Directed by Bryan Singer
Opens May 27
This year’s superior X-Film, Deadpool, obliged its ink-and-panel sources by humorously and directly acknowledging the audience, often at the expense of Fox’s penny-pinchers. If that film playfully embraced those offscreen, X-Men: Apocalypse awkwardly continues that gesture with subtle bitterness. Bryan Singer’s troubled X-Men franchise, now a teenager, is still preoccupied with origin, knowing well that its fanbase is loyal but insatiable. Since rebooting with allegedly sexier actors—you can never out-hot Sirs Ian and Patrick—the M.O. has been to reverse old sins, even making that the focus of Days of Future Past. But whereas the previous film toyed with formula while perpetuating the franchise’s strongest social metaphors, Apocalypse mostly obliges a checklist. Continuing a follicle fixation—the trailer’s takeaway was “walk, don’t run, to see how Professor Xavier’s dome got shiny”—X Men: Apocalypse stands as a reminder of when keeping fan-service real goes wrong.
From the start, Singer is capable of both a populist popcorn flick and a fan-pleaser. James McAvoy’s opening narration recalls Stewart’s own from the first film, the ancient Egyptian prologue shines brighter than any Gods of Egypt test footage, and even the title sequence echoes those trippy pre-show rollercoasters through giant concessions. But starting with our introduction to the new Cyclops/Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan, chronic wincer), whose eyes just really hurt a lot, our characters, familiar and otherwise, barely develop. Our big bad du jour, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), has little motive past world domination and never reaches his messianic potential. After he is awaken and he finds his new horsemen—long-time fav Storm (Alexandra Shipp; don’t worry, you find out how her hair turns white), Angel (Ben Hardy, underserved by convenient Metallica needle-drop), Psylocke (Olivia Munn, mostly existing to have boobs), and newly-bereaved Magneto (Michael Fassbender, drained of all intrigue)—Xavier’s School for the Gifted becomes a less dynamic Hogwarts with the reintroduction of Cyclops, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nitecrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee in garb that makes you miss Prince and Michael Jackson simultaneously) and Jubilee (Lana Condor). There’s others, too, but no performances stand out since the writing serves to let characters announce their motives and powers without addressing the psychology behind them. Oh, and to make asides that fall just short of staring directly at the camera.
Still, Apocalypse manages fun in its 80s cosplay; Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) return is a rare moment where the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the Wargames prerogative of Apocalypse offers just enough political sheen. Though the action scenes are cut-rate, the lack of emotional purpose—and the premonition that everything will be alright in the end—renders them weightless. When Hugh Jackman stops by, Singer seems to have all but given up, dutifully assembling a collage of everything he thinks people should want in an X-Men movie, but not what they truly need. The audience I saw it with wasn’t discouraged, so if you choose to see it, save your money and skip the 4DX, at least until they install the vape and bidet options.