X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
It takes a delicate touch to helm an excellent action film. Such a claim might be counterintuitive at first but if one were to consider what makes an outstanding action picture, one might come to the conclusion that it can usually be reduced to three basic ingredients: a thorough development or exploration of the protagonist(s), an interesting villain with an endgame that makes sense with respect to the story’s universe, and well-executed—as well as well-photographed—action sequences. An eye for detail ties these elements together. It is clear that “X-Men: Apocalypse,” based on the screen by Simon Kinberg and directed by Bryan Singer, does not fulfill these requirements completely.
The film introduces about half a dozen new characters but it fails to show to us that every one of them is a compelling figure. Although some detail is given about Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), who develops an ability to shoot powerful lasers through his eyes, and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), who has psychic abilities so powerful that even her mutant peers fear her, there is a lack of detail when it comes to the human side of the other new faces, namely the three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Storm (Alexandra Shipp). The material actually comes alive when we learn about Scott and Jean as humans who struggle with specific abilities—what it means for them to have such powers, which prove to be both a gift and a curse, how they relate to it and to one another.
Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is a rather dull antagonist considering he is supposed to be the all-powerful, very first mutant. His goal is to cleanse humanity because he considers them weak for having resulted to embracing false gods and idolizing powers such as nuclear weapons. Because his motivation is so ordinary, despite all of the powers the character displays, he, over time, becomes unremarkable. Also, we learn nothing about Apocalypse’s plans if he were to succeed. Does he simply wish to sit on a throne and be worshiped for the rest of time? Does he wish to transform the world completely? If so, in what direction and how? The supervillain is underwritten.
Action sequences are enjoyable but nothing special—with the exception of one: Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) well-timed slow motion rescue at the X-Mansion with Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” serving as a soundtrack. The one and only extended battle in Egypt offers a few moments of creativity and humor, particularly with Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), but there are, for instance, no brilliant maneuverings designed to surprise both the audience and the very characters who are meant to be outsmarted so that the balance of power is tilted. Excitement reaches a comfortable level but there is a lack of surges when such a state is reached. No suspense is established.
“X-Men: Apocalypse” clearly has ambition and it entertains on the most superficial level, but not enough relevant details are provided in order to enhance the plot, story, and characterization. Details tend to pave the way for establishing complexity.
In this day and age where superhero pictures are drenched in questions about societal roles, identity, and morality, it is not enough to rely mostly on good-looking apocalyptic images via CGI. Superhero movies these days, especially sequels, must, at the very least, strive to be an original. Within this series thus far, “X2: X-Men United” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” have succeed and made a statement. By comparison, this outing is mere silent existence.