X-Men: Apocalypse – Third time certainly isn’t the charm for Singer’s disastrous sequel

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

“At least we can all agree the third one’s always the worst,” says one of the young X-Men after seeing Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) – just one of the many references Bryan Singer scatters throughout X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) to firmly cement his film in its 80s setting. Upon watching this though it becomes clear that never a truer word has been spoken about Singer’s latest sequel as well, and sadly not just because this is the third prequel of the franchise.

A promising story about the all-powerful first mutant in existence, audiences have been eagerly awaiting this sequel ever since it was teased in an intriguing post-credits sequence at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). With a hatred for humanity and the ability to destroy the world, an interesting introduction to the origins of this deadly character seems to set us up for a rollercoaster ride of a film. Instead what we get is a dull trite affair that is a carbon copy of EVERY other comic book and superhero film and yet somehow manages to be more boring than all of these put together.

Storm (Alexandra Shipp) helps Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) recruit other mutants...

After all that waiting, Apocalypse is neither impressive or particularly menacing as a villain, with Oscar Isaac’s performance hidden beneath heavy make-up and a cumbersome costume that actually seems to hinder his movements. The character also doesn’t actually add much to the plot, with most of the running time consisting of him gathering up other mutants to fight for him, while the X-men do their usual thing – train, argue with each other, reconcile, and just generally trudge along until the inevitable final battle.

The one glaring mistake alongside this lack of plot is the absence of backstory for any of the characters, old or new. None of them are really explored, with the most iconic and conflicted characters either given a brief yet underwhelming origins scene (Scott Summers played by Tye Sheridan), reduced to simple and painful comic relief (Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler), or even given no role at all beyond looking good in a skin-tight leotard (Olivia Munn as Psylocke). Even a character like Mystique, who was brought to perfect life by Jennifer Lawrence in both previous prequels, is here not just underused, but barely used at all. The result is that we just don’t care what happens. All of them could be killed in the titled apocalypse and we’d just shrug it off without another thought.

The brilliant Michael Fassbender as Erik/Magneto...

It is the central relationship between Erik Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier that just about keeps X-Men: Apocalypse watchable, an always perfectly realised source of conflict and one that is backed up yet again by strong performances from both Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. Magneto is also the only character given an actual (and interesting) backstory here, one which is genuinely dark and upsetting. Fassbender deftly delves into this previously unexplored corner of Magneto’s life, once again bringing an unexpected emotional maturity to the role that he uses to expand on this interesting character, as well as the inevitable prejudice faced by him and the other mutants – a metaphorical detail that has always been what made the X-Men franchise stand out from the vast superhero crowd.

And yet Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg seem to have forgotten about this narrative depth in their rush to get through events, eager to pull out all the stops for a grand finale that is anything but. Whereas moments like this in Captain America: Civil War (2016) (an inevitable comparison as these were released at the same time) are choreographed to perfection and full of raw excitement, in Apocalypse set pieces and action sequences fall flat each time, almost as if Singer himself is tired of them or unsure how to keep them interesting. The one moment that does work is when Quicksilver (Evan Peters) steps into the frame again in a brilliant slo-mo sequence that is funny and technically marvellous. However, as is the nature of the character, it is over with far too quickly, leaving us feeling empty once it’s finished.

Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) meets Quicksilver (Evan Peters)...

One tacked on cameo from a well-known face we knew would appear (not least because they showed up in the spoilerific trailer) doesn’t scream of story surprise, but of contractual obligation. It’s also a moment that sums up the rest of the film – a promising scene that soon descends into boredom and repetitiveness again. Singer soared with Days of Future Past after his absence since the very first two X-Men’s, but this is one of the worst films in the overall franchise. Here’s hoping that there will be another prequel in the works to right the wrongs made here – ending on such a low would certainly be a shame.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on November 7, 2016.

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