20 May 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse review

There is a short scene in X-Men: Apocalypse that sees several of the new characters discussing the quality of the films in the original Star Wars trilogy, all of them agreeing that the third film is always the worst. It's an obvious piece of meta-commentary on the original X-Men trilogy that takes a shot at X-Men: The Last Stand while praising director Bryan Singer's original two films, which is gaudy enough on its own - but those paying attention will remember that X-Men: Apocalypse itself is the third film in this new timeline. Is this just a staggering lack of self-awareness, or a direct acknowledgement from the film-makers that they've badly messed up? It really doesn't matter. X-Men: Apocalypse is a bad film all the same.

The story this time sees the various characters we've been following over the last couple of X-Men films reunite in order to try to stop an ancient mutant named Apocalypse and his four horsemen from taking over the world. It's a simple tale of good vs bad basically, far removed from the more soap-operatic, character driven drama of the previous films in the franchise, and unfortunately X-Men: Apocalypse suffers for it.

As is to be expected from a Bryan Singer film, X-Men: Apocalypse feels a few years late to the party. Just as we begin to move away from the large scale destruction porn finale that started to define superhero films for a while, the X-Men franchise fully embraces it for the first time, delivering something that would have been pretty ground-breaking if the film was released half a decade ago. Instead, we end up seeing the same large-scale CGI finale that it feels like we've seen a hundred times before now, making X-Men: Apocalypse feel dated when compared to the other superhero films released so far this year.

And that's a shame, but it's also probably the least of X-Men: Apocalypse's issues. More troubling are the films failings at a rudimentary level of film-making, best exemplified by the lack of structure and poor pace that makes X-Men: Apocalypse a real slog to sit through. It's wildly unfocused, trying to deal with some of the ramifications of X-Men: Days of Future Past while also introducing the characters that are presumably intended to be the new faces of this franchise, but Bryan Singer's inability to balance these aspects of the film with the story being told and the things that he thinks people want to see results in something that can charitably be described as "messy".

The best example of this comes from the rehash of the Quicksilver sequence that everyone agreed was the best part of X-Men: Days of Future Past. It's a funny, vibrant sequence that on its own terms works really well - but it also happens smack bang in the middle of what could and should have been X-Men: Apocalypse's single most dramatic scene, completely robbing the film of any tension it had been building up until that point and severely undercutting an otherwise very important moment. The extended Wolverine cameo is much the same - it's a good action scene, but it has no effect on the story and we have to take a huge detour just to fit it in, to the point where a 20 minute or so chunk of the film could be removed entirely - just cut straight out - without harming anything. In fact, given that X-Men: Apocalypse feels its length and more, it would probably be for the best.

But the worst thing about X-Men: Apocalypse - and really, the X-Men franchise as a whole at this point - is the sense of wasted potential that oozes from it. It's no secret that 20th Century Fox have been sitting on a truly stellar cast since 2011's X-Men: First Class (the only genuinely good X-Men film, by the way), but the studios failure to capitalise on that is just one of many ways that it continues to disappoint. Over the course of just two films, Bryan Singer has entirely squandered the opportunity that X-Men: First Class afforded to him, and regardless of the role he played in the validation of superhero films - and make no mistake, it was an important one - it's clearer now than it ever has been that the genre has completely left him behind. X-Men: Apocalypse is nothing more than a bland, boring, poorly made and totally forgettable film, and it finally proves that it's time that these films left him behind as well.

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