In X2, the second film of the X-Men franchise, there is a poignant scene where a mutant named Bobby Drake (we would come to know him as Iceman) reveals to his parents his abilities. Despite it taking place in a fictional world where some humans have extraordinary powers like telepathy and the ability to control the weather, the scene is grounded by the dialogue and performances.
We have heard this conversation before.
Bobby Drake is coming out to his parents. He’s terrified that they will reject him, fear him, or worse, stop loving him. Beneath the fictional elements of the X-Men universe, there is a foundation that is painfully familiar. The discrimination mutants face is not unfounded nor sheer fantasy in our reality. Along with the LGBT community, the X-Men have always represented the universal minority experience.
More than any other superhero team, the X-Men tackle the most sinister aspect of human nature: humanity’s uncanny ability to dehumanize itself. The hatred spurred from targeting groups of people for simply being who they are has led to the darkest periods of human history. The X-Men symbolize the fight against the privileged majority. This introspective look at humanity is the essence of any X-Men story.
Based on that standard, X-Men: Apocalypse should not be considered an X-Men film.
The film is an adaptation of the famous X-Men comic book storyline, Age of Apocalypse. When the world’s first mutant wakes up from centuries of sleep, he plans to cleanse the world of the weak and start anew. Only the X-Men can stop Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) from staying true to his name and destroying their world.
Unlike previous installments, X-Men: Apocalypse glosses over the division between humans and mutants. The only mutants that are feared are those who are known for their villainy. The only humans shown mistreating mutants are lowlifes who spend their time at seedy underground bars. Instead of expanding on the public perception of mutants that was explored and developed in previous films, the film decides to ignore it all together and focus on cataclysmic destruction that lacks any emotional investment from the audience. What separated the X-Men franchise from other superhero films is lost in this film, which makes all the qualities that make this film inferior to others of the genre that much more inexcusable.
Due to the overstuffed cast, several new characters like Psylocke (Oliva Munn) and Jubilee (Lana Condor) have no development and rarely speak. Along with revamped favorites Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Archangel (Ben Hardy), they are completely wasted in this film. Other characters have incredible moments in the film, but they feel undeserved because we haven’t spent enough time with them. Although James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are highlights, their characters prevented others from receiving much needed screen time. And can we all admit that Mystique’s increasing importance in the X-Men franchise has less to do with the character and more to do with Jennifer Lawrence’s popularity.
X-Men: Apocalypse’s failure to balance all the characters is a clear indication of its inability to juggle multiple storylines. The film tries to do too much and the audience is painfully aware of it. Not only do the tonal shifts between scenes feel jarring, but also the film is thirty minutes too long. Certain scenes with certain cameos are unnecessary and add nothing to the overall plot. This leads to a plot that lacks focus and leaves audiences confused and uninspired by the film’s conclusion and the journey to it.
However, the film’s biggest letdown is its titular villain. Apocalypse should never be underestimated by the audience. His power and strength should incite panic and terror. When he faces off the X-Men, we should be worried for their well-being. Yet, every time he appeared on screen, I could not take him seriously. With the heavy makeup, prosthetics and voice modulation, Isaac is unrecognizable. His performance is overdramatic and laughably out of place. I cringed whenever he got a close up because it accentuated his terrible Marlon Brando impersonation. His motivations are never explored and the film simply expects audiences to buy into Apocalypse’s plans. More a caricature than figure of absolute power, Apocalypse fails on all levels.
Quicksilver (Evan Peters) tries his very hardest to save the film with an unbelievably entertaining action sequence. Sadly, the scene drowns in Apocalypse’s CGI-heavy destruction. Part of Apocalypse’s failure comes from uninspiring action sequences that show off his ability to obliterate seemingly empty buildings. Not once are Apocalypse’s large-scale attacks portrayed to have taken any human life. They feel surprisingly tame and overdone by the end of the film. The final battle between him and the X-Men is boring and exemplifies the audience’s detached viewing experience.
Overall, X-Men: Apocalypse is underwhelming. Although it has moments of magic and scene-stealing levity, the sum of its parts is not greater than the parts themselves. It is worth the watch for fans of the franchise who want to know what follows the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past. The film’s final scene also holds promise for future projects. But to everyone else, this film is not a must-see. When one takes the human element away for from the X-Men, it never is.
X-Men: Apocalypse was released on May 27, 2016.