It is important to remember that we live in a magical age, when sequels aren’t necessarily callous corporate cash-ins and frequently wind up even better than the original movie. Don’t forget that we are very lucky to have films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Dark Knight, because until relatively recently the best sort of sequel we could hope for was middle-of-the-road junk like X-Men: Apocalypse.
X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t the worst X-Men movie, not even close. Big parts of Bryan Singer’s new sequel are genuinely entertaining. But for the first time in a long time, one of these X-Men films now feels almost entirely perfunctory, like this was a hurdle we simply had to jump over in order to get to a better movie down the road.
X-Men: Apocalypse takes place ten years after X-Men: Days of Future Past, which took place about ten years after X-Men: First Class. Naturally, nobody seems to have aged a day, especially Havok (Lucas Till), who should be in his 40s by now but is instead the 20-something brother of a teenaged Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), who has just discovered his mutant abilities and then gets transferred to Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
There he meets Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and while they go off to the shopping mall with Jubilee (Lana Condor) – who shouldn’t have been born yet since she was last depicted as a teenager over 20 years later, but maybe I’m the only one who cares – an ancient evil rises from the sands of Egypt and starts recruiting pissed off mutants like Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Angel (Ben Sharpe). Those latter two also shouldn’t be adults yet unless somehow Wolverine going back in time to 1973 also affected how much sex their parents had a decade earlier.
But I digress. The villain, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), has a plan to destroy the world and only the X-Men can stop him. That’s it, really, and honestly that really is the problem with this movie: the villain is just a Saturday morning contrivance. X-Men: Apocalypse goes out of its way to justify Apocalypse’s and his followers’ behavior as the acts of an immortal narcissist and his acolytes, who are themselves driven only by naive rage and overpowering depression. But it’s hard to take that seriously when it only boils down to a big dumb fight in which everyone pushes CGI at each other for several minutes at a time, and in which the valuable lesson the bad guys learn would be considered pretty trite for an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
Again, it’s sometimes entertaining, but X-Men: Apocalypse can’t help but feel like a massive step backwards for this series. It exists to reintroduce the popular characters that this franchise screwed up in the first place, and as grateful as we may finally be to have versions of Cyclops and Jean Grey that hold up to their counterparts in the comics, the fact that it took 16 years and almost ten films to get there is being constantly shoved in our faces with continuity throwbacks and worse, continuity errors. It’s a gourmet dinner from a chef who forced you to eat nothing but hot dogs for eight meals beforehand. It’s okay if you’re not overcome with thankfulness.
There are other little details that sting. Quicksilver’s big moment is just a repeat of his big moment from Days of Future Past, except now it goes on for so long that it actually gets boring. Psylocke barely qualifies as a character. Apocalypse goes out of his way to CGI fabulous Joel Schumacher uniforms for his henchmen for no other reason than I guess he thinks they look neat. The opening action sequence is so ludicrous it plays like an outtake from Gods of Egypt. And so on.
But then there are some moments that really work. A sidestep into unexpected territory halfway through the film, setting up a memorable set piece. The revelation of what Magneto has been up to between movies. The way bird wings now suddenly seem like a dangerously badass superpower. An actual explanation for why Cyclops and Jean Grey get together someday. Oscar Isaac giving Apocalypse a gravitas that makes you almost forget how silly most of what he actually does on camera really is.
X-Men: Apocalypse plays more like an overblown episode of the 1990s cartoon series than anything else, and I wouldn’t consider that a compliment. Then again, your mileage might vary. If you always wanted the X-Men movies to be over the top and hard to take seriously, maybe X-Men: Apocalypse is the film you’ve always been waiting for. The rest of us will have to just keep waiting.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.