Sixteen years ago, the superhero genre was nowhere near the juggernaut that it is today. Sure, Superman and Batman were household names and Blade had recently entered the scene but that was about it. All that changed in the year 2000, when director Bryan Singer brought “X-Men” out of the comic books and cartoon shows and into theaters. Audiences were introduced to Professor X and his school of mutants as they tried to protect a world that hated and feared them from the evil Magneto. His film also introduced the world to Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, who would go on to become the glue that held the franchise together over its tumultuous history. So here we are at the eighth film in the X franchise (ninth if you count “Deadpool”), do the X-Men still have what it takes to stand out against the dozens of other capes out there in theaters?
For those of you who may not be up to speed on the X-Men franchise, fear not, I will catch you up on every Zap, Pow, and Snikt to get you ready for the latest entry. OK so Prof. X and Magneto are engaged in a decades old ideological war over whether mutants can peacefully coexist with humans or should they instead rule over them. The ageless and amnesiac Wolverine gets dragged into the middle of their feud and quickly becomes the key player in the series. This feud between Prof. X and Magneto eventually culminates in “X-Men 3: The Last Stand” where tons of characters die and its just a beastly mess of half-assed storylines. Following that original trilogy, Wolverine got his own solo film that had equal giant blobs of disdain for both its characters and its audience. (The less said on Wolverine Origins the better.) The 2010’s brought with an X-reboot of sorts. “First Class” took the story back to the 1960’s where a young Xavier and Magneto were still friends and forming what would eventually become the X-Men, although they did this at the cost of the series’ continuity which was already in a state of havoc after “Wolverine Origins”. Flashing forward to the post-X3 future, we saw a very lonesome Wolverine travel to Japan to fight ninjas or something before getting a post credits shock that (old) Prof X and Magneto are back and they need his help! This brings us to 2014’s “Days of Future Past” which apart from being an absolutely fantastic film also saw the return of the old X-cast as they used timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbly time travel to send future Wolverine back to the 1970’s to help young Xavier and Magneto stop an event that would doom all of man and mutantkind in the future. Along the way they essentially took the old, broken continuity out back and ended it’s misery like it was Old Yeller. Oh also Deadpool is out there. He was introduced in “Wolverine Origins” and even teams up with a couple B and D-List X-Men in his solo film and as such deserves a mention but that’s about it as far as this review is concerned.
The latest film brings the young X-Men into the 1980’s after they successfully altered the future 10 years previously. Xavier (James McAvoy) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) are now running the School for Gifted Youngsters like they always dreamed and among their students are teenage powerhouses like Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan). Mystique (Jennnifer Lawrence) is still disillusioned after witnessing years of mutant abuse but is still actively rescuing and recruiting young mutants to the X-cause. But what of their old frenemy, Magneto (Michael Fassbender)? The master of metal has given up the call for mutant supremacy and settled into a quiet family life but really, is there anyone who sees that ending well? We’re also reintroduced to CIA agent, Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne), who is investigating tales of Apocalypse, an ancient superpowered being that might have been the very first mutant. Well wouldn’t you know it but when that ancient mega-mutant wakes up from his centuries-old nap, he decides to recruit his own superteam and make good on his name by raising all sorts of hell that seems ripped right from a Roland Emmerich film like “The Day After Tomorrow” or “2012”. Apocalypse is joined by his team, the Four Horsemen, who are regular mutants that he has enhanced and kinda-sorta brainwashed to serve him. Serving at his side are Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy), and dun-dun-duuuun Magneto! Using their ultra-superpowers they set out to wipe out everyone (humans and mutants) until only the strongest on earth are left. That is unless the X-Men can stop them.
This is Bryan Singer’s fourth time behind the camera in the franchise he started all those years ago and it is easily his laziest effort. The plot creaks along for the first half as we jump back and forth getting introduced to new players or caught up with old ones. Then the action-packed finale is filled to the brim with some of the most obviously fake looking CG I’ve seen in a long time. Objects, characters, and destruction just looks off. Even excusing the poor pacing or the shoddy special effects, the film is plagued by some incredibly odd story beats. For example (and slight spoilers ahead), immediately after the only “oh wow, cool” hero moment in the film where the speedster, Quicksilver (Evan Peters) has rushed through an exploding building to rescue everyone is marred by the lackluster reveal that oh no, not everyone made it out. How is this dramatic death handled? Effectively in an oopsie-daisy, thought we got everyone out. And then on top of all that, this scene, the only cool and fun action piece in the whole thing, is just a copy of the exact same shtick they did in the last movie! Like I said, its just lazy.
I suppose I might be coming down a little harshly on “Apocalypse”. To be fair, this is far from the worst movie the X-Men franchise has suffered, it’s just such a disappointment after the excellent previous entry, “Days of Future Past”. What that film had that the new one lacks is emotional weight behind all the destruction. We’ve known these characters for 16 years and have seen them portrayed by this group of actors since 2011 but somehow this film has managed to drain any of that attachment from the story. If you’re a fan of the series, it won’t be a complete waste of your time or money, but I’m afraid it just isn’t worth the time for a regular audience. There’s nothing new here, nothing spectacular, nothing uncanny. Instead it’s sadly, and please forgive me for this, X-tremely boring.
(Seriously though, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is not just the best X-Men movie, but one of the best superhero movies out there. Just go rent that again instead.)