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Ahem. So, here in Ireland we’re back in full lockdown as the virus runs rampant through the streets, overturning cars and making lewd comments at our gentle lady folk. As a result, we’re keeping Mini and Micro Mouse at home which means I’ve been full time Dadding it for the last few weeks. Which is my weasely way of saying that this review is going to be very short as I’ve been spending every waking hour minding my
awful time sucking monsters sweet, darling little angels.
Oh and it’s a shame too, such a gosh darned shame that I won’t be able to spend much time on X-Men Apocalypse. Such a layered work. So brimming with craft and ideas and actors clearly giving it their all and happy to be there. So obviously not directed by a man giving instructions from his trailer as the chickens of his past behaviour come home to roost. So…I can’t maintain this level of sarcasm, I’m not as young as I used to be, I HATE THIS MOVIE.
Not fun hatred either. Not the kind of hate that gets you pumped and excited to tear this thing a new critic hole. Just weary, dispassionate disgust at the whole bloated mess.
But I was going to give it a full length review, honest. Just couldn’t because of the mutant corona virus. Which, shockingly, is only the second worst thing involving mutation I’ve had to contend with recently.
I’m pretty sure by this point Final Draft comes with an “X-men Movie” template that loads up with a Charles Xavier monologue beginning with the word “mutants” so that’s what we get. What’s that? You want me to actually remember what he says? Stones on you, buster.
We begin in Ancient Egypt, where Pharoah En Sabah Nur is about to transfer his consciousness into the body of a young mutant with the power of immortality, thus allowing him to rule forever. En Sabah Nur is better known as Apocalypse, and he will be our villain for this evening. And that’s a problem.
So this might cause some consternation, but the X-Men don’t have a particularly deep bench of good villains. I mean, obviously, they have Magneto and Magneto will take you a long ways because he is legitimately one of the four or five greatest comic book villains ever created. Great powers, great look, tragic backstory, layered, deep characterisation and the way in which his radicalism forms a perfect and dramatically rich counterpoint to the goals and worldview of Xavier and the X-Men. All great.
But after Magneto, the pickings get noticeably slimmer. Put it this way: there have been seven main X-Men movies and Magneto has appeared in every single one (plus a cameo in The Wolverine). That doesn’t happen if you’ve got a rich and varied rogues gallery to draw on. I mean, the Joker is the greatest comic book villain of all time, but he doesn’t appear in every single Batman movie, you feel me? But there are no other X-Men villains that can match the near perfection of Magneto. That said, I would argue that Apocalypse probably comes closest. Like Thanos, he’s essentially a Darkseid-clone, a villain meant to menace the heroes on multiple levels. He’s diabolically brilliant and cunning while also having the raw power to fight a full team of mutants single-handed. And, like Magneto, he has a philosophy that gives an added intellectual depth to his battles with the X-Men, namely extreme Social Darwinism (or should I say X-Treme Social Darwinism?). He first appeared as a shadowy figure manipulating events behind the scenes in X-Factor (although it was actually originally intended that he’d be revealed to be The Owl).
At his best, Apocalypse exudes sheer, implacable menace and instantly raises the stakes of any story he appears in.
So why the heck did they cast Oscar Isaacs in this part? Nothing against the actor, in fact I’d rank him as one of my favourite leading men. But for this? For this part? For Apocalypse? Are you kidding me? He comes up to my knee! You cast a Vincent D’Onofrio for this shit. Or better yet, a Dave Bautista. The only way Isaacs works as Apocalypse is if you’re doing a radically different take on the character. Something like casting James Spader as Ultron (which, whatever else I think of that film, really worked). That kind of deal. But that’s not what they do. This Apocalypse is pretty faithful to the comic book version, but fatally lacking in the presence and menace that it would take to make that work. It’s just poor Isaacs shuffling around under a ton of makeup and prosthetics, unable to use his wonderfully expressive face and clearly just longing for death.
So in a nutshell, here’s what happens in this movie.
Apocalypse is betrayed by his people and ends up buried alive. He’s resurrected by a cult of his followers in Cairo in 1983. Moira McTaggart, who is still a field agent despite this being 21 years after the last movie and now being in her early fifties.
But Apocalypse escapes and roams the streets of Cairo like a lost blue fridge in a poncho until he uses his fantastically well defined and consistent powers to suck all relevant information that he needs out of a TV set. Having binged on 1983’s television output, he decides that the world must be destroyed.
He also recruits a young pickpocket named Ororo Monroe with weather powers who he just runs into as you do.
Meanwhile, the movie doubles down on the absolute dumbest part of Days of Future Past where Magneto and Mystique dropped a stadium on the White House and almost assassinated the President and the entire cabinet and humanity reacted by saying “wait, maybe we’re the assholes?”. So anyway, Mystique is now viewed as a hero and an inspiration to both humans and mutants to the point where she’s started using her non-blue form to stop her being recognised. Of course, that decision to just assimilate into the rest of humanity and forgo everything that makes her a unique individual runs counter to the entire character. But on the other hand; if Jennifer Lawrence has to spend any more time in the make-up chair she will straight up cut a bitch.
She’s keeping busy though, and rescues a young Kurt Wagner from an underground mutant fighting ring in East Berlin where he was being forced to battle Warren Worthington III aka The Angel because if there was a Fox X-Men movie without a character named “Angel” the universe would implode. See, when Logan changed the past in Days of Future Past, he apparently caused Warren Worthington II’s sperm to travel back in time and cause his son to be born thirty years earlier. Or something. Anyway, Mystique spring Nightcrawler and gets him smuggled safely to the US. Apocalypse, who can teleport because why not? Also arrives in East Berlin and recruits Angel and Psyloche to his cause, leaving him just one horseman short.
Meanwhile, in the States, Alex Summers returns to Xavier’s School with his younger brother Scott to enroll him because he’s started shooting death rays out of his eyes. And the franchise continues its long proud tradition of shitting on Scott Summers by making him a whiny jackass. Fortunately, that’s Jean Grey’s fetish and she and Scott form a tentative attraction.
Apocalypse sets off an earthquake that’s felt all around the world and Charles decides to pay a visit to that chick he telepathically roofied in the sixties and goes to see Moira in the CIA. Oh, and he brings Alex, hoping that his boyish good looks will make her more persuadable.
Moira finds Charles vaguely familiar and decides to share with him everything she knows about Apocalypse.
Meanwhile, in communist Poland, Erik Lensherr is living a quiet anonymous life and is married with a young daughter. You remember Erik Lensherr? Almost blew up two naval fleets belonging to the world’s two superpowers? Suspected of killing JFK? Dropped a stadium on the White House? Ah you do, you remember him. Almost killed Nixon and the entire cabinet? That Erik Lensherr. Yeah. He’s just living quietly and not bothering anyone and it seems everyone’s just given up on looking for him.
Well, you know. Bygones. Oh, Erik even mentions to his wife (who might as well be wearing a T-Shirt saying “fridge-bait”) that he told her who he was the first day he met her and, my, but he is a trusting soul. Anyway, during the global Apocalypse-quake, Erik uses his powers to save a coworker and everyone is all like “wait a minute, that mysterious guy who looks exactly like the most wanted terrorist on Earth has magnet powers you don’t think…”
So they put two and two together and the police come and arrest him. Little detail that I do like: they come armed with bows and arrows. I mean, it’s kind of stupid that the Polish police have a dedicated archery unit but at the same time I like that they’re not stupid enough to come at him with guns. It’s a little thing, but I appreciate it. Anyway, we need to re-set Erik’s character so his wife and daughter are disposed of. Erik naturally goes on a roaring rampage of revenge and gets recruited by Apocalypse who takes him to Auschwitz in probably the most stunningly tasteless and misjudged scene in a superhero movie prior to Wonder Woman raping that dude.
Xavier checks in with Erik telepathically and Apocalypse is able to invade his mind and force him to take over key people in the US and Soviet militaries and make them nut their entire nuclear arsenal into space so that they can’t interfere with his plans. He then attacks the mansion, kidnaps Xavier and sets off an explosion that destroys the mansion. Alex Summers dies offscreen, as is the way of his people, but fortunately most of the important mutants were at the movies watching Return of the Jedi just so Bryan Singer could make a real fucking petty jab at The Last Stand. Everyone else in the mansion was saved by Quicksilver, who arrives just in time to give us the only legitimately good scene in the movie. Of course, it’s basically the exact same scene from Days of Future Past with a different song but small mercies. Cyclops, Jean and Nightcrawler arrive back at the mansion and are all “what the hell?” when who should show up but William Fucking Stryker. He kidnaps Hank, Mystique, Quicksilver and Moira and brings them to Weapon X so Bryan Singer can throw some shade at Wolverine: Origin, too. And look, that movie deserves all the shade that is fit to throw, but it’s a little tough to take from the man in the middle of making the worst X-Men movie bar none.
Fortunately, Jean, Scott and Nightcrawler tagged along and Scooby-Doo their way around the facility until they find and release Wolverine. We get a pointless Hugh Jackman cameo and get to see him break out of the facility wearing the helmet from the original Weapon X comic which was literally the only purpose of this entire sequence.
At Apocalypse’s behest, Erik unleashes his full powers and basically magnet-nukes the planet. Like, you know how badly Metropolis was fucked up at the end of Man of Steel? That’s every city on Earth. There is no way Erik is not now the biggest mass murderer in human history. But he’s still a little snuggle bunny deep down and Mystique is able to talk him out of doing anything else by reminding him that he still has a family. You know, the one led by the guy he crippled who spend most of their time trying to kill him. Honestly, that describes a lot of families.
Angel dies, Psyloche runs away, Storm realises that she had no motivation to side with Apocalypse in the first place and switches sides. Xavier convinces Jean to unleash her full potential and she releases the Phoenix force, burning Apocalypse to a crisp.
Later, Erik says his goodbyes to Charles and goes on his merry way. You know, Erik Lensherr? The most powerful mutant on the planet who now has a kill count higher than Genghis Khan and Mao Zedong combined? Yeah, they’re gonna let him walk. I’m sure he’s learned his lesson.
And the movie ends with the most fucking hilarious scene, I swear to God.
The new class of young impressionable X-Men are standing in the Danger Room, listening to Mystique give the following speech:
“Forget everything you think you know. Whatever lessons you learned in school, whatever your parents taught you, none of that matters! You’re not kids anymore. You’re not students. You’re X-Men!”
And then the kids watch in horror as an army of Sentinels stride into the Danger Room and Professor X closes the door on them.
I mean, you see that scene out of context and there’s no doubt in your mind that these kids have been indoctrinated into a cult and are now going to be massacred for the perverse enjoyment of the creepy bald guy in the wheelchair.
God DAMN this movie is a slog. There’s no story here. No themes. No real arcs. The whole thing is just a pointless, dull box-ticking exercise that manages to squander the goodwill I had towards the previous two movies with impressive ease.
Some shady men in suits tidy up Weapon X. One of them takes a vial of Wolverine’s blood and stashes it in a suitcase labelled “Essex Corp”.
And the audience went
Movie. Buddy. Pal. I am one of, like, five people who doesn’t think that Mr. Sinister sucks because I was introduced to the character through the animated show and in that he was a fucking boss. But I cannot, will not, categorically refuse to get excited over being granted the privilege OF SEEING HIS FUCKING BRIEFCASE.
Hey, was that Stan Lee?
Yeah. Yeah that was Stan Lee. In a close up. Watching nuclear missile launching into the stratosphere and holding his wife close as he prepares to watch the world immolated in atomic fire.
You are doing these wrong.
Department of Duplication Department
We gotta new Cyclops, Tye Sheridan. We gotta new Jean Grey, Sophie Turner. Oliva Munn is yer New Psylocke (I totally did not forget that Psylocke already appeared in The Last Stand how very dare you). We also have a new Blob, Nightcrawler, Jubilee and Alexandra Shipp taking over as the new Storm. Most bizarrely, we now have Ben Hardy as Angel, a character who is now in his twenties in 1983 despite being a teenager in The Last Stand because Bryan Singer is apparently the only person who hates The Last Stand more than I do.
How worried is Guinan right now?
Guinan is screaming into the void at this gnarled, monstrous python of a timeline.
Wait, Magneto is how old?
This movie is set in 1983, which makes Magneto is 53.
Mutant Heaven has no pearly gates, only revolving doors.
Apocalypse resurrects once, that’s it.
Today, mutants are…
I have no goddamned idea. The obvious choice for an X-Men story set in the eighties would be to do the Legacy virus as an AIDS allegory. But that would presume some actual thought went into choosing this period of time. As it is, mutants are mutants. If you want deeper symbolism, look elsewhere.
This movie is…
NEXT UPDATE: 11 February 2021. Sorry guys, back to a monthly schedule. Creches and schools are closed and I’ve got a book to write in the two or three free minutes I get everyday. Thanks for understanding.