X-Men: Apocalypse arrives buoyed by the critical and commercial success of both Matthew Vaughn’s spirited First Class and Bryan Singer’s own Days Of Future Past; both entertaining and comparatively impressive franchise instalments that have breathed new life into a series which seemed mired, for a time, by bad Wolverine spin-offs and haunted by the troubled ghost of Brett Ratner.
Ratner’s unloved The Last Stand can finally be relieved if it’s turgid burden as the clunkiest X-Men instalment, so that’s something he can be thankful for, but only because Apocalypse goes quite some distance to eclipse it in terms of mind-numbing, fist-clenching awfulness. Conventional wisdom would dictate that Singer’s hands-on involvement in this film would act as some miraculous elixir to the third-film woes that dog many trilogies (something that Apocalypse brazenly – even dangerously- references in one of its many pointless scenes), but that simply isn’t the case. This stinking turd is a calamitous fall from grace for the fanboys’ safest of bets. One that brings into direct question how wise his decisions have actually been for quite some time.
Set a few years after Days Of Future Past, Apocalypse finds the series’ own Muppet Babies knee-deep in the 1980’s (though you can barely tell), facing off against the seemingly unstoppable rise of an uber mutant (Oscar Isaac’s perfunctory turn as En Sabah Nur a.k.a. Apocalypse). Able to assimilate and amplify the powers of other mutants, Apocalypse awakens from a centuries long sleep beneath the sands of Cairo, rallies together a set of biblical horsemen (skills arbitrary), and starts reshaping the world (or at least, that city) as he sees fit. Basically he builds a giant pyramid, and generally teleports about meddling with whatever he comes into contact with like the Earth is his own personal Etch-A-Sketch.
All of which means it’s time for Dr. Xavier (James McAvoy) and his pupils to saddle up and get into a massive CGI fight, as Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg throw basic sense, structure or storytelling nous into the wastebasket in favour of pummelling an already defeated audience with a digital mud-slinging match without a thought spared for logic or a single scrap of character development or emotional investment.
Michael Fassbender returns as Eric / Magneto, affording the film the opportunity for some distinctly insincere emotional candyfloss as he loses another token family and, under the dubious sway of Apocalypse, takes a tour of Auschwitz in a crass attempt to stir up some much-needed feels. It rings as hollow, to say the least. On the peripheries you also have Jennifer Lawrence channelling Katniss as Raven / Mystique, collecting new young mutants like they’re Pokemon cards, saying much but achieving little.
There’s basically no development here for anybody. The first hour is a busy conveyor belt of introductions for the egregiously bloated cast of supermen and superwomen who, through their cumulative superpowers, are able to get out of any and all situations with relative ease. The knock-on effect of this over-egged pudding is that there’s no sense of risk or danger to any of the heroes at any point whatsoever, because every single character is, in effect, a walking, talking deus ex machina. Got an impossible situation? Well, we can stop time, teleport or detonate anything or anyone with our faces. A tree gets more back story than half of these characters.
With great power comes a considerable lack of basic logic; powers are used as and when the plot runs into a full-on dead-end, which is roughly every 15 minutes or so. Once the magic heroes have cheated their way out of the latest tangled mess Apocalypse has thrown at them, they go back to talking for a bit, as if someone off-screen is holding a stop-watch for the 60 minute mark to hit so that the prolonged final battle can commence.
Apocalypse feels like the most prosthetic and soulless blockbuster to have appeared this side of George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels. It’s so crushingly reliant on it’s CG crutches that all humanity is drained from the experience (humans themselves are virtually absent from proceedings entirely). Said digital effects are also worryingly inconsistent. Granted, some of it looks very, very pretty. But at other times its shoddy as anything and gimmicky to a fault. I can’t remember a film that pandered to 3D chicanery so blatantly. When computer generated books and masonry aren’t being flung at us at 90mph, they’re moving in bum-numbing slow motion; something Singer falls back on with such fervour that one wonders if he’s gotten mixed up and thinks he’s in charge of the forthcoming Baywatch reboot.
The litany of failings goes on and on. The film opens in something-or-other BC, giving us a glimpse of the predicament that froze Apocalypse in time for the intervening eons. That this comes down, in part, to a feat of staggeringly incompetent engineering is endemic of the thoughtlessness and laziness behind every decision to come. It’s like a chain reaction of falling dominoes that begins in this one moment; the rest of the film is a complete fuck-up because nobody involved has seen sense enough to apply the brakes and seriously think things through.
Except, perhaps, for Hugh Jackman, who makes a brief cameo as Wolverine (allowing another cheap get-out-of-jail-free card for the writers) before quite sensibly running out of Apocalypse as fast as he possibly can. At this point, the viewer almost wishes to be taken with him.
Performances are perfunctory at best across the board, with nobody bringing their A-game. Presumably this is because all the actors are aware that, which such tremendous bloat to the cast list, virtually nobody has been afforded enough time to shine anyway. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver probably comes out of things with the most charisma. Too bad his efforts are one-upped by a dog eating a pizza (really); this movie’s answer to nuking the fridge. You have to pity poor Olivia Munn more than anyone. She hasn’t even got a character, just an inappropriate costume that makes her look like a reject from an early 90’s Mortal Kombat game. At least Sophie Turner gets a few things to say and do (she’s shit though, so nevermind).
Apocalypse feels like a rush-job, and a bad one. A poorly conceived cash cow, ferried out in double-quick time to capitalise on the series’ recent successes. It’s a thundering bore and a total fiasco, and, if it wasn’t for London Has Fallen, would quite easily take the prize of worst film of 2016 so far.
The X-Men owe Gerard Butler a drink.