It was something of a cinematic miracle when Matthew Vaughn was able to resurrect the “X-Men” franchise back in 2011 with “X-Men: First Class,” a film that took us back to the beginning and gave everything a fresh start. It was bold, ambitious, and thoroughly entertaining not only because of its exciting action scenes, but also because of its excellent narrative that played with history in a few different ways. It was a daring move to try and make a sequel that could even come close to what was accomplished, but Bryan Singer took that dare and delivered “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” another great entry in the franchise that once again used history in a fascinating context. It’s almost unthinkable that a third film in the franchise could reach such heights, but this has not deterred Singer, who has once again taken up the reins in hopes of succeeding where very few film franchises have by delivering the next film in the saga, “X-Men: Apocalypse.”
Picking up ten years after the last film, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is still running his school for the gifted, where he continues to pursue his goal of helping mutants in need, including Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and newcomer Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan). Meanwhile, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) goes about trying to save mutants in her own way, including saving Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Angel (Ben Hardy) from a cage match in Berlin. In Poland, Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has settled down to a normal life with his wife and daughter. However, an incident at his job outs his identity, eventually causing a tragic confrontation that sends him on the run. Jumping one more time over to Egypt, CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) is investigating a cult that worships En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), an ancient god who is said to be the first mutant. During this investigation, members of the cult successfully resurrect him, leading him to begin his mission of cleansing the world through destruction. Obviously this is something that our heroes cannot allow, forcing them to do everything in their power to stop him.
After the massive success of the first two films in this rebooted series, it’s rather easy to say that this was one of the most anticipated blockbusters of the year, with fans around the world hoping for another action-packed spectacle, but with yet another intelligently-written narrative to accompany it. However, with this latest entry, it would appear that this new franchise is finally starting to show a little weakness, for what Singer delivers with “X-Men: Apocalypse” doesn’t even come close to reaching the quality of the films that preceded it.
For starters, this time around, the story feels as though it takes forever to finally get a move on, taking well over half the film before there’s any firm development. You may recall from the first two films that the narratives grabbed you within the first few minutes, and then proceeded to keep you gripped right up through their exciting finales. For “X-Men: Apocalypse,” the narrative is not of the gripping kind. In fact, it’s a rather bland tale that doesn’t really give anyone in the film much to do.
This can probably be said most of all about the film’s completely uninspired villain, the titular Apocalypse, who spends almost the entire film simply going around and recruiting helpers before finally trying to destroy everything during the climax. Those of us who grew up with the comics and/or the classic animated television show remember him as a much more imposing villain with a rather memorable presence, but to see him in this film, you’re merely left with the impression that he’s a stand-in for a far more intriguing antagonist. As if that weren’t enough, you also have to put up with the fact that the previous film's villain, Magneto, gets demoted to a secondary villain who is given a lackluster and half-baked storyline of his own to trudge through.
Alas, the same initial complaint of being given nothing to do can be laid upon our heroes as well. Raven takes over half the film to get to Charles’ school and warn him of Erik’s situation, which leads to them being made award of Apocalypse’s presence at long last, and thus finally getting the story moving. Combine this with a rather unnecessary rescue mission for the youngsters of the group (which was only thrown in as an excuse to give Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine another cameo) and you have a story that’s full of constant delays, as though it’s procrastinating before finally coming around to its grand finale.
You might think that this is where the film would finally show some improvement, given that the climaxes to the first two films had done a marvelous job of bringing everything to a close, but you have to remember that those films had given you multiple reasons to care via the characters and the storylines, so the impact of their finales was felt with full force. For “Apocalypse,” there hasn’t been anything firm for the audience to latch on to, no characters to really care about (minus whatever attachment that may be lingering from the previous entries), and no plot points that have us hanging on the edge of our seats, so the filmmakers’ attempt at a big finish only ends up landing with a dull thud. To put it another way, when you find yourself checking your watch every couple of minutes, you know that the film hasn’t been doing its job very well.
The film is something of a surprise, mainly because we have the same director and the same writer (Simon Kinberg) of the previous sequel, but for some reason, they just couldn’t recapture the magic they had displayed so brilliantly before. The entire cast, including the new faces like Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, all do a fine job, but this screenplay lets them all down, setting them adrift in a narrative that appears to have had barely any thought put into it. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ll be getting another sequel in the near future, but hopefully whoever ends up writing it will take their time to develop a far more exciting and riveting story than what we got here. Only then will the series be able to get back to the heights it’s achieved over the last few years. The X-Men had finally found their great place in the cinematic universe, and I think I speak for all the fans when I say that we’d like to see it get back there again as soon as possible. 2/4 stars.
Starts tonight in theaters everywhere.
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