When it comes to movies that had a lot of potential but didn’t deliver, there tends to be three categories: the movies that tried and failed spectacularly; the movies that didn’t try at all; and the movies that did try but just didn’t quite make it.
X-men Apocalypse falls into the third category.
While the movie as a whole isn’t that bad, it feels as though there is a lot of wasted potential here; especially when compared to First Class or Days of Future’s Past. Yet, unlike past failed X-men movies, this one simply doesn’t do enough with what it has, as opposed to taking what it has and doing terrible things with it (hello Barakapool).
So, what’s the story here?
X-Men Apocalypse begins in Ancient Egypt, where we find an ancient powerful mutant leader named En Sabah Nur undergoing a ritual to transfer his consciousness into a fellow mutant with healing abilities, with the help of four also very powerful mutants. However, his supposed worshippers have set a trap and plan to destroy him by crushing him beneath the collapsing temple. His four mutant henchmen, or “horsemen” as they’re known, just about manage to save him by sealing him in some kind of hibernation state.
Cut to several millennia later, in a post Days of Future’s Past earth where society is slowly coming to terms with the existence of mutants. Magneto is hiding away in Poland with his new family, Professor Xavier is running his school for gifted mutants which houses Jean Grey, Cyclops and later Nightcrawler and Quicksilver, and Mystique is being viewed as an idol for young mutants after having stopped Magneto in the previous movie.
Conflict rises pretty fast when En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse is raised by some strange cultists whose motivations are mostly glossed over, and, in Poland, Magneto is found out and his wife and daughter are killed during his capture. Apocalypse learns about the modern era and decides to recruit his new horsemen whom he gives immense power to: Storm, Psylocke, Angel, and finally Magneto. He tells them that his goal is to destroy the world then remake it so that only the strongest may survive.
Finding out Magneto has resurfaced and killed some people, Mystique requests Professor X’s help to find him through Cerebro. Unfortunately Apocalypse notices, and takes control of it himself. Seeing that Charles has powerful psychic abilities, he decides to kidnap him, hoping to take over his body and gain psychic powers to go along with all the others he’s obtained.
This is not exactly the full explanation, but we’d be here all day if I went into that. This movie is excessive when it comes to plot and characters. And that is a problem for a single movie.
Now, you might put up the argument, “well, so does the Avengers, yet everyone loves those movies.” To that I would reply, I’m glad you said that, because we have a good comparison here.
Most of the characters featured in the Avengers have had their own solo movie. “Solo” being the important term here. Yes, we’ve seen a lot of these characters before, but how many of them has had a movie dedicated entirely to them? Just one.
Admittedly if you had to sit through the climax of X Men Origins, this scene might please you.
Sure, we know some of these characters, but there are far too many who are either brand new or haven’t been in the spotlight enough for us to truly connect. And since there’s so much crammed into this movie, a lot of them just feel underdeveloped. Which is a shame, since, from what we do see, most of them do have potential as characters.
If there is one character that I feel actually is very well handled, both through characterisation and amount of screen time, as well as a stellar performance from the actor, it’s Magneto.
We first see Erik again in Poland, where he’s taken on a new identity, gotten married, and had another child (oh yeah, this movie confirms Quicksilver is his first). He’s living an all to peaceful life, until the moment he accidentally reveals his mutation. After an earthquake almost knocks a huge container of molten metal onto his coworkers, he stops it with his magnetism powers. Hats off to Michael Fassbender at this moment. The look on Erik’s face is the perfect expression of “oh god, what have I just done”.
The police later arrive armed with non metal weapons, threatening his daughter if he doesn’t surrender. Erik does so, but his daughter doesn’t want to let him go, and reveals her ability to control birds, or something. One of the officers accidentally fires an arrow, which somehow manages to pierce his wife and daughter straight through their chests. Hawkeye eat your heart out, apparently.
At this point, completely broken and having lost his only chance at a normal, happy life, Magneto decides he’s done with playing nice, and seeks revenge. As far as I’m concerned, he should be satisfied that he’s more or less the only character in the movie to get a fleshed out arc, which is enhanced by Michael Fassbender’s pretty stellar performance.
And this reaction does earn him the “best line in the movie” award
The other mutants on the other hand, are not so lucky. Most of them do have plenty of potential, that is wasted due to lack of time. We don’t see enough of Jean, Cyclops and Nightcrawler becoming a team; we don’t expand enough on Mystique being a hero amongst mutants; we don’t get to explore Quicksilver’s feelings towards Magneto enough; and (with the one obvious exception) the horsemen are barely featured as characters at all.
Then we come to Apocalypse himself. Everything about this guy feels underused. We don’t get to see all of his powers or the extent of them, we aren’t offered much in terms of what drives his goals and motivations, we don’t see him interact with the horsemen that much, and despite all his powers he doesn’t have many epic fight scenes outside of sealing a few people in concrete.
On top of that, the movie can’t seem to decide if he should be quiet and sinister or loud and shouty. Personally I feel the movie missed a trick by not having him start as the first, then gradually become the other. If only they’d continued his persona when he first appears and encounters Storm, rather than just have him instantly learn everything via psychic TV powers. Have him gradually learn abut the new world, and build and develop his new connection with Storm, all the while being calm, quiet and manipulative. Then, as he becomes more and more empowered, make him present himself more loud and abrasively, showing he has returned to his previous position as a God.
It’s not often I say a movie really should have been split into two. While usually that’s just a cheap marketing grab, in this case, I really do feel too much was crammed into one movie. It’s not the worst movie. There are worse X-Men movies and certainly worse comic book movies, but from what I saw and liked, I can’t help but feel disappointed that we didn’t get more.