“X-Men: Apocalypse” attempts to juggle many things too hard. First, we have another bunch of new mutant characters with each own superpower to wield across the screen, and the first half of the movie is busy with introducing them one by one. Second, it also spends considerable time on its numerous main mutant characters who still have matters to be settled, and then there are the obligatory appearances by other recurring characters. Third, a powerful megalomaniac villain comes forward as announced before, and we all know from the start that there will be a massive CGI climax in which lots of things are smashed or blown away.
While it is occasionally enjoyable, the movie is merely bigger and messier than the better films in its long franchise. As trying to cram too many things into its scattershot plot, it loses most of thought-provoking ideas which have distinguished its franchise, and this is surely a letdown after the admirable recharging/rebooting job in the previous film “X-men: Days of Future Past” (2014).
After the amusingly grandiose opening sequence set in the ancient Egypt era, the movie swiftly moves forward to 1983. It has been 10 years since the existence of mutants was exposed in public through what happened in “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, but it seems that did not change the human history much even though it has been regarded as a pivotal moment for both humans and mutants. In this alternative world, Ronald Reagan is still the US president while the Cold War is reaching to another perilous highpoint, and, yes, “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” (1983) is being shown at movie theaters.
And our mutant main characters are trying to deal with themselves as usual while living in each own way. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes famous as a lone underground heroine, and we see her rescuing Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from an illegal cage fight held somewhere in East Berlin. Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is living as a family guy in Poland while hiding his true identity from others around him except his dear wife and daughter, but he knows well that there is always the possibility of danger around his family. In case of Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), he is running his private school for young mutants while assisted by Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and I found myself wondering how all these mutant characters do not look that old compared to their supposedly younger selves in “X-Men: First Class” (2011), which is set in the 1960s. Seriously, is youthfulness a phenotype tightly linked with their mutant genes? And please don’t ask me about how mutant child gets a superpower different from that of either parent.
Meanwhile, an ancient mutant guy named En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) wakes up after more than 5,000 years of sleep below his underground burial site, which happens to be located in the middle of the shabby downtown area of Cairo. After catching up himself on what humans have been doing without him, Apocalypse is determined to bring the end to the human civilization in addition to attaining his glorious almighty status again. He soon gathers four mutants willing to help him as his Four Horsemen, and he is also quite interested in getting Professor Xavier’s power, which will be a priceless cherry on the top of his grand cataclysmic plan.
As many characters bounce around here and there, the director/co-writer Bryan Singer provides us several good moments to enjoy. As Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver, Evan Peters steals the show as he previously did in “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, and I was amused by his speedy movements as “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” by Eurythmics was played on the soundtrack. I also like the scene in which Apocalypse demonstrates his fearsome presence to the whole world for the first time, and its dreadful grandeur on the screen is further amplified by Ludwig van Beethoven’s symphony No.7 in A major, Op 92.
However, as approaching to the expected climax where countless objects are destroyed all around the world, the movie stumbles with glaring storytelling problems. For example, the part involved with Colonel William Stryker (Josh Helman) only functions as 1) an additional obstacle for our main characters, 2) an update on a certain popular mutant dude, and 3) a teaser for whatever will come next after the movie. Considering many discussions on the lack of strong female characters in recent superhero movies, I must point out that Raven and other female characters in the film are no more than plot devices to be utilized. Jennifer Lawrence and Rose Byrne manage to acquit themselves mostly well, but the other female cast members including Sophie Turner, Alexandra Shipp, and Lana Condor are stuck with their flat characters, and Carolina Bartczak and T.J. McGibbon get an unenviable job of playing a thoughtless death scene to ignite Lehnsherr’s destructive wrath over humans.
Most of male performers in the film are not utilized well either. As James McAvoy takes a backseat, Michael Fassbender tries his best despite incoherent characterization, and I appreciate how he maintains his literally magnetic composure amidst heaps of CGI during the climax part. Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Tye Sheridan do whatever they can do with their respective roles, but I am reminded more and more of how much they were better in other films.
During last two months, we were served with two big superhero battles through “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) and “Captain American: Civil War” (2016), and “X-Men: Apocalypse” is somewhere between these two movies. While mindlessly pulverizing lots of things like the former, the movie manages not to lose its sense of fun and excitement completely although it is less effective than the latter on the terms of story and character. I became concerned even though I liked “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, and now I become more worried and tired as observing what may be another sign of exhaustion in the franchise.