Viewing First Class and Days of Future Past along the same yardstick would paint Apocalypse with a fatigue, a slowing down of the pace and a dampening of expectations.
The X-Men films franchise has always cast strong actors as its principal characters, and they’re the ones who’ll see you through to Apocalypse‘s redeeming climax. This is because the first 100 or so minutes of the third movie in Bryan Singer’s ‘series’ is a pastiche of old tropes – not just from previous productions in the franchise but from across the board, from Star Wars to… well, Taken. And even if the climax is a mishmash of long-done problem-solving techniques, you will buy in.
The problems start with the number of mutants in the picture, so much so that the first hour is spent discovering them and their motivations in the movie one by one – in the case of Quicksilver and Magneto, they’re rediscovered in the kitschiest ways. Luckily, you’ve Michael Fassbender as the latter so you’ll make it out of the tearjerking scenes unharmed. (Then again, if Fassbender has to strike out anew in just one more movie because he slaughtered the people who killed his family, he’s going to wind up dead on some Game of Thrones episode.) The next issue is that the story likely betrays its singular flaw: that it may have been written for the sake of making a sequel. All it does is heighten the risks, raise the stakes and increase the size of the threat only so the world can be saved by the same old team of Professor X, Beast, Mystique, Cyclops, Nightcrawler and Magneto (also, this is not a spoiler – the plot is in the details). In this sense, what the movie is, is a complicated puzzle: you buy in because you want to see how the puzzle is solved, while the mutant crew is a universal Turing machine.
Apocalypse isn’t bold the way First Class and Days of Future Past were. First Class quietly rebooted the franchise while Days of Future Past made sure we’d look forward to more. In fact, viewing the films along the same yardstick would paint Apocalypse with a slowing down of the pace and a dampening of expectations. As if harkening back to its predecessors, Apocalypse begins in the past, positioning a mutant endowed with a variety of powers as the problem; the cuts to the present because that’s where the problem-solvers will converge, where Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) and Nic Hoult (Beast) will exhort their fellow mutants to fight!; and then all of them will fly a plane to prevent the end of the world and so secure the future. Throw into this mix a Tye Sheridan (Cyclops) and Sophie Turner (Jean Grey) with no chemistry between them, and a Fassbender and James McAvoy (Professor X) with lots of it. When X goes “Hello, old friend”, you’ll feel it. (Speaking of old friends, keep your eyes peeled for Your Favourite Mutant.)
Another problem with Apocalypse is that, like its immediate predecessor, it takes liberties with where it’s situated on the continuum. And because DoFP already wandered a little too much between the past and the future, Apocalypse could leave you a bit more disoriented than usual. For example, you will quickly realise that there was no good reason for YFM to have shown up at all, but because YFM did, Apocalypse might as well be wedged somewhere between X2 (2003; also directed by Bryan Singer) and The Last Stand (2006). This is of course notwithstanding what the fourth film in the rebooted franchise will introduce by way of resolution.
Anyway, let’s say you get past all of this – you likely will because the villain in the film, Apocalypse portrayed by Oscar Isaac, literally has godlike powers – and you will find closure in the last 30 minutes. If this were the beginning of the 2000s, the visuals would’ve been worth the ticket but because it’s 2016, the rapid resolution of conflicts – together with the deus ex machina of a teleporting mutant and with all of the weaker characters getting their due – you won’t leave feeling confused; perhaps just disappointed. Isaac’s Apocalypse himself eases the passage by being a one-dimensional, Ramsey-Bolton-esque kind of evil, and so outdoing all that makeup and prosthetics to hide The Force Awakens‘s endearing Poe Dameron. Minute for minute, Sebastian Shaw’s Hellfire Club was more menacing.
The movie probably saw all of this criticism coming. Sometime at the beginning, Jean Grey and Co. emerge from a theatre having just watched a Star Wars episode when she goes, “At least we can all agree the third one is always the worst.” ‘Worst’ may be too harsh but of Singer’s three (excluding X2), Apocalypse is the weakest, abandoning the adventurous and shaded bio-political trajectories charted by its predecessors. If you’ve been following the entire franchise through the years, you might want to watch this one just to be ready for next year’s lupine finale.