The other superhero movie franchise continues to mildly disappoint
There have been sixteen years of X-Men movies and, save X-Men: First Class and X:Men: Days of Future Past, they’ve all be been fair to middling. 2000’s X-Men and X2 were both successful in terms of ticket sales, and can be credited with starting the modern superhero genre that currently dominates the summer landscape, but where Marvel Studios has perfected the team of titans fighting evil trope, X-Men has mostly been plagued with forced writing and movie star delivery.
While there were some good performances in the films from the likes of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, there were also many laughable ones from Halle Berry and Rebecca Romijn. The poorly received X3 at first seemed to be the end of the franchise, but as with all Hollywood properties, nothing is ever truly dead. Fox reinvigorated the series with First Class by changing the setting and casting young talent.
James McAvoy and a pre-Hunger Games Jennifer Lawrence helped breathe new life the non-Marvel Studios Marvel property and Days of Future Past kept the momentum going. X-Men: Apocalypse gives up this momentum for boring conversations with characters that don’t matter and CGI spectacles that have very little consequence. For whatever reason, Marvel Studios continues to have a monopoly on relatable superhero characterizations.
X-Men: Apocalypse attempts to raise the stakes for the mutants in the film by introducing a villain that has long been a fan favorite for comic book readers. Apocalypse (Oscar Issac) is an ancient mutant with a god complex with an inconsistent a consistent set of powers. His mutations are manifold and endless. Essentially, the character can do anything the writer wants it to, so long as he tears up a team of good guys.
All powerful, he has been buried underneath an Egyptian pyramid for thousands of years, waiting to be awoken by followers of the ancient religion he created. Once awoken, he immediately sets to reestablishing himself has the ruler of the world by cleansing it of nuclear weapons, sort of like in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace but angrier and more purple.
The small details of his plans, which has something to do with recruiting four powerful mutants to his cause, are left to the imagination. The audience mostly sees the character preparing for something nebulously evil. Our heroes, the X-Men, then bumble their way into to the story and have assorted CGI fights with other characters before having a final CGI fight at the end.
The story is dull no matter what is happening on screen. But they did manage to shoe-horn Wolverine into the story so that Hugh Jackman could get his paycheck.
The biggest problem with the film is the lack of serious consequences. While this is a film about mutants, they are meant to be the minority in a world that fears them. Why wouldn’t they be feared when they are capable of such destruction, much of it accidental? But this aspect of the story, which has always been the crux of the X-Men narrative, is ignored for tired clichés about family.
Even the often condemned Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice attempted to address the issues surrounding dangerous super-powered individuals blowing up cities willy-nilly during their squabbles.
Humanity in X-Men: Apocalypse is treated as more of a minor inconvenience. They don’t really pose much of a threat when mountains can be moved at the wave of a hand. However, the film still features quality performances by the actors—Oscar Issac is enjoyable, if mostly unrecognizable behind the makeup. But the story is simply too overstuffed and underwritten. Director Bryan Singer, who notoriously banned all X-Men comics from the set of his earlier X-Men movies, does nothing here to help the audience connect to his characters. They are a collection of superpowers, weapons not people.
It’s interesting to note that the original X-Men film set the genre down the road of the extraordinary being grounded in the ordinary. Flashy colorful costumes were not included, cheesy Joel Shumaker dialogue was toned down, and small details of the real world were placed in the background. Gritty realism has dominated many of these films since. Perhaps that’s why the best comic book film this year has been Deadpool.
Comic books might be better served by using a few more jokes and little less darkness. The next person to helm the X-Men franchise would do well to remember that.