Bryan Singer’s fourth X-Men movie is without question his weakest effort to date, and though the script keeps it from being much more than a fizzy curio – much like March’s Batman v Superman – the cast shoot it through with just about enough charm to half-satisfy.
In 1983, the world’s first mutant, En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), is accidentally awoken in Egypt, and he quickly goes about amassing his requisite Four Horsemen, in this case Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Archangel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) must lead a team of young new mutants, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), as they fight to prevent Apocalypse from ending everything they know.
Hot off the heels of 2014’s Days of Future Past, Apocalypse is a jarringly, disappointingly ordinary outing for the series, one that sticks close to over-familiar alien invasion nonsense, with a silly-looking baddie – far from his towering menace in the comics – touting a simplistic and really quite dull plan for world supremacy. The template appears highly transparent throughout, and though it admirably avoids the overt complexity the mars some superhero flicks, it also doesn’t find much of interest to substitute.
It also doesn’t dare to be brief, clocking in at a meaty 143 minutes – in line with both Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War – yet at once feels too rushed and too long. Singer has to cram so many character introductions into the first act in particular that he rarely lets scenes just sit and breathe; everything is just a race to move onto the next plot beat.
This might not be so problematic if the movie had an entertaining villain, the cornerstone of any truly successful superhero flick. Instead, comic book fans will find Apocalypse’s depiction borderline-sacrilegious, from his campy origin story through to his rather silly costume, and no matter how many times the movie tells us that Apocalypse is supposed to be this all-powerful mutant, it’s rarely realised well on-screen. Poor Oscar Isaac; the guy tries, but he can’t really do much here, and you do have to wonder what attracted him to a part that literally thousands of other actors could’ve played to the same level of competence.
But what about the other new characters? Well, most of them are given a fairly short shrift here; Nightcrawler, Storm, Psylocke and Angel spend most of the movie hanging out in the background, while fan favourite Jubilee shows up for maybe three minutes, and by the time the final battle kicks off, you might forget (like I did) that certain characters were even meant to be showing up. It’s not even symptomatic of the film having too many characters, just that writer Simon Kinberg didn’t make much of an effort to juggle them effectively.
Performance-wise, though, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp and Kodi Smit-Mcphee are terrific additions, while Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey is unfortunately woefully handicapped by an atrocious attempt at an American accent. She over-affects almost every line of dialogue which draws unwelcome attention to the fact that we’re just watching someone struggling to imitate an American. Considering that she’s quite obviously going to be a focal character in whatever the next X-Men trilogy ends up being, it’s rather worrying.
As for the action, some of it is admittedly quite stellar – Quicksilver gets a fantastically gimmicky scene that’s easily the movie’s best, Wolverine’s cameo is a blast, and there’s another set-piece that really works – but a lot of it also feels highly workmanlike in its construction, like Singer himself doesn’t really care all that much (action has, in fairness, never been his strongest suit). The finale in particular de-evolves into a clumsy, stodgy mix of mediocre fight choreography, weirdly off-note direction and inconsistent visual effects. By the end, I was more exhausted than entertained.
Even with all these problems, I certainly didn’t hate or actively dislike it; intrigue hovered throughout, there were some really fun scenes, plenty of solid character work, and of course, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy killing it in their iconic roles. As for Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, her character arc here simply isn’t very interesting, especially compared to her Days of Future Past role, and one gets the sense that she doesn’t really care much about these films anymore. Phoned-in might be a tad harsh, but her performance certainly isn’t bursting with passion.
Though on one hand Bryan Singer has served up a colossally disappointing screen rendition of one of comic lore’s most legendary supervillains, it’s hard not to respect what the man has done for superhero cinema, and after three good-to-great X-Men movies, can’t we cut him some slack for one OK-ish effort?
X-Men: Apocalypse is in UK cinemas now and US cinemas May 27th