Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class was a highly refreshing take on the origin stories of the significant members of X-Men universe. A reboot of the series (sort of), it made really effective use of the provided clean slate to put up a thoroughly gripping tale that delivered on all fronts. Three years later, X-Men: Days of Future Past followed which allowed director Bryan Singer to return to the franchise he himself created back in 2000. And it didn’t just succeed as a worthy sequel to First Class but also served as a fitting conclusion to the original X-Men Trilogy.
What impressed me most about Days of Future Past was the remarkable balance it exhibited while juggling different timelines, in addition to its exquisite handling of the arcs of multitudes of characters, all carried out without compromising with the entertainment factor. The post-credit sequence in that movie did tease an ambitious storyline for the next instalment and that’s what X-Men: Apocalypse is. But this time, Bryan Singer fails to duplicate what he pulled off so seamlessly in his last venture, for Apocalypse is a muddled, bloated & uninspiring second sequel that works only in bits n pieces.
The story of X-Men: Apocalypse takes place in the 1980s, a decade after the events of the last film. Charles Xavier (Professor X) has created a haven for his students in his school, enrolling troubled mutants like Scott Summers & Jean Grey. Eric Lehnsherr (Magneto) is living a low-profile life in Poland with a family of his own, while Raven (Mystique) has kept herself busy over the years by freeing enslaved mutants from their captivity. But all of them are brought into conflict when En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse, the world’s first mutant, awakens after centuries and, disillusioned with what the world has become in his absence, decides to destroy & remake it.
Directed by Bryan Singer, Apocalypse opens on a promising note, for the prologue set in ancient Egypt that covers the tale of En Sabah Nur is intriguing, brilliantly shot & brims with excitement. Even the segment dealing with Eric’s life in Poland is quite fascinating but the remainder of the plot fails to keep the interest alive as it delves into a familiar territory and ultimately finishes on a dull, predictable & uninteresting note. Simon Kinberg’s screenplay isn’t up to the mark either plus it appears as if he wrote the script in a hurry by skipping over deeper character introspections & proper polishing of the final draft, just so that the film can make it to its theatrical release date.
Production design team once again does a stellar job at recreating the given timeline. Cinematography aims for a darker tone than its predecessors, the desaturated colour palette adds a grim vibe to its frames, and although the entire picture is encapsulated with an overcast feel, the images retain its sharpness & clarity. Editing is a total mess, for its 144 minutes of runtime is severely felt during the second half, many moments end up overstaying its welcome as the plot meanders over trivial stuff, and overall, the different subplots fail to merge into a unified whole. Visual effects is state-of-the-art stuff yet much of it comes off as nothing but empty spectacle, and even John Ottman’s score is a letdown for the most part.
Coming to the performances, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult & Rose Byrne return to reprise their respective roles of Professor X, Magneto, Mystique, Beast & Moira MacTaggert and all of them exhibit greater comfort in their character’s skin and play their part convincingly. McAvoy & Fassbender once again stand out from the rest, Lawrence is no slouch either, while both Hoult & Byrne do a capable job with what they are given. Also returning to the fold is Evan Peters as Quicksilver and he pretty much steals the show with another swashbuckling slow-mo sequence but this time, he’s beaten by Hugh Jackman whose cameo as Wolverine is a major highlight of X-Men: Apocalypse, in my opinion.
The new additions comprise of Oscar Isaac (En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse), Sophie Turner (Jean Grey), Tye Sheridan (Cyclops), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Nightcrawler), Olivia Munn (Psylocke), Alexandra Shipp (Storm) & Ben Hardy (Angel). Playing what’s supposed to be the most powerful mutant to surface on the big screen so far, Isaac is totally wasted in his role as Apocalypse fails to live up to his image, is never for once intimidating & is just another addition in the long list of clichéd villains. Turner is more Sansa Stark than Jean Grey here, Smit-McPhee is downright hilarious and plays the comic relief part to near-perfection, while Munn chips in with a strong input but due to the lack of more screen time, she is unable to fully explore her character.
On an overall scale, lacking the freshness of First Class and creative delights of Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse is the weakest chapter of the three, and it is to this prequel saga what The Last Stand was to the original series. Having directed three films of this franchise previously, this is the first time Singer has struggled to put up a gripping tale about mutants on the film canvas. Not everything is a disaster here but some little refinements in the script would have resulted in a wholly different & better movie. Taking too long to set all its pieces on the board, providing no depth to its new set of characters (especially the main villain), ineffectively handling the arcs of returning characters, putting more emphasis on CGI spectacle & overloaded action, further fractured by its terribly written climax, and downright mediocre in content, X-Men: Apocalypse continues the long-existing Hollywood tradition of finishing a trilogy on a weak, underwhelming & frustrating note. Definitely not worth the wait.