Having seen Return of the Jedi, four teenagers leave the theater and discuss which of the three Star Wars movies were better. One argues for Empire Strikes Back, the other A New Hope, and finally the last one says, “Well, we all know the third movie is always the worst.”
Did I mention this was a scene from X-Men: Apocalypse?
Bryan Singer’s tongue-in-cheek humor, and his own critique of the film (and the nature of trilogies) was funny, but also telling of his attitude toward X-Men: Apocalypse, the third movie in a second X-Men trilogy starting with X-Men: First Class. Rather than trying to prove the theory wrong, he dived into it head first. His defeatism was smeared all over this film with half-baked villains, weak characters, and scatter brained plots that didn’t live up to the quality of First Class and Days of Future Past. It’s unfortunate. In more passionate and careful hands, X-Men: Apocalypse had the potential to be the best in the trilogy.
Written by Simon Kinberg (Fantastic Four) and directed by Bryan Singer, X-Men: Apocalypse kicks off a decade later after Days of Future Past. Xavier and the X-Men are living in a time of peace, but an ancient evil has woken from his slumber and intends on finishing what he started thousands of years ago. With the help of his childhood friend Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Xavier (James McAvoy) and the X-Men will face off against En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) and stop him before he wipes out the entire planet.
The lynchpin in X-Men: Apocalypse’s narrative and plot is the main villain. It’s unfathomable, then, that Singer could go so wrong on such an important piece in the story. Without a correct handling of En Sabah Nur, or Apocalypse, the entire movie crumbles, and it did with all the special effects money can buy. First, the make-up and costume they forced Oscar Isaac to wear was so ridiculous that it’s difficult to take the character seriously.
Extensive make-up in X-Men films is not a new thing, and they usually do an outstanding job, but for En Sabah Nur’s character, it fell flat and resembled more a Power Rangers villain than a menace to be feared. Second, and more importantly, the character lacked any true depth. His motivation reminded me of a powerful toddler angry at his Legos for not being what he wanted and then wanting to destroy them in one swift stroke. That’s it. We don’t get to know this villain at all. In the end, we get the clichéd all-powerful villain who wants to destroy the Earth. By failing to craft a compelling villain that sits at the heart of the plot, X-Men: Apocalypse suffers to justify existing at all.
In some ways, Singer tries to right the wrongs of his past in X-Men: Apocalypse. Cyclops, for instance, plays a greater role, has a stronger character, and is given his fair share of the fighting scenes, unlike Singer’s original X-Men. Tye Sheridan did a great job portraying the conflicted teenager trying to control his powers, and struggling to muster the courage to help Xavier fight Apocalypse. Singer also nailed another sequence with Quicksilver. However, on the flip side, Singer butchered what he did right in X-Men by allowing Mystique to play such a prominent role as a leader of the X-Men. Rather than a slippery spy and vicious killer, Mystique is a bland and mild-mannered Jennifer Lawrence who barely ever puts on the make-up of the character (a luxury I’m sure Oscar Issac would have wanted).
Along with Apocalypse’s character, it’s baffling how badly they handled Mystique. Likewise, Magneto (Michael Fessbender), a well-developed character who deserved his time as the primary villain was forced to play second fiddle to Apocalypse. Fessbender had some of the best scenes, but his high quality acting was wasted by the time Apocalypse shows up. X-Men: Apocalypse feels a bit like a tangled ball of yarn that Singer is desperately trying to unravel, but only makes it worse with each pull of the string.
X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past did such a great job revitalizing a franchise on its way to irrelevancy. Sadly, Apocalypse takes all that progress and sets the franchise and the story back a few notches. While there are a few bright spots, some great special effects, and some stellar acting from James McAvoy and Michael Fessbender, it doesn’t satisfy with such a poor handling of the plot and villain. It’s without question Singer created the worst movie in this trilogy, but maybe, arguably, the worst in the entire franchise.