Two years ago, Bryan Singer returned to what you can reasonably classify as the original “modern” superhero franchise. With the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, Singer and his collaborators corrected the course on a film series that had spent at least eleven years painting itself into something of a corner. By employing classic comic book continuity tropes and by adapting (albeit loosely) one of the most well-regarded X-Men stories in history, Days of Future Past was a massive breath of fresh air for a franchise that, before, looked as if it had run out of gas.
Releasing today, X-Men: Apocalypse attempts to build on the refreshed standard of the series established by its predecessor. To a point, the movie wants to get back to some of the basics of the series by simply giving the ensemble cast a massive threat to fight, with the entire world at stake. On that basis, it’s easy to admire the intent of the film. An unintended byproduct of this approach, though, is that Apocalypse feels surprisingly stale.
Since the release of First Class in 2011, one of the absolute best parts of the new cast introduced in that film has been Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of infamous X-Men villain Magneto. At the very beginning of Apocalypse, we see that Magneto has been given a new status quo, attempting to live a quiet life in Poland with a new wife and daughter. Of course, this is short-lived, and these new characters are swept aside rather quickly to put Erik back into a more familiar, murderous mindset. Unfortunately, Fassbender also doesn’t seem to have the fire that helped set his version of the character apart from Sir Ian McKellen’s in his first two turns with the part, and Magneto doesn’t seem as memorable as he did followingFirst Class and Days of Future Past.
While it was easy to get a similar impression from Jennifer Lawrence’s third turn as Mystique early on, as the stakes grew to involve her more she seemed to embrace her character’s arc reasonably well. Returning players James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, and Evan Peters all bring familiarity and truthfulness to the parts they’ve been playing for a while now, with McAvoy in particular seemingly making the most progress in aligning his brasher vision of Professor X with the one that we know so well from Sir Patrick Stewart.
New cast members also all seem to be pretty good fits for their respective parts. Of the characters we’ve seen before, the one who likely takes the most ownership of a previously-filled role is Sophie Turner as Jean Grey. Granted, the story gave her more to do than many of the other fresh faces, but Turner does well with what she has. While Oscar Isaac definitely has moments of charismatic magnetism, the film starts to acknowledge his character’s uniqueness less and less as time goes on. There’s a memorable encounter between he and Professor X at the end, but it feels like both the capable actor and the timeless villain he plays here are squandered by the time the credits roll.
While the X-Men movies have largely been marching to the beat of their own drum with only relatively general service given to specific stories of the comics, Apocalypse seems to make the age of the overall film series more apparent. These are largely younger faces, yes, but this film really didn’t need to feel stale. As one of the most identifiable superhero franchises in the world, and given the pretty unique nature of the last film, it’s hard not to go intoApocalypse with a high level of expectation only to come out feeling somewhat disappointed.
This is not the last we’ll see from the X-Men – in fact thanks to Wade Wilson, it’s probably far from it. A wholesale course correction isn’t necessary, but it’s far easier to lump Apocalypse in with the likes of X-Men Origins: Wolverine than it is to place it alongside X2 or its direct predecessor. The strongest theme of the X-Men in the comics and beyond has always been their mission of protecting a world that hates and fears them, and perhaps most lacking inApocalypse is a sense of alienation that manages to celebrate the characters’ differences, as well as the differences of mutants at-large.
By just putting them up against someone who wants to take over the world, X-Men: Apocalypse is too generic to stand out from the increasingly crowded offerings in comics-based cinema. Still, I wouldn’t count the X-Men out just yet.
Chris Clow is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, as well as a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and Batman-On-Film.com, as well as host of the Comics on Consoles podcast. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Deutschesvolk.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.