X-Men: Apocalypse (dir. Bryan Singer, 2016) – Mutants unite against the ancient and all-powerful En Sabah Nur, who plans to rebuild civilisation by annihilating the human race.
Massive destruction fails to disguise an underwritten debut of the world’s first and most powerful mutant.
In the beginning, there was En Sabah Nur. Men worshipped him. They had witnessed his limitless powers and believed him to be almighty. But in time, he was betrayed by renegades, buried and forgotten.
Then came 1983. Unwitting apostles rouse En Sabah Nur from his long gestating dream of remaking modern civilisation. Against the world that once debased him, he rises as the bringer of armageddon, or the Apocalypse.
Following First Class and Days of Future Past, the X-Men are off to a new world war in Apocalypse, its title promising colossal destruction. Against the seasoned mutant team, Apocalypse builds his own army of soldiers to hold his fort. Storm, Angel, Psylocke and Magneto – his Horsemen make four, echoing the jarring cameo of a Metallica jam.
Director Bryan Singer has brought together a new cast that shines. Yet we must admit that it is a rather weak hand Apocalypse draws. Xavier’s Institute would have been an obvious place to start. Young Jean Grey and Cyclops have started to display intractable powers, which may have served Apocalypse’s destructive purpose well. Both name and ability make Havok another perfect choice. And as luck would have it, he could have found them all at a single mansion.
Instead, his choosing of his proteges seems entirely cavalier. Apocalypse chooses his “strong” allies out of proximity (if only he had met Mystique before Psylocke) and dubious suggestions (Why Angel? Did Nightcrawler not fry his wings in their cage fight?). As they say, a little effort goes a long way.
Arguably, Apocalypse did bestow them stronger powers. Yet if only power meant better hair and cosplay, he would rule the world. In defense of the writers, Apocalypse’s offhand attitude may have come of his arrogance. After all, this is the same guy who decides to hold onto nukes in the air and not release them, in favour of the dramatic albeit inefficient control of the Earth’s magnetic poles.
Besides, the supposedly god-like mutant looks dried and weathered, as if he would rather be having a sit down. The hugely talented Oscar Isaac may have tried his best, but the script works hard against him. (Sorry, writers.) That Ivan Ooze comparison is not far off when you put their lines side by side, like this:
“Your feebleness is staggering. I think circumstances force us to choose a new leader. These false gods, systems of the weak, they’ve ruined my world. No more.
From this moment forth the world as you know it shall cease to exist. Together we will cleanse the earth for the strongest.”
Can’t tell where Ivan Ooze ends and Apocalypse begins? You are probably not alone. The played out motive of Earth domination reduces an iconic villain into a sad cliché, a poor premiere for the purportedly fatal threat. So much for the world’s first and most powerful mutant.
There is however, one real weapon in his arsenal. The only rebel with a credible cause, Erik Lensherr outplays the supposed master of puppets with his powerful backstory. After years of peace, a tragic family accident forces the conflicted mutant out of voluntary hiding and sinks him into terrible grief. Such lucid, well-acted desperation makes his crimes against humanity almost justifiable.
Well, almost. When Erik joins Apocalypse in his murder spree, Charles Xavier has no choice but to turn against his friend. Again. The old couple relives an ancient battle that gains new life via sheer magnitude. The original First Class stands with Charles, who assembles more younger allies to boot.
That excludes Jubilee. While finally given a speaking role, the poor teen is relegated to a babysitter post for the most part. All of which is unsurprising, given the already massive ensemble cast. Still, one cannot help to think: If the entire school had taken a field trip to the battlegrounds, would Apocalypse have stood a chance? We will never know.
Just a select few makes their way to the final conflict against Apocalypse and his Horsemen. Although assuredly capable, En Sabah Nur simply refuses to end the battle, in favour of pure indulgence in extravagant theatrics. Dragged out destruction starts raining upon Earth like there is no tomorrow.
Their last hope remains. Attempting to harness her powers, Jean Grey teases the Dark Phoenix in the making, which seems awfully familiar… This is going to bug me for a while.
It blinds, it deafens, yet none of that salvo seems to satisfy anymore. After all, we know exactly how this is going to turn out. So we go through the dull motions, feeling distended from the fireworks feast and thinking it wise to make our last stand: this masochism just has to end.