Film Review: ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ proves franchise is losing steam

Apocalypse doesn't quite live up to his fearsome reputation (Image Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

x men apocalypse posterLadies and gentlemen of comic book fandom, I regret to inform you that despite a consistent level of watchable superhero mayhem, this once-beloved franchise is finally showing some wear and tear. After the narrative cleansing in X-Men: Days of Future Past, you’d assume Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse would be skipping along with a re-energized sense of purpose. Truth be told, the only mutant to elicit the kind of audience glee a series of this caliber deserves is Quicksilver, performed to astounding comedic degree by the awesomely talented Evan Peters. In the film’s best sequence – featuring a slo-mo escape from Professor Xavier’s mutant academy set to Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” – Quicksilver outdoes his iconic introduction from the prior installment and proves to be 20th Century Fox’s only ace from their dwindling superhero pool. Not even a not-so-shocking cameo could outshine Marvel’s speedy scene-thief.

As a whole, X-Men: Apocalypse and the majority of its cast operate at medium-low heat despite insane stake demands. Several millennia ago when ancient Egypt was at the height of civilization, the first mutant on Earth known as En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) enters Cairo’s central pyramid and orchestrates a soul transference from his current body to a healthier human host. Devoted to their master under the illusion that he’s the creator with a capital “C,” Apocalypse’s followers conjure an impenetrable shield to safeguard him after an insurrection causes the pyramid to collapse mid-ritual. Jump forward to Cairo circa 1983 and we find CIA operative Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) witnessing the reawakening of this all-powerful mutant, brought to life by a religious sect whose hieroglyph incantations unleash the harbinger of Armageddon.

Apocalypse doesn't quite live up to his fearsome reputation (Image Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)
Apocalypse doesn’t quite live up to his fearsome reputation (Image Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Foreseeing the death and destruction that lies ahead in a nightmare, telepath Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) warns her peers and academy headmaster of the coming doom. Professor Xavier’s hesitancy to fully trust Grey’s vision grants Apocalypse enough time to recruit a legion of mutant sympathizers who welcome the influx of power upgrades he bestows them with. One of those disciples is Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who dabbles with finding peace among his intolerant species until horrific tragedy brings him back to his villainous senses. Fassbender is again brilliant at transcending Magneto’s anguish to evoke audience sympathy for the metal-manipulator’s blind vengeance. Other members of the contemporary “four horsemen” include the ravishing yet deadly Psylocke (Olivia Munn), the troubled Egyptian orphan, Ororo Monroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and the hotheaded Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Hardy).

With a plot slow to fruition and new character versions making their rounds of introduction, X-Men: Apocalypse spends a large portion of its early running time laying the groundwork for what ultimately amounts to a bombastic showdown of unapologetic predictability. Fleeting moments of fun and humor are certainly treasured during the sprint to the finish line, but between familiar set pieces and diluted interpretations of Jean Grey, Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Steve Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), I’m beginning to wonder whether last movie’s retcon strategy was justified if the result is an unexciting new frontier. Sheridan and Turner, in particular, bring such little energy and personality to the proceedings that they might as well have been fleshy Sentinels in disguise. Also, the less we speak about Jennifer Lawrence’s stone-faced Mystique transfixed on completing her “Where’s Waldo?” mission of finding Magneto, the better. Compared to Captain America: Civil War’s character synergy and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s bold visual flair, X-Men: Apocalypse comes off like outdated yet still functional software competing with much better products on the market.

The one and only reason I am recommending this film: Quicksilver (Image Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)
The one and only reason I am recommending this film: Quicksilver (Image Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Oscar Isaac as the titular antagonist is bone-chillingly scary as Apocalypse. Lopping off heads with sand grains and acquiring devotees faster than L. Ron Hubbard is just another Tuesday for this evildoer. There’s not a shred of doubt that this is the most fearsome foe the X-Men have ever faced, but like Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, sometimes near-invincible brutes end up becoming quite the giant bore. There was promise for Apocalypse early on when he remained an enigma and whispered an ancient creepy dialect with maleficent intonation. However, by the time the conflict comes to a head, Apocalypse’s posturing becomes more aggravating than effectively imposing. Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg need to start mentally jotting down what keeps the MCU fresh and exciting with each entry released if they want X-Men to avoid extinction.

Solid without rising to the echelons of the best in the series, X-Men: Apocalypse is both a summer movie success and a mild genre disappointment. The tonal originality of Deadpool perhaps unfairly overshadows this competently made X-Men outing, but alas there’s really nothing one can do to avoid such direct comparison. My best advice is to come into the film with tempered expectations and relish the terrific moments when they appear. 20th Century Fox will release X-Men Apocalypse nationwide starting May 27th, so be sure to get your latest dose of mutant tomfoolery at such time. Also make certain to view the trailer below!

GRADE: (★★★)