Oh man, this movie. THIS FREAKING MOVIE YOU GUYS. Did you know that including Deadpool there are 9 entries in this shambling golem of a franchise? 16 years is a long time to dwell in a single, cinematic universe and all that baggage stays with you when you're sitting in the theater. X-Men: Apocalypse is not a good movie, and it's not a BAD movie. But if you have been ALIVE since the first movie came out in 2000, seeing this film will feel like a regression therapy session. It was an honest to god MIND FUCK.
Here's just some of the things that made me question my sanity while watching it, and I'm wondering if any of you felt the same way too.
I'd go out on a limb and say that the chemistry/tension between McAvoy, Lawrence, and Fassbender is one of the only reasons why this series got a life-extension after X-Men First Class. Audiences loved the interplay between swinging Xavier, brooding Magneto, and troubled Mystique. Yet we're way past the point where the schism between them should have happened. There's a lot of pathos for Magneto to chew through after his cute Polish family gets "fridged" to make him hate humanity again, but he kills so many people in this movie (I'm including the Polish coworkers) AND he personally uses his super-magnet powers to partially destroy every major city on Earth*. We see buildings collapse across multiple continents and even if it IS bloodless CGI, that is a nightmarish deathtoll in the reality of the movie. Magneto has "crossed the line" so many times in this series, but even after everything that's gone down it's still "we have to help Erik". He's literally chilling out in the mansion at the end of the movie like it isn't a big deal and it makes all the good guys look like absolute sociopaths.
*This movie is probably PEAK "cgi shots of city destruction with no emotional resonance". This trope needs to take a timeout real soon.
You'd think someone with a troubled history like Brian Singer would back-off of stories involving older men seducing (ideologically, of course) younger men into obedience. But Oscar Isaac imbues Apocalypse with a very specific brand of narcissism that makes him unnerving even under 80 pounds of blue makeup and prosthetics. In one scene, Professor Xavier psychically tracks down Magneto and the two of them have a lengthy conversation not 15-feet away from the big bad himself, who is seemingly too preoccupied magically applying Archangel's SWEET face tattoo to notice. It just speaks to the weird priorities of this movie in the midst of all the bizarre leaps in logic concerning timelines, character motivations, and powers, they decided to use screentime to explain how the least-useful henchman got a cool tribal face-squiggle.
In the much-hyped cameo sequence, the entire team is imprisoned in a military facility by William Stryker (thanks to an insane arsenal of anti-mutant technology that is never acknowledged again). There they discover Wolverine in his feral-naked Weapon X form and he proceeds to slaughter dozens of soldiers with some of the laziest fight choreography I've ever seen in a major superhero movie. Fake blood flies everywhere and the entire cast of moral good guys kind of don't give a single fuck, especially considering that Stryker himself specifically uses non-lethal force throughout the encounter. In this torrent of corn syrup, they take the time to make a gag in which Nightcrawler counts to three, only to look down at his malformed hands and give a "WHAAAAA?" take to the camera. Nightcrawler is given a bunch of the comic relief moments in this movie, but the idea that he's so dumb that he forgot how many fingers he has was too much. This is further compounded by the fact that his ONLY other established character trait is that he abhors fighting and violence, and he's just goofing it up in the middle of this Canadian abattoir.
This one might be just a sticking point for aging Jewish nerds, but there's a scene in this movie where Apocalypse is convincing Michael Fassbender's Magneto to join the Four Horsemen by taking him to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp to remind him of the evils and suffering inflicted by the human race. We all remember that powerful opening scene from the first movie of a young Magneto bending the gates, a reminder of the true horrors that could drive a fictional supervillain to his terrible ends. But while this is happening, in the background is poor Olivia Munn, dressed in skimpy purple vinyl, scowling under the bleak Polish sky.
It. Was. MIND-BREAKING.
This the exact same vision I'd be seeing if I was in the middle of dying from a DMT overdose. Jewish guilt, 90's nostalgia, and cynical geek marketing all converging in this single bonkers shot of a man crying for his murdered people and culture while a ninja sex clown looks on trying not to pinch at her clearly forming rubber butt-wedgie.
There is no character growth in this X-Men: Apocalypse, and almost all of the key interpersonal moments feature intercut footage from "First Class" that doesn't quite solve the "show, don't tell" problem in the screenplay. Why do we care about these characters? Here's 3 seconds from a movie that actually took the time to let them be characters! The movie keeps harkening back to First Class like we're supposed to be wistful for a simpler, more innocent time when in reality the audience just wants a better, more effective director at the helm.
Speaking of things First Class did right, that movie exuded its 1960s setting in almost every frame. The costuming, the setpieces, the wild-spy motifs all added to that sense of time and place. Meanwhile, the only reasons the audience knows that X-Men: Apocalypse is set in the '80s is a brief (BRIEF) conversation about Return of the Jedi and one of the characters saying out-loud "welcome to the '80s". Seems like a waste, after all that was an important era for X-Men lore and filmmaking in general. Not only that, but the AIDS crisis and the Reagan administration would have been a BIG touchstone on the movie's original trilogy's very-apparent gay rights analogy. If anything the movie feels like it's taking place in the early 2000's, since it seems like Singer hasn't really grown that much as a filmmaker besides adding cool Quicksilver slow-mo sequences.
The movie takes time to explain the continuity and the events of the previous movies... except when sometimes it doesn't. We mentioned how Stryker had Wolverine locked up in Weapon X, but at the end of Days of Future Past it's explicitly shown to be Mystique that recovers Wolverine's body. Loose threads from First Class and the original trilogy are given tons of consideration, but then they kind of don't care in other parts of the stories and characterizations.
I don't know what kind of contract she signed in that brief period after Winter's Bone but before The Hunger Games but it must have been sealed in blood. I completely understand her reluctance, I've had prosthetic makeup put on a handful of times in my life and it was awful for even 40 minutes, let alone the hours-long nightmare that has to be standing around naked surrounded by strangers. The movie goes to so many lengths to verbally explain why she's not in the full mystique getup despite the entirety of First Class supposedly being her "I am blue and naked forever!" character progression. Towards the end of the film I'm pretty sure she's retreated into her mind palace while her body regurgitates half-remembered Katniss lines about "the fight". Maybe it's the bad green-screen compositing, or maybe its just the decade+ of studio politics, but nothing about this movie feels whole. It's been 16 years since X-Men first came out and in Jennifer Lawrence's tired eyes I see the question I had been asking myself the whole movie...
"What the hell are we even doing here?"