenience of the plot so that developments can happen. For example, at the beginning of the movie, Mystique shows up in a mutant wrestling match in Berlin where Angel and Nightcrawler are battling in a cage match. But why was she there? Was she scouting mutants for the school? The movie never says. She just seems to have been in the right place at the right time.
Also, characters seem to know things that they shouldn’t have known already. Example: Quicksilver (Evan Peters) arrives at The Xavier School just at the moment of an explosion. He’s never been there before but he knows the layout of the school well enough to rush in at lightning speed and save several people. It’s a plot hole set up for convenience so we can get the same slo-mo effect that we got in Days of Future Past. In that film, his superfast shenanigans were accompanied appropriatly by Gordon Lightfoot’s “Time in a Bottle,” Here it’s The Eurythimics “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” which has nothing to do with what’s going on.
The ending of the movie is one of those giant fight-to-the-finish endings in which the world is blowing up while heroes fight villains in a convoluted series of edited shots that simply wear you out. For all the public screeching that followed Batman v Superman about it’s butchered narrative, I can say that Apocalypse doesn’t do much better.
That’s the ultimate problem with X-Men: Apocalypse. It’s a large, loud, ultimately joyless spectacle that runs on for 153 minutes with apocalyptic resonance of the world being wiped clean by a god-like madman while the tension of our heroes is tempered by the fact that, since this is a prequel, we know they’ll survive. Once you see the movie you might agree with me, or you might not. It depends on how desperate you are to get what you paid for. If you’re not a fan of this stuff, then this movie will likely make no sense you to. If you are, then you really should demand better.