The director proves that he no longer has any interesting X-Men stories to tell.
53 years of X-Men comic stories and an almost unlimited budget, and this is the best they could come up with?
It’s a sentiment that X-Men fans have lived through in the past and one they are doomed to live through again when Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse hits theaters on May 27. Apocalypse, for all its bluster and all-star cast pedigree, is more of the same. And more of the same isn’t going to cut it, especially when its own studio is taking risks on characters such as Deadpool and winning big with audiences. While an X-Men movie doesn’t need to take an irreverent stance or curse its way into our hearts, it would be nice to see it do something new.
That was the case with X-Men: First Class, the 2011 rebirth of an X-Men franchise that had been floundering for almost a decade. After Bryan Singer had put the finishing touches on his X-Men story in 2003 with X2, the franchise took some less-than-stellar turns with Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, the abominable X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and a bunch of projects that were dead before they got off the ground. With First Class, Fox kickstarted the entire with a new franchise, a mostly new creative team, and the movie directed to frenetic and stylish bliss by Matthew Vaughn. That movie was a beacon of hope that the X-Men brand had turned the corner and was ready to push forward into a new era.
What we learned from its follow-up, X-Men: Days of Future Past, was the Fox wasn’t ready to let go of its old cast, nor was it ready to move on from Bryan Singer’s singular vision of the X-Men franchise. And while treading plenty of old territory with old faces, Days of Future Past slid by on the notion that this new cast – led by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence – was still what mattered most. Through it all, though, there was always this sense that there might be a ceiling to how good an X-Men movie Bryan Singer could make.
With Apocalypse, those fears have borne fruit, and we see a franchise that has grown stagnant all at once. The movie has plenty of things that fans will like. This includes new takes on old characters like Storm (played by Alexandra Shipp) and Jean Grey (played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner) that are interesting, albeit not fully formed. And it’s held over some of the fun parts of First Class and Days of Future Past, like Evan Peters as Quicksilver and the ever-charming Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy. It’s fun to be in this sandbox again playing with these characters, alluring to be exploring this legendary comic book world come to life. That’s where the romance ends, about halfway through the movie, when the table-setting is done.
It all turns on the film’s most delightful sequence, involving Quicksilver doing speedy things and goofing around in a moment that should be very serious. It’s a moment that feels removed from the rest of the story, at least tonally, but it’s fun.
The rest of movie plays too heavily on the assumption that you’re already familiar with the characters. Instead of letting them breathe and become new, Apocalypse leans into familiarity, ultimately playing out the same stories and visuals that we’ve seen numerous times from the X-Men franchise. Even the climactic battle, which I won’t get into as I don’t spoil anything, feels dauntingly familiar. What’s worse is that the film appears to be abundantly aware of the danger of its own existence, specifically making a joke at one point about how third movies in a franchise are always the worst.
It’s the same feeling that many had after seeing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014. This is a cast that is easily likable, but the creative teams behind it aren’t giving us anything that feels fresh. No matter how many new visual tricks, or beloved characters and moments it adapts from comics, it seems like more of the same. And even though Oscar Isaac is a great actor, Apocalypse is an indistinct big bad whose stakes are so high that it has a numbing effect on the audience. The fact that he looks like Ivan Ooze the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show just feels like a twisting of the knife. If an Oscar-caliber villain, one of X-Men’s great rogues, can’t make this franchise feel new again, you’ve got a problem.
The solution for Spider-Man came in partnership with Marvel Studios, integration of the character into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a take on the character that is much younger than we’ve seen before.
The solution for Fox and X-Men doesn’t have to be that drastic, as much as fans of the MCU might want it to be. What they need to realize is that Bryan Singer doesn’t have any more interesting X-Men stories to tell. This movie was a patchwork of everything he’s already done with the X-Men franchise. The secret sauce for X-Men: First Class – undoubtedly the last really good X-Men movie – was that it benefited from the fresh perspective of Matthew Vaughn and a new cast. It’s a cast that could be great if they continue making new X-Men movies, but they are going to need to find new stories to tell and new people to tell them. Otherwise it won’t be Apocalypse swallowing the world of the X-Men, it will be boredom.