Film Review: ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’

X-Men Apocalypse Jennifer Lawrence
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Bryan Singer's fourth "X-Men" film disappoints with too many characters and an over-reliance on visual effects.

If you’ve seen one cinematic apocalypse, you’ve seen them all. At least that’s the feeling conjured by “X-Men: Apocalypse,” the latest entry in one of the more reliable comic-book franchises around, this time disappointingly succumbing to an exhausting case of been-there-done-that-itis.

Director Bryan Singer pioneered the contemporary wave of superhero movies with 2000’s “X-Men,” and made a welcome return to the series just two years ago with the time-jumping “Days of Future Past.” Perhaps he should’ve quit while he was ahead. Even though “Apocalypse” hardly reps the franchise nadir (an in-joke midway through this ’80s-set pic throws deserved shade at Brett Ratner’s woeful “X-Men: The Last Stand” as one character exits “Return of the Jedi” and laments “the third one’s always the worst”), this is easily the least compelling, surprising and satisfying of Singer’s entries.

While the best “X-Men” movies are defined by their keen intelligence, casual wit and deep reserves of emotion (with an affinity for social commentary bordering on Very Special Episode territory), “Apocalypse” serves those virtues up in minimal doses, settling for an extravagant display of visual effects that would have scarcely been possible 16 years ago. That should be enough to secure robust box office overseas, but domestic results could fall notably short of “Future Past’s” sterling $234 million gross.

The wildcard in audience acceptance (and the box office ceiling) for this latest outing is the lack of fan favorite character Wolverine (at least as far as viewers know). The genetically-modified man of war’s absence from Matthew Vaughn’s well-reviewed prequel “X-Men: First Class” was blamed for that film’s relatively underwhelming performance.

Follow-up “Future Past” mixed cast members from both “First Class” and the original “X-Men” trilogy, including Hugh Jackman’s hirsute hero, but “Apocalypse” returns to the core “Class” ensemble of James McAvoy (as Professor Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (as his frenemy Erik Lensherr, a.k.a. Magneto), Jennifer Lawrence (as shapeshifter Raven/Mystique), Nicholas Hoult (as brainy and brawny Hank McCoy) and Rose Byrne (as CIA agent Moira MacTaggert).

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That lineup isn’t short on talent or charisma, and the addition of series newcomers Oscar Isaac (as titular mega-mutant baddie Apocalypse), Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner and Kodi Smit-McPhee (as younger incarnations of the original trilogy characters Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler, respectively) only bolsters the ensemble’s appeal. Except this time Singer and scribe Simon Kinberg give the players precious little to sink their teeth into.

From the opening prologue, set in the Nile Valley circa 3600 BC, it’s clear that Singer aims to take audiences on an eye-popping roller-coaster ride, though in doing so, he leaves behind any pretense of coherent storytelling or character development, as an aging Apocalypse prepares to transfer into a younger body with the help of four devoted minions. The character narrowly pulls it off, as the massive pyramid he had constructed crumbles spectacularly around him, killing his followers and entombing him for the next several thousand years.

The film skips ahead to an Ohio high school classroom in 1983, where life is literally a blur for young Scott Summers (a.k.a. Cyclops, winningly played by Terrence Malick discovery Sheridan). His vision is starting to go, and after a rage-fueled encounter with a class bully unleashes a powerful laser beam from his peepers, Scott is whisked away to Professor Xavier’s school for “gifted” kids by big brother Alex (Lucas Till, another “First Class” holdover).

That’s where McCoy takes Scott under his wing, and (shades of Anna Paquin’s Rogue in “X-Men”) the young mutant is introduced to a world where he can finally be himself — not to mention find a simpatico soul in Turner’s blossoming telekinetic heroine. Several other key characters — including Raven, Nightcrawler, MacTaggert and Evan Peters’ scene-stealing Quicksilver — each make their way to the school in due time.

A parallel storyline tracks Apocalypse’s 20th-century resurrection and subsequent recruitment of four new followers: African orphan Ororo (Alexandra Shipp), fierce Psylocke (Olivia Munn), winged outcast Angel (Ben Hardy) and Magneto, who has been quietly living under an assumed identity in Poland since his failed attempt to assassinate President Nixon in “Future Past.”

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Despite a handful of references to President Reagan and the Cold War, “Apocalypse” steers clear of ’80s politics, and instead leans on familiar pop culture references (“Knight Rider,” a Ms. Pac-Man arcade game) and smartly utilized contempo music cues. Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen” scores a wounded Angel’s rebirth via Apocalypse, and Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” accompanies an elaborate sequence of Quicksilver slowing down time to rescue Professor X’s students from an explosion. (It’s meant to outdo the “Time in a Bottle” sequence from “Future Past” but only reinforces what an ingenious and singular way Singer found to demonstrate Quicksilver’s power the first time around.)

Professor X’s school isn’t the only thing that blows up in the ruination-happy “Apocalypse,” but the storytelling never ignites. Apocalypse remains a one-note villain throughout, despite Isaac’s best efforts to imbue the godlike foe with authoritative menace underneath mountains of prosthetic makeup (whatever new fans the exceptional actor gained from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” will hardly recognize him here).

The back-and-forth between Xavier (in the “mutants and humans can live together” camp) and Magneto (in the “mutants and humans can never live together” camp) has grown increasingly tired over six films, even if we’re now witnessing a midpoint in their relationship. Similarly, Raven’s mixed feelings about becoming a role model for mutants everywhere after saving the president in “Future Past” is ho-hum stuff several notches below Lawrence’s formidable skill level.

Although the “X-Men” ensembles are usually large, there are simply too many characters for the action-heavy “Apocalypse” to properly juggle. It’s easy to forget even McAvoy or Fassbender when they’re off screen for too long, and the film functions best when it lets the fresh young trio of Sheridan, Turner and Smit-McPhee take center stage. Still, it’s Peters who emerges as the cast standout in just a handful of scenes, by bringing an offbeat sensibility to a production that otherwise plays campy cartoon material a little too straight.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” certainly represents a high level of Hollywood craftsmanship, from Grant Major’s imposing production design in sequences set across multiple continents to Louise Mingenbach’s multifarious costumes (some lifted directly from comic-book pages, including Munn’s skimpy skintight garb). Regular Singer d.p. Newton Thomas Sigel’s contributions are seemingly enhanced by the work of visual effects designer John Dykstra in nearly every shot, but Singer’s steadfast editor-composer John Ottman once again delivers on his double duty, somehow finding a way (with fellow editor Michael Louis Hill) to zip between a multitude of storylines without drawing attention to the cuts, and scoring the action in a galvanizing, but never overpowering, fashion.

Film Review: 'X-Men: Apocalypse'

Reviewed at 20th Century Fox Studios, Century City, Calif., May 6, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 143 MIN.

Production

A Twentieth Century Fox release presented in association with Marvel Entertainment and TSG Entertainment of a Bad Hat Harry, Kinberg Genre, Hutch Parker, Donners’ Co. production. Produced by Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner. Executive producers, Stan Lee, Todd Hallowell, Josh McLaglen. Co­-producers, Jason Taylor, John Ottman, Blondel Aidoo.

Crew

Directed by Bryan Singer. Screenplay, Simon Kinberg, story by Singer, Kinberg, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris. Camera (color, widescreen, 3D), Newton Thomas Sigel; editors, John Ottman, Michael Louis Hill; music, Ottman; production designer, Grant Major; supervising art director, Michèle Laliberte; set decorator, Anne Kuljian; costume designer, Louise Mingenbach; sound (Dolby Atmos), Patrick Rousseau; sound designer, Craig Berkey; supervising sound editors, Berkey, John A. Larsen; re-recording mixers, Paul Massey, D.M. Hemphill; visual effects designer, John Dykstra; visual effects, MPC, Digital Domain, Rising Sun Pictures, Cinesite, Raynault, Hy*drau*lx, Mels Studios, Exceptional Minds, BUF, Lola; prosthetics, Legacy Effects; prosthetics supervisor, John Rosengrant; special effects supervisor, Steve Hamilton; head special effects makeup, Adrien Morot; stunt coordinators, Jeff Habberstad, Nick Brandon, Paul Leonard, James M. Churchman, Mike Scherer, Trevor Habberstad; associate producer, Kathleen McGill; assistant director, Josh McLaglen; second unit director, Brian Smrz; second unit camera, Larry Blanford; casting, Roger Mussenden.

With

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Lucas Till, Josh Helman, Ben Hardy, Lana Condor, Željko Ivanek, Ally Sheedy. (English, German, Polish, Egyptian, Arabic dialogue)

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  1. What are the name of Professor Xavier’s sunglasses he wore when he first met Cyclops in the the beginning of Xmen Apocalypse? I love those frames and i want to get a pair.

  2. On the contrary. This was my favorite X-men movie. I will say I am biased because Apocalypse is my favorite character. I think they portrayed Apocalypse perfectly. Granted there were probably too many characters in the movie to fully give adequate time but over all my favorite of the series. Also…quicksilver was hilarious.

  3. ntm says:

    is it me or are you just a hater of every movie you watch and review? are you actually hating for a living?

  4. Cedric says:

    When this reviewer said Quicksilver slowed down time it tells me how qualified they are to do the review. Fans of the comic will love the movie.

  5. Daniel says:

    So far out of all the terrible reviews I’ve read about this film, this one is the crappiest. This film was amazing and if people are going to write reviews like this one and ignore the time and effort put into this film, then read the comics and go make your own version!!!

  6. If you’ve seen all the X-Men movies (and its spinoffs), you’ll prolly get a little confused by some of the things that happened in Apocalypse. They’re quite minute, tho, so won’t prolly notice most of them. Apocalypse is not a bad movie. It just seems like the studio is trying so hard to make money out of the franchise (lol capitalism lol).

  7. Jonny says:

    Too many characters for this pea brain movie reviewer. I can’t wait till these reviewers are a thing of the past. That way we can enjoy films without people telling us what to watch.

  8. Gan Han Sing says:

    I’d just watched the movie, and I think it was a pretty good movie. The guy who review this movie is obviously one of those guys who did not like superheroes movie… and obviously went into the movie with a vendetta… missing the point of the story and dismissing it as a “an eye-popping roller-coaster ride”.

    Stop being a hater, man..

    • samir says:

      U Marvel Fanboys are such soore losers this same shiet happened with age of ultron if if was bad it was bad! Cant u pple just accept that? The trailer gave us more action than the actual movie did plus half of the movie was basically mystique recruiting. it was a good movie yes but there was nothing special or amazing about it.

  9. Corey Ebadat says:

    X-man without Wolverine is like superman without Kent clark.

  10. Navi7 says:

    Apocalypse has happened because people are spending time on writing and reading reviews than actually having a real experience!!! -_-

  11. Martyn french says:

    Are you joking? Marvel is all about characters, it’s about having loads of people and about explaining their story more… I sat next to a couple who brought there kids and they didn’t know a few of the characters, to see their faces light up when they started to learn more about it was amazing! Characters bring the films to life in marvel never to many, X men will never die, there is too many options to go down, critics these days I have no clue what you want when a film is full of action and fun and story you all say ” too much special fx’s” shut up, if I wanted to see a film with less special effects id watch the notebook. Need to update critics as lately they’ve made shocking comments about many films that have been great to watch and I’ve even watched over again

  12. Will says:

    Might want to update the subtitle seeing as Bryan Singer has only done three X-Men films.

  13. Klein says:

    DoFP has more mutants than this one and this one is “packed with many characters”? WTF is that.. Charles and Erik has that same hate-love relationship in the comics for like ever and it just shows it here how it is.

  14. samuelammons says:

    “elaborate sequence of Quicksilver slowing down time to rescue” Quicksilver doesn’t slow down time. Relativity. He’s moving so fast, the world seems to stop.

  15. Lance says:

    Not surprised! This movie has looked awful from the first trailer.

  16. K Liu says:

    bla bla bla…dont be a loser, u know nothing about X-Men…2 thumbs down for u…

  17. Jimmy says:

    All of these points could be leveled at Civil War, but some critics are giving it a free pass. Other studios are allowed to make superhero films like Fox and DC. Sometimes they are even better than Marvel films. Civil War was good, but it was kind of underwhelming and extreme slow and boring at times. The first 45 minutes don’t really work until they go to London. The first action scene was boring and amatur hour.

    • Rex says:

      Listen up, everyone. Jimmy has spoken. We can all arrive at the theatre 45 minutes after Civil War actually starts! Hooray! Horray for Jimmy!

  18. nathanial says:

    So let me get this straight.
    Everyone has said of previous X-Men films: ” there are more mutants and stories than just Wolverine and his happy gang of mutant buddies”
    Now we a get a movie that is not Wolverine and those mutants way over there, and its a flop because there are too many characters to juggle? LMAO

    ” its the same ole charles vs magneto’s view of mutant kind again…”
    That’s exactly what the X-men are. It was a creation to tackle the social struggles of racism and diversity in our world and the views of two powerful leaders at a time of great social strife. Xavier was fashioned after Dr. Martin Luther King and Magneto was fashioned after Malcolm X. Of course the core of the X-men universe is about those two’s struggles of inclusion versus radicalism.

    Ultimately the X-men does not translate well to the silver screen because some of the depth of the real life issues that are tackled in the stories can’t just be captured by mouth breathers who don’t readthe books and just want to pay their 12 dollars and be entertained for 2 hours. And the ones that love the stories from their childhood will always be disappointed by the lackluster creation that gets forced on the screen and judged by how much money it can make.

    • Klein says:

      Finally someone said it.

      • Marcus Thomas says:

        I hear what your saying but X-men movies has only really been done by Brian singer. Of course other directors have been on but only Matthew V has done a good job with an X men movie. Point being. If it was put in the right hangs I think X-men could differently translate well over to the silver screen. Just needs a fresh approach completely different to singers version.

  19. Cindy says:

    Magneto didn’t try to assassinate Nixon, he was accused and sentenced for killing Kennedy in Future Past. Get the facts right or the whole review is less credible. Just saying

  20. crossie says:

    So, I don’t think the superhero bubble has burst so much as it was actually a balloon all along and we’re now watching the second year of it deflating. This is going to be another box office “disappointment”. It’s kind of weird to call things that make hundreds of millions of dollars in a couple days “disappointments”, but it’s true.

    “Avengers 2: Age of Ultron” will win the summer handily … oh, wait, it got beat.

    “BvS” is going to start up yet another cinematic superhero universe; but, you know, get its butt handed to it by a Disney cartoon not even Disney had any confidence in to the point they were selling it to the freaking furry fandom in the hope someone would watch it, but ended up actually being good and unique, so the movie going public showed some taste there.

    Meanwhile, this weekend has seen “Civil War” go from “it’s going to pass 200 million” to, “well, okay, just 180 million, that’s still pretty high” to “well, Sunday was off, because it faced stiffer competition FROM FRICKIN’ ‘MOTHER’S DAY’ than expected.”

    So, what’s the first superhero mega-flop? This? “Dr. Strange?” “Suicide Squad?”

  21. Not surprising. I suspected Singer was going to lean on a lot of pop culture but when it comes down to it the X-Men films are very repetitive. Singer may present the story in different wrapping papers but story-wise you can practically line up the prequel trilogy with the original trilogy piece by piece. Don’t know what all this talk is about formidable skills on Lawrence’s part. She’s playing the same thing she plays in every film. The emotionally lost know-it-all who doesn’t want to change and freaks out the minute anyone tells her otherwise. It’s just in the X-Men films she plays a character that demands subtly (Sadly the former model was a better Mystique than her) and Lawrence can’t do subtly. And no, staring off-camera for 20 minutes in every film is not subtly, it’s lazy. But back to the point of the film, Singer and Fox don’t plan things out. First of all, they let us know at the end of Days of Future Past that everyone is alive and well in our time, long after “Apocalypse” takes place. This removes dramatic heft and almost felt like maybe Singer was trying to end the series but then Fox said “No, no. Leave it open for more.” so they added that end-credits scene. Another is Singer doesn’t embrace his character’s uniqueness. He’s done the same formula he did in the original trilogy where you have a lead character focused on and the only really character development is a love triangle that is used in the story. That’s disappointing. I remember watching “The Wolverine” and hoping they explored his tragedies there. I mean some of the stuff from the comics is so sad and character-defining. And apparently “Apocalypse” is getting shredded in reviews. I hope that Fox realizes from stories like “Deadpool” that to adapt the comics…embrace the material for crying out loud! If you’re going to take material from a source then use it!

  22. Jim says:

    ANOTHER paid off disney critic, what a surprise. I just love how ever Disney/Marvel film is conveniently perfect for critics and all others that are not owned by disney are rated a lot harsher….very interesting how that works, what a coincidence.

  23. John says:

    Batman V.S. Superman was an awful movie. AWFUL. AWFUL. AWFUL.

  24. Matt says:

    Civil War was the most derivative superhero movie of the summer, yet it received good reviews. Now, it appears critics are becoming just as derivative in their critiques of all superhero movies made by studios other than Disney.

    The movie critic industry is losing its integrity. I don’t trust a word of any of it. I’ll make up my own mind. Hopefully, Civil War crashes and burns in Week 2 so there aren’t anymore love fest articles about it.

    • daniel says:

      Bitter DC fantard alert! Batman vs Superman SUCKED! Get over it!

    • EricJ says:

      Yeah, a sudden flood of good reviews mean more “Marvel Conspiracy”, right, Bat-boy? Look, you’re GETTING your Justice League movie and your Wonder Woman, and Warner’s finally letting Ben Affleck direct the others instead of Snyder; you can knock off the Trump-rally Cap-bashing now…

      That said, it’s hard to look at the Apocalypse photos without making the same Peter Boyle/Young Frankenstein jokes every other Marvel fan has been making….Fox does certainly plan to be “puddin’ onda riiiizz!”

  25. Chizz says:

    Steer clear of politics and lean on pop culture.

    In a nutshell, this is why 97% of Hollywood movies suck.

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