Whereas MCU movies tend to be good, and DC/Warner Bros. movies tend to be wretched dumpster fires, the X-Men franchise—at least since its First Class reboot—exists in this weird middle ground where they’re decently enjoyable, if not, in the technical sense of the word, good. On the whole, they’re clunky and messy and hacky as fuck, but they have enough elements that work to make watching them not a complete waste of your time, as long as your standards aren’t too high. The same is true of this latest entry into the franchise, X-Men: Gritty Ivan Ooze.
After the climactic final battle of Days of Future Past (about which I remember absolutely nothing, though I remember liking DoFP at the time—par for the X-Men course), Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, testing how many shits she has to visibly not give before they’ll just let her out of this franchise, already) have both, separately, gone to ground, Mystique becomes a one-person mutant rescue squad (it sounds cooler than it is), while Magneto takes a shot at living a normal life, complete with a wife and daughter, in the backwoods of Poland. SPOILERS They exist for no other purpose than to get fridged, because of course. This is a guy driven by the murder of his parents and the attempted genocide of his people, so naturally he needs more dead family members. Charles (James McAvoy), has settled into a relatively peaceful existence running Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, whose crop of babyfaced mutant students come to include Scott/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner), Jubilee (Lana Condor, barely used at all), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
What gets the various X-characters out of retirement is the arrival onto the scene of Apocalypse, the so-called “first mutant,” who is all-powerful and wants to take over the world and is purple. Oscar Isaac’s role in this film is to wear prosthetics, stand around, and whispertalk at people. Apocalypse doesn’t really do anything; his superpowers are special effects and voice reverb. Isaac isn’t the only underused actor; as in Days of Future Past, having such a large cast means that some characters will hurt for screentime. In Apocalypse, the most egregious example of that is Storm (Alexandra Shipp), here a Cairo street child-turned-Apocalypse’s first minion, who gets precious little character development considering she’s motherfucking Storm.
The plot is predictable and lumbering, and the dialogue is among the most stiff and cliche-ridden I’ve heard since… well, since First Class. “I’m telepathic. I read minds.”/”Well stay out of mine!” “Is this what you want from me? Is this what I am?” Learn how people talk, Simon Kinberg!
That said… look, I don’t go to an X-Men movie for things like “a good plot” and “realistic dialogue.” I go for big, stupid fun—and if it’s not as big, as stupid, or as fun as better, more entertaining films, at least this isn’t a franchise that’s succumbed to the lure of the pseudo-deep and gritty. I have never expected nuance or craft in an X-Men film. First Class had a scene where Charles and Erik played chess and discussed mutant rights, while sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. (IT’S A METAPHOR DO YOU GET IT DO YOU GET IT BEING A MUTANT IS A METAPHOR DO YOU GET IT.) The scene in Apocalypse where SPOILER Erik literally tears down Auschwitz and the fact that Quicksilver is wearing a God-damned Rush t-shirt (‘cause he’s fast, see?) is about the level of subtlety I’ve come to expect.
If you go in not expecting much, Apocalypse is actually pretty entertaining. Lawrence and, to a lesser extent, McAvoy, Fassbender, and Rose Byrne (returning as Moira Mactaggert) may be coasting on autopilot, but the new generation of mutants is good. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, the unexpected MVP of Days of Future Past (suck it, Ultron), is just as fun here. Kodi Smit-McPhee is a delightful muffin as Nightcrawler, who spends the bulk of the movie wearing a Michael Jackson “Thriller” jacket. (Don’t ever say I don’t tell you the important things.) I did not thoroughly hate Cyclops every time he was on-screen, which is pretty high praise for Sheridan. And there’s a moment in the final fight involving Jean Grey that… actually made me verklempt, a little? I’ll own up to that. X-Fans should really dig it.
Basically, X-Men: Apocalypse may be loud, bombastic, cluttered, and overdependent on special effects, but at least it’s not Batman v Superman.