By Jarrod Jones. Love them, like them, or scarcely tolerate them, 20th Century Fox just won’t stop making these ding-dang X-Men movies. If you’ve been dying to see what Marvel Studios would do with our beloved (not-so) Merry Mutants, it’s gotta sting that this X-Men franchise keeps making just enough money to justify this garish parade of seventh season Power Rangers proportions.
Only Deadpool and 2014’s Days of Future Past can be qualified as box office smashes in this post-Avengers climate of gotta-net-a-billion-dollar hyper-fantasies. Accumulatively, the X-Men franchise has netted just shy of 4 billion dollars for Fox since 2000, a number that X-Men: Apocalypse should have zero problem surpassing this weekend.
But why dwell on the numbers? Because it’s the accumulative grosses that keep these marginally amusing X-movies popping up in our multiplexes, conspicuously right around the time when it’s just starting to get really hot outside and nobody wants to spend Memorial Day watching their family sweat in the shade. People certainly aren’t punching in to sate their hunger for societal allegory anymore — which is fine, considering X2: X-Men United was the last of these movies to bother with any actual subtext.
The architect of the first two X-Men movies, Bryan Singer, has returned to to inject some much-needed life into the series (something Matthew Vaughn did quite well enough on his own with X-Men: First Class), but he’s walked back into the series finding that audiences are all about well-structured cinematic universes these days. There’s a formula to consider here, and Singer — like his brooding crew of leather fetishists — is still in the process of learning how to acclimate during this leap of evolution.
Never mind that we’re light years away from The Usual Suspects, where once upon a time it felt safe to refer to Bryan Singer as the Next Big Thing, or consider his undertaking of the X-Men franchise as a solid, inspired choice. These days, Singer can scarcely conjure enough artifice to obscure just how bad certain moments in his film can actually be. And not just emotionally; there are sequences in this X-stinker where Singer makes the fakey alien backdrops in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation look wildly inventive by comparison.
X-Men: Apocalypse tosses Mystique, Magneto, Charles Xavier and the rest into the totally-arbitrary decade of the Eighties, for no other reason than to prop up the cherubic Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) as the inevitable leaders of the Nineties X-Men everyone is so damn familiar with in whatever form the next X-Men movie turns out to be. (It’s gonna take place in outer space, apparently, and for stalwart X-fans, you know you don’t have to stretch your mind much to figure out what that is going to look like.)
I say it’s arbitrary, because even though there’s plenty of lip service paid to how cool malls were, how fun Ms. Pac-Man actually is, and how sweet The Eurythmics used to be, its period setting — complete with hat-tips to Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and Rush — only serves to get in the movie’s way. (And it really gets in this movie’s way once a certain X-Man makes their painfully obvious and wholly unnecessary cameo.) Remember: the internet was still years and years away, but that doesn’t stop Oscar Isaac’s titular villain from somehow finding a way to tap into the world wide web to discover that — gasp — humanity has let the world go to seed. (How does he do it? The power of television.)
Even though he’s been touted as the X-Men’s greatest adversary (that isn’t him, them, him, her, him, or even them), Apocalypse has always been a grade-B joke, survived only by silly internet videos and an adamant suppression of the vague feeling that Nineties superhero comics may not have been as good as we remember them to be. So it was hoped that Hollywood darling and character actor wunderkind Oscar Isaac would bring his considerable chops to Bryan Singer’s latest mutant melee. So does he?
Well, yes and no. Mostly no. Isaac is certainly a versatile actor — he’d have to be in order to reach us underneath all those pancake layers of blue raspberry makeup — and he gets moments to hurl massive speeches into the heavens, amplified by a warbling sound effect probably designed to remind us of that pretty cool X-Men cartoon from that one time. Isaac fares much better than he has any right to in this mess, more so than Michael Fassbender, who gets one moment of gravity only to then emotionally clock out.
Isaac fares much, much more ably than poor Olivia Munn, who stands around in a rather cringe-inducing Psylocke cosplay only to then slink into the shadows, presumably to tease her empty presence in yet another X-flick. (She’s but one of several female characters who are broomed into the movie’s periphery.) Problem is, this is one cinematic universe that is already languishing in entropy.
Directed by Bryan Singer.
Produced by Bryan Singer, Lauren Shuler Donner, Simon Kinberg and Hutch Parker.
Screenplay by Simon Kinberg.
Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn and Lucas Till.
Rated PG-13 because Weapon X.
4.5 out of 10