“It’s hard not to feel like we’re just back where we started seven films ago”

X-Men: Apocalypse
by @DocJollywood

Director: Bryan Singer
Writer(s): Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Hugh Jackman
Running Time: 2h 24mins
Certificate: 12a

In a Nutshell:
The world’s oldest mutant wakes up on the wrong side of the sarcophagus and enlists the help of four powerful allies (including Magneto, obvs) to kill all humans – that is unless telepathic slaphead Professor X and his crack team of highly trained children have anything to say about it…

Case Notes:
Prequels can often be hampered by the films that came before, tied into a forgone conclusion that can leave any feelings of actual jeopardy frustratingly absent. However, one of the most impressive things about 2014’s Days of Future Past was its impressive execution of the elusive franchise retcon. By using the cunning plot device of time travel, the second instalment in the X-Men prequel trilogy was able to wipe the slate clean for any future films to make their own way forward, cutting it loose from the films that had come before them (or technically after them).

It’s all the more a pity then that Apocalypse, the thris instalment of the second X-Men trilogy, fails to take advantage of that opportunity and instead re-treads so much in terms of characterisation and plot that it’s hard not to feel like we’re just back where we started seven films ago.

At the heart of this problem is the return of the seemingly endless debate between Fassbender’s Magneto and Mcavoy’s Xavier over the appropriate course of action for mutant-kind in a world in which they are feared and often abused by humans. While the performances are good, neither is given nearly as much to do as in previous outings. Meanwhile, all too familiar cries of “there’s good in you, Eric” are met with scornful retorts of “you’re naive, Charles” and so it goes on. A reasonable person can’t help but wonder, at what point does Xavier face facts and admit that, while there might be some shred of decency hidden deep inside his one-time friend, the man is a mass murder and really should be put down?

Perhaps the reasoning behind allowing this philosophical stalemate to continue ad nauseam is Singer’s obvious attempt to shift focus to a new set of heroes, presumably so that they can carry the franchise on into the future. The newbies do fine for the most part. Sophie Turner is passable, if not a tad bland, as Jean Grey. Evans makes his return as fan-favourite Quicksilver but, while he is given a little more to do, is just as disposable to the storyline as in his last appearance (the obligatory super-speed sequence also fails to live up to its predecessor).

Meanwhile, Nightcrawler is on hand to supply the kind of comic relief that can only come from someone whose first language isn’t English. Fans of Cyclops will be pleased (maybe?) that the character is elevated from sycophantic apple polisher to cool kid transferring from another school, albeit overshooting it a little and landing at something  approximating Wolverine-lite.

Most transparent of all however is Singer’s attempt at positioning Jennifer Lawrence’s Mistique as the central hero of this and presumably the films to come. Virtually abandoning the character itself and opting for a poor imitation of Lawrence’s other blockbuster icon – Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games – the once complex character of Raven, coloured with shades of grey and wrestling with her own moral dilemmas, is reduced to spouting rousing speeches to the other tributes…ahem, mutants.

As for Apocalypse himself, even Oscar Isaac cannot breathe life into the ancient mutant hell-bent on cleansing the earth of the weak. Admittedly the character is a difficult one to lift from the page and onto the screen. He is absurdly over-powered, possessing the ability to do virtually whatever the writers need him to do at the time, and practically indestructible. However, it’s his text-book plan to wipe out the human race that leaves him with little depth to explore, especially given that his motivations amount to little more than a perceived superiority over the lesser species (sound familiar?). This – combined with the jarring made-for-3D CGI – makes for one of the worse X-Films to date, beaten out only by The Last Stand.

Diagnosis:
The subject suffers from a severe case of third-film syndrome, an ailment which is perhaps compounded by a pre-existing condition that last presented itself in a similarly aggressive fashion in 2006. Recommendations: Take one reboot every 6-8 years before symptoms are able to manifest again.

Maniac Rating - 2 Stars