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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

X-Men: Apocalypse movie review: everyone knows the third movie is always the worst

X-Men Apocalypse yellow light

About precisely nothing other than pure pulp comic-book soap-opera rigmarole, overshadowed by clichés, implausibilities, and missed opportunities.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): love most of the films in this series

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Everyone knows the third movie is always the worst.” So proclaims mutant telepath Jean Grey in the middle of X-Men: Apocalypse, just around the point when we’ve already for ourselves that that also applies here. Ironically, this happens in a scene in which she and some other teen mutants have gone to the mall to see Return of the Jedi, a scene that exists solely so that she can make this joke… and it’s plot detours and tangents just like this one that are among the many disappointmentstweet of the film.

It’s the 1980s now, in this — yes — third installment of the X-Men historical comic-book drama trilogy, after 2011’s groovy Bond-ian 1960s-set X-Men: First Class and 2014’s elegant time-travel-into-the-1970s adventure X-Men: Days of Future Past. But it feels more than a little bit like we’re revisiting 1999’s action adventure The Mummy, with mutants instead of a faux Indiana Jones (though, to be fair, there is a whiff of Indy in one bit, too). The very first mutant ever, who was buried alive in 3,600 BC by people fed up with having to worship him as a god, has been resurrected. A superscary dude called En Sabah Nur, he is basically immortal and can absorb powers from other mutants; he absorbed a lot over the centuries before his entombment… so much so that it’s actually a little implausible that he remained out of commission for almost four millennia. But never mind. En Sabah Nur is also called Apocalypse, and that is what he is after, so he can rule over the Earth when there’s nothing left of it. Why he would want that is a mystery, except that he’s a Villain, but he must be stopped, of course.

Unlike the previous films in the trilogy — and most of the earlier X-Men movies — this one is about precisely nothing other that pure pulp comic-book soap-opera rigmarole. And that’s fine, but it doesn’t make for a terribly memorable moviegoing experience. Apocalypse’s many flaws might be more forgivable if it resonated on some other, deeper leveltweet and left us with something to think about. The series’ metaphor of “mutation” for a lack of privilege and power and the response to it as a way to explore human bigotry may be obvious, even trite at this point, and perhaps that’s why it’s missing here: it’s been done. But Days of Future Past was fueled by some marvelous and subtle interplay between hindsight and foresight both on personal and political levels, deployed in ways that we could take from and apply to our own private histories and to our hopes for where the future it taking us all. There’s nothing like that here. At all.

What’s left? Screenwriter Simon Kinberg and director Bryan Singer — both returning from DOFP — give us one really fresh and exciting sequence in which the superfast (and supersnarky) Quicksilver (Evan Peters: The Lazarus Effect, Kick-Ass) dashes among the first seconds of a massive explosion rescuing people. There’s a nice running motif in which the cynical Raven (Jennifer Lawrence: Joy, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2), who has dropped out of mutant culture, is reminded that so many young mutant girls look up to and even idolize her; young women as role models is not a thing we see onscreen very often. And the new young cast is universally fantastic: Sophie Turner (Barely Lethal, Game of Thrones) as Jean Grey, Kodi Smit-McPhee (Slow West, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) as the blue-skinned teleporter Nightcrawler; Tye Sheridan (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Joe) as laser-eyed Cyclops; Alexandra Shipp (Straight Outta Compton, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel) as Storm.

But all of that is overshadowed by too many clichés, implausibilities, and missed opportunities. Magneto’s (Michael Fassbender: Steve Jobs, Frank) personal development comes at the price of the lives of a wife and daughter, something so trite as to be unforgivable. (I don’t care if this was what happened in the comics; other ways to motivate male characters exist that have not become infuriatingly hackneyed.) Professor Xavier (James McAvoy: Victor Frankenstein, Muppets Most Wanted) is so ludicrously forgiving of the most outrageous and devastating actions by his fellow mutants that he ultimately comes across not as gentle and merciful but as a parody of kindness. The superpower of one of Apocalypse’s henchmen, Psylocke (Olivia Munn: Ride Along 2, Mortdecai), appears to be little more than posing around the end of the world in a fuck-me dominatrix costume. (Again: it doesn’t matter if that’s what she looked like on paper. Find a better way to make it work onscreen.) Apocalypse’s apocalypse is a lot of cheesy CGI urban disaster that goes on way too long… and yet appears to impact no one at all. Perhaps most unfortunate of all is the utter waste of the terrific actor who is Oscar Isaactweet (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mojave) as Apocalypse: it could be almost anyone under all that makeup. He would have been much scarier blasting his malevolent glares out of his unadorned face.

Because this is 2016, early days of the Fanboy Wars, this must be said: I liked Apocalypse a lot more than Batman v Superman and a lot less than Captain America: Civil War, and no, Disney did not pay me to say any of this. But the previous films in the trilogy set the bar very high, and this one doesn’t even come close to hitting it, never mind vaulting over it.


yellow light 2.5 stars

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X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
US/Can release: May 27 2016
UK/Ire release: May 18 2016

MPAA: rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate violence, threat, bloody images, infrequent strong language)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Jurgan

    OMG YOU WOMENZ JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND COMIC BOOKS!!1!

    Seriously, though, you didn’t include the “source material” section in the “biast” meter. It’s complicated, though, given how sprawling the source material is.

  • RogerBW

    Obviously film-Psylocke’s super-power is to distract adolescent boys. She will be unstoppable.

  • Plisskenetic SD

    Your review sux balls! Movie is brilliant!

  • Nathan

    Did you like this one? I haven’t seen it yet myself.

  • Jurgan

    Haven’t seen it. Actually, I haven’t seen any of this series of X-Men movies.

  • Danielm80

    It doesn’t take much effort to distract a teenage boy. A bag of Cheetos would do it. You don’t need the X-Men. You just need an Xbox.

  • you didn’t include the “source material” section in the “biast” meter.

    Nope. I never do when there isn’t a direct source, like a specific novel. (It’s not there on the Marvel movies, either, for instance.)

  • LaSargenta

    Ok, I apologise in advance; but, I keep reading the title of this post and being annoyed. Not at you, dear FF, at the movie that I haven’t seen and will probably only watch on an airplane if there is NOTHING else on.

    Everyone knows the third movie is always the worst.” So proclaims mutant telepath Jean Grey in the middle of X-Men: Apocalypse,
    just around the point when we’ve already for ourselves that that also
    applies here. Ironically, this happens in a scene in which she and some
    other teen mutants have gone to the mall to see Return of the Jedi, a scene that exists solely so that she can make this joke…

    In 1983, the release year of Return of the Jedi, there hadn’t been a tradition of trilogies of mainstream films!! At least, not in english, except for a few westerns and the Bad News Bears movies (which, I admit, I watched). IIRC, trilogies were for television (that John Jakes’ miniseries thing), serials way back when (but I think Zorro had lots of installments, not just 3), and porn films (Debbie Does Dallas and all its descendants, for example). There were trilogies in other languages. Russians and Japanese made many, for instance. And Antonioni liked to link things in threes, but I think he was more thinking “triptych” and not “trilogy”, given the (imo) painterly-ness of the framing of much of his films.

    So, well, ‘the third sucks’ is a complete and utter anachronism.

    (I’m so embarrassed by caring so much about this in a movie that is not my cup of tea anyhow.)

  • RogerBW

    You make an excellent point. I think I first met this sort of prediction-by-number a few years later, when Star Trek IV came out (1986) and people started saying “even numbers good, odd numbers bad” about that series.

  • Tonio Kruger

    In 1983, the release year of Return of the Jedi, there hadn’t been a tradition of trilogies of mainstream films!!

    Fortunately, the release of Superman III that same year would soon change that…

  • Tonio Kruger

    Everyone knows the third movie is always the worst.

    I could have sworn I heard this same line in one of the Scream movies.

  • Bluejay

    Maybe Jean Grey formed that opinion after seeing Bad News Bears 3 and lots of porn. ;-)

  • In 1983, the release year of Return of the Jedi, there hadn’t been a tradition of trilogies of mainstream films!!

    Obviously, Jean Grey isn’t only telepathic and telekinetic but can also use her brain to see into the future. :-)

  • Most likely.

  • Jurgan

    Ah, I never noticed that.

  • CB

    Honestly, I think it matters a lot that how Psylocke looks on-screen is how she looked on paper. ‘Cus comic Psylocke is a great example of comicdom’s worst tendencies with regards to female character design. She was revamped sometime in the 80s or 90s and made much stronger, and also a source of non-stop T&A. Which so often go to together (*cough* Power Girl *cough*).

    The reason it matters that they kept that design on screen is because they have happily changed the designs of many other characters to be more appropriate for a more ‘realistic’ live-action comic movie, even winking at the audience about it. They specifically chose *this* character to keep true to the comics, and it’s rather patently obvious why.

    P.S. I realize that I reversed your meaning of “doesn’t matter” (in your case meaning “is not a defense”) to make largely the same point. I just think it makes it even worse that in a series that is not slavishly devoted to comic design, they decided to be here.

  • Bingo.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Jeez, this script is just a mess. The dialog is clunky in ways no film this deep into a series has any right to be. The action just barrels along from one scene to the next with no sense of it leading anywhere other than The Big Fight at the End. Apocalypse, never that interesting a villain, is the most bland thing to appear in a comic-book movie since X-Men in 2000(??!?): generically evil because reasons, generically more powerful than the heroes, but not too evil or too much more powerful.

    Even if I was willing to buy into the idea that Lehnsherr married a human and settled down in job at an iron works (a little on the nose there, don’t you think, Erik?), does his character somehow need an even more tragic backstory? He’s already a Holocaust survivor. And they go to Auschwitz in this movie, FFS.

    This “moving the action 10 years forward with each movie) thing they’ve got going? They’re gonna have to sell it better. Or at least think it through. Case in point, Alex Summers is a late-teenager in 1963 during “First Class”. It’s now 1983, and his younger brother, Scott, is a late teenager. So is Alex really 20 years older than Scott? Is that really what they meant? It doesn’t help that Lucas Till looks almost exactly five years older than he did when he filmed “First Class” five years ago, almost exactly like his actual 25, and nowhere near the late 30’s he’s supposed to be. In fact, none of the recurring actors are made up to look like they’ve aged 20 years.

    Yeah, Psylocke’s costume. She was already rivaled only by Emma Frost in Marvel for “Most Adolescent Boy Fan Service”. But that ultra-high cut leotard they put poor Olivia Munn into really stands out. Were it nor for the (all too brief) presence of Weapon X, it would literally be the only comics-accurate attempt in the costumes. Which makes you have to ask: why? And then rage, because you know the answer.

  • Kellyfergison

    Someone will be the first to walk on the sun before I watch another superhero movie. Do audiences have a goldfish memory? Haven’t they seen all of this before over and over? When will someone volunteer to walk on the sun? (when it’s colder, though, like in the wintertime)

  • Imran

    I didnt like quicksilver so much in days of future past but in this movie i really liked the character. movie has may problems but has a lot of very fun parts too. i definitely like it more than BvS but dont know if I like it as much as Civil war. I liked the concept of people looking up to Raven but it was cut short. There were maybe too many storylines going on in this movie.

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