In a very meta moment in X-Men Apocalypse, a group of young X-Men walk out of a screening of Return Of The Jedi (we are now in the 1980’s) discussing if Star Wars or Empire Strikes back is the better movie. Jean Grey (now played by Sophie Turner replacing Famke Janssen) ends the conversation “At Least We Can All Agree The Third One Is Always The Worst”. Probably intended as joke/stab at the woeful X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), it turns out to be even more meta than intended as the comment is also true of the movie in which they are in. X-Men Apocalypse is the third instalment of the rebooted X-Men franchise that began with X-Men: First Class in 2011 and by far the weakest.
For those that don’t remember X-Men came out in 2000, directed by Bryan Singer. By the standards of modern comic book movies it was relatively low budget, something that does show looking back now. It is a solid film with good characters, well cast. Singer followed it up three years later with X2, a bigger and better movie. Singer then made the unwise choice to walk away in favour of Superman Returns (2006) leaving Brett Ratner to make the aforementioned X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). Killing off a couple of main characters and possibly the franchise with it. The stand alone X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) did nothing to give any hope for the franchise. Then out of the blue Matthew Vaughn gave us X-Men: First Class, effectively an origin story. Written by Jane Goldman the film did everything you would expect from an X-Men movie and coupled it with a 1960’s setting. Set against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis it most of the setting. Bryan Singer then returned in 2014 with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Combining the cast of the original trilogy and the reboot, the film based on one of the comics most beloved stories. Possibly the best X-Men movie.
So where did they go wrong? The biggest problem with the film is the story. It loses most of its depth by not involving any of the politics of the time. The film also seems to be made up of just two parts, the first half the film is setup, the second a huge battle filled with colossal destruction. The problem could be the lack of Jane Goldman as a writer. The movie also suffers from a lack of a credible villain. While Apocalypse is often considered the great X-Men adversary in the comic books, he doesn’t translate well to the screen. His abilities seem to range from all-powerful to underwhelming from scene to scene. His motivation is never explained.
Then we come to the other misused characters. Cashing in on the popularity of Jennifer Lawrence, Mystique is set up as the franchises greatest hero, something akin to Wolverine in the original trilogy. She plays it with an unbelievably dour tone, think Katniss but blue. It made me miss Rebecca Romijn’s coldblooded killer interpretation of the character. They clearly didn’t know how to handle Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, so basically rehashed what we saw him do in Days Of Future Past, it isn’t bad but it gets tiered very quickly. Angel is better than in The Last Stand but still an ineffective screen character. Psylocke gets some good action scenes but mothering dramatic to do. Her costume is interesting. Where Bryan Singer has only ever hinted at the characters comic book looks, Psylocke is taken straight from the pages of a comic book, or at least a cosplay interpretation from a comic book convention. It isn’t necessary wrong, it is just distracting.
It isn’t all bad, Sophie Turner isn’t bad as Jean Grey but lacks both the depth and intensity of Famke Janssen. Tye Sheridan and Kodi Smit-McPhee are both good as Cyclops and Nightcrawler respectively. Alexandra Shipp is good as Storm but could have done with more to do.
Better than The Last Stand, but certainly the weakest of the prequels. The next X-Men movie is the as yet untitled Wolverine movie. Production started last month with a release date pencilled in for early next year. It will be the third Wolverine movie and potentially the last to star Hugh Jackman. Lets hope they buck the trend and the third one isn’t the worst!