Every superhero movie seems to threaten the end of the world if the villains win, but X-Men: Apocalypse makes this threat clear even from its title.
I should clarify this before I really get going: I have not seen all of the X-Men films. A professional film critic would have seen them all, if not in theaters then at least in preparation for the new film. Maybe when I’m getting paid to do this and don’t also have to deal with college that will be the case. I have seen X-Men: The Last Stand and clips from the others, but for the most part came into the movie cold. I went into the film prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt, but found myself following along pretty well. Let’s do this.
X-Men: Apocalypse is the third film in the prequel trilogy (I guess I have a thing for watching the last X-Men film in a trilogy?). The movie opens in ancient Egypt where En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), a powerful (and the ‘first’) mutant is attacked by worshipers and buried in his tomb. When ritual awakens him, he decides to take over the world.
A really good movie can use multiple storylines to its advantage. Multiple subplots can increase the film’s pacing and add layers. However, if not done well, the movie can be left feeling very underwhelming. This latter option is the case for X-Men: Apocalypse. There are so many different subplots going on and the editing/character development is not nearly as polished as it needs to be. The film’s structure leads to a general sense of apathy instead of excitement as it cuts between scenes. Yes, the pacing is faster, but the movie becomes exhausting far before it becomes interesting.
The stakes in X-Men: Apocalypse are ridiculously high. This is largely due to the fact that En Sabar Nur is more of a God than he is a mutant. He wants to destroy the world and his work is not initially very difficult. However, this combination of high stakes and low difficulty leaves the film feeling relatively low-impact. The third act is entirely a battle sequence, but it still feels like the given level of emotional impact belongs in the second act. The battle determines the future of the earth, but because it takes place in an isolated wasteland (because everyone living in Cairo has already been murdered… yet this is hardly acknowledged by the film) it seems relatively small in scope.
That said, there are lots of really cool moments in the film. There is a sequence with Quicksilver that is not only the best part of the movie, but one of the coolest superhero moments I have ever seen. Although each of the individual characters don’t get enough time to develop, their powers are ridiculously cool and the film becomes watchable on a very surface level. I only wish the amazing special effects were mixed with a storyline that had real impact.
Overall, X-Men: Apocalypse struggles simply because it feels too long and too short at the same time. It is missing the magic touch to create a cohesive resolution. The performances are committed, but it doesn’t feel like they are what is at the center of the film. The movie is never boring at any individual juncture, but isn’t particularly interesting when viewed in context. Still, it is fully watchable, and incredibly ambitious. Unfortunately, ambition doesn’t cut it when the movie is, at its core, more of the same.