Fox’s X-Men franchise seems to a bit of a crossroads. Whilst the first film ushered in the modern superhero genre, the series has never quite captured the zeitgeist like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or Marvel’s seismic cinematic universe. Now, as the prequel trilogy comes to a close with X-Men: Apocalypse, and a new direction presents itself following the success of Deadpool (an R-rated Wolverine film is on the horizon), it is perhaps time to take stock of where Professor X, Magneto and co sit in the superhero landscape.
Sadly, X-Men: Apocalypse has all the bloated hallmarks of the genre at its worst, with its seat-numbing running time depriving the whole narrative of momentum. There is a globe-hopping opening reminiscent of Game of Thrones at its most dense, a cavalcade of freshly 80s-rebooted members of the original trilogy and a 20-minute detour to tell an origin story already seen at last twice in the last 16 years. This is before you even get to the ostensible backbone of the film, the titular villain’s plan for world domination.
In amongst all this there are flashes of what made Singer’s previous entries in the series so great. The new teens get to have a bit of fun in their introductions, especially Angel and Nightcrawler, whilst Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is just as charming as he was in Days of Future Past. There is even some genuinely interesting work in the form of Magneto’s quiet and thoughtful early scenes, where a domesticated Erik Lehnsherr raises a family in Poland before human cruelty intervenes.
However, those moments are swallowed whole by the bigness of this particular superhero beast. The sheer amount of exposition involved in getting all the pieces in place prevents the new characters from building any chemistry between themselves or the established cast. Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse, meanwhile, is the worst kind of villain; all grand ambition and no personality, you could swap him with any of the litany of bland baddies that populate the dregs of the genre and make no material impact on the plot. Introducing an all-powerful external threat guy also robs the franchise, which is founded on its parallels to the civil rights movement and the mistreatment of minorities, of its thematic heft, leaving a far more generic form of destruction in its wake.
Of course none of these are particularly original criticisms to level at a superhero film. Yet with Marvel stepping back (for now at least) from end of the world-itus in Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War, and Fox’s own Deadpool, if not ripping up the rule book, then at least tearing it in two, X-Men: Apocalypse’s, well, apocalypse looks a bit like an anachronism.
X-Men: Apocalypse is released nationwide on 18th May 2016.
Watch the trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse here: